Q: How do you do laundry? I’m trying to find the best way for stains (I know, you’re not Google) and I also want to protect my clothes so I get the most use of them, and I don’t know what to wash with what.
A: Laundry really boils down to a few basic steps, so let’s take a look at each one to try to get you going with the whole process.
- Stains: Stains should be treated as quickly as possible. This will make the most difference in whether or not you can get the stain out. I will, as always, refer you to Google for specific stain removal instructions, because, believe me, someone out there has had your exact stain/material combination, and they will have advice for you. The most important things to remember are that heat sets most stains (so hot water isn’t always a good idea, and never put a stained item in the dryer until you’re happy with your stain removal results), and that time is of the essence.
- Sorting: Wash like colors with like colors, and don’t put things that can damage each other in the same load (like things with lots of zippers or buttons with lightweight knits, for example). I don’t go too nuts with sorting; I do four categories: whites, colors, bedding, and towels. If I have a ton of laundry to catch up on (hey, no shame here), I sometimes sort by clothing type: all T-shirts, all jeans, all socks and underwear, etc., which makes putting things away much easier.
- Wash temperature: Whites can be washed at any temperature, from hot to cold. Colors should be washed in cold, and bedding and towels should be washed on warm at least, and hot if the material can take it.
- Detergent/wash additives: Detergent is a personal choice. Use what you like the smell of and what doesn’t make you itch. Almost every detergent these days is color-safe, just be careful with very cheap ones because they can fade color faster. I don’t like adding bleach to any laundry. It turns protein-based stains (armpit stains, body fluids, etc.) yellow, and it can break down fabric fibers faster. I do, however, add about half a cup of white vinegar to most of my loads of laundry. Vinegar can keep your colors from fading, take out musty smells, remove fabric softener residue, and keep your washing machine from getting stinky. (Vinegar is non-negotiable in my loads of towels.) Don’t worry, the vinegar smell doesn’t remain on the clean laundry.
- Drying: The dryer can fade colors and shrink clothes. Air dry anything you’re worried about (you can use a hanging rack, a flat sweater drying rack, or a line, but keep in mind that the sun can also fade colors). Use high heat for things like sheets and towels that take a lot of abuse and can get sort of gross, and medium heat for most other things to help preserve the fabric. Try NOT using dryer sheets in your towel loads, because the residue that makes fabric softener keep things soft and non-staticky can make your towels less absorbent.
When all else fails, consult the garment’s tag. The washing instructions there are usually more conservative than real life dictates (I only hand wash about half of what the tags say I’m supposed to), but it’s hard to go wrong doing what the manufacturer tells you to. Go forth and wash that floordrobe, and, as always, remember that laundry has three steps: wash, dry, and put it away!
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