Laundry has been described as an endless chore and is loathed by many. The process of washing laundry has changed with the technological advancements in machinery and with the improvement of chemical formulas for laundry supplies. We complain about the monotony of washing, drying and folding piles of laundry, but if we compare it to how the chore was tackled a hundred years ago, we might just limit our complaints to a simple moment of complaint and thank our lucky stars that we don’t own a washpot or washboard.
Keeping our daily clothing clean is likely the number one reason for countless loads of laundry done across the country. We cannot stress the importance of knowing how to properly wash laundry enough. You can do some serious damage to the material, the machine, and your pride if you haven’t learned the proper way to launder. We hope to help you avoid the embarrassment of not-so-white whites, that permanent stain, or worse- the sour smell of clothes left in the washer too long. If you are already a cracker-jack clothes cleaning connoisseur, keep it up! For the rest of you, we hope to help you on your journey sorting through the piles of information about laundry and simplifying some of it here.
Laundry Room Basics
Learning how to do laundry might seem like a simple task but learning, like laundry, is never ending and you might learn something new.
Read and follow the care and fiber label. Check to see what the material is made of and follow the recommended water and dryer temperature instructions. If it says “dry clean only” it isn’t a green light to see if the washer will ruin it.
Sort your laundry. Darks, lights and colors each need to be washed separately. Whites, when they need to be bleached, should be washed on their own. If you have multi-colored clothing, like a black and white striped shirt, you can do a quick test on the fabric by placing a small amount of hot water on the item and blot with a paper towel. If color doesn’t come off, then you can wash it with your lights. We also recommend sorting your clothing by fiber type. Washing jeans with a silk shirt, even if they are both light in color, can do damage to that once beautiful silk shirt.
Pre-treat stains. A sure-fire way to set a stain is to wash it in warm water and dry it, so set aside stained items and pretreat them according the manufacturer’s directions from the stain removing product of your choice.
Picking a laundry detergent. Price, quality and marketing tactics will impact your choice for these items. Good Housekeeping provided a great study to help aid you in these choices. Do your research and choose the best option that fits in your budget.
Laundry softener and dryer sheets. Laundry softener or dryer sheets are a great choice for many to keep static at bay, but for those who have allergies or just want to be a bit more eco-friendly, you might skip this step and consider an alternative like wool dryer balls.
Water temperature and dryer cycle. Washing machines vary, but carefully choosing your wash cycle is an important step to properly washing your laundry. For example, delicates that are made of fabric that can be damaged more easily than a fabric like denim, should be washed with cool or warm water and with a low agitator setting. Casual or permanent-press cycles cool the water gradually and have slower spin cycles to minimize wrinkles. The warm water relaxes and removes creases in clothes, while the cold prevents color fading and shrinking. Read your washing machine’s user manual to learn the differences and recommendations for wash cycles.
Loading the washing machine. There are a few things you should get in the habit of doing before dumping a load of pre-treated and sorted laundry into the washer. Check buttons, zippers and pockets if time allows. Zipping up zippers and fastening a few buttons will prevent snags and help garments keep their shape. A quick pocket check before a wash cycle is a lesson often learned by experience. A lost phone number from someone you met the night before, loose change now rolling around beneath the wash bin, or gum- now heated, spread and stuck to all of the items in that load of laundry as well as the washing machine or dryer. Turn dark colored or embellished clothing inside out, put delicates and small items in a mesh laundry bag, and measure your detergent according to the manufacturer’s instructions based on the soil level and size of the load.
Dry, hang and fold. Dry clothes in the dryer that are durable and do not require to be hung dry or lay flat to dry. Hang or fold clothes as soon as they are dry to prevent wrinkling.
Eco- Friendly Laundry Habits
As technology advances and advancements in this field lessen the burden of time spent doing the dreaded chore, scientists look to lessen the impact on the environment. An article published by National Geographic gives more insight on how far we have come and the road ahead.
“Washing machines have made the hard labor of weekly wash days a thing of the past—at least for those who can afford them. But like so many of the innovations that make our lives easier, there is a cost to the environment. Besides using around 19 billion cubic meters of water annually, washing machines emit an estimated 62 million tons of CO2-eq greenhouse gases each year. That’s not all on the machines themselves though—indeed, modern washing machines have made significant strides in both water and energy efficiency in recent years. In fact, consumer choices are fundamental to significantly reducing both water and electricity usage associated with laundry.”
There is an often-echoed quote “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” Science can only take us so far and it is our responsibility to learn to fish. Changing a few laundry habits can make a difference in both your energy costs and the environment. See a simple list below of small changes you can make:
Wash clothes less often. Did you know that Levi suggests wearing jeans ten times before washing? Consider how often each article of clothing needs to be washed before washing.
Wash with cold water as often as possible. There are some laundry detergents specifically made for cold water washing as well.
Use an eco-friendly laundry detergent. Many manufacturers have a more environmentally friendly option.
Wash fuller loads. Not only will you run your washing machine less often, but a study at Northumbria University has shown that larger laundry loads decrease the release of microfibers because of a lower ratio of water to fabric.
Use fewer cycles and lower spin cycle speed. Shorter and colder wash/spin cycles can reduce microfibers from breaking apart by 52%.
Line dry items. Take a tip from your great grandmother and hang items out in the sun to dry if you can. This is a huge energy saver, since traditional dryers require a huge energy output.
Cleaning and Maintaining
Does a washing machine need washing? Absolutely. The soap residue and minerals commonly used in detergents tend to build up on the washing machine surfaces over time. If you do an online search on how to clean your washing machine, you will find a lot of options.
HGTV.com suggests the following:
- Fill the empty washer with hot water, as if you’re doing a large load of laundry.
- Add a quart of bleach, and let the full machine run for one minute to mix up the bleach with the water.
- Open the top of the machine and let it sit, all bleach-y and full, for an hour.
- At the end of the hour, shut the cover and let the machine run a complete cycle. (The water will drain out all the bleach, so it won’t have a chance to mix with the vinegar that you will add in the next step.)
- When it’s done, start again. This time, when you fill the washer with hot water, add a quart of white vinegar to the water and down the bleach channel.
- Let the machine run for a minute to agitate the water and vinegar. After that minute, open the top of the machine and again, let the hot water sit in the basin for an hour before you let the cycle complete.
- After cleaning the basin, spray the gaskets, dispensers and exterior of the machine with a solution of equal parts vinegar and water. Wipe everything down with a clean cloth.
The maintenance of a washing machine does not need to be done daily, but it does need some extra love and attention occasionally. Check your water hoses regularly for cracks, bulging or breakage and replace if needed. Make sure that there is enough space between your wall and the machine to prevent the hose from being pinched. Keep the machine level and adjust the legs underneath if needed. If left unbalanced, during the spin cycle it can cause the washing machine to rock or walk across the floor which can damage the floor or the machine.
Tips and Tricks
- Wash your clothing inside out. This way, the wear and tear that a washing machine agitator may cause to an article of clothing, is on the inside of the garment and not the outside.
- Use half the amount of normal detergent and half a cup of baking soda as a booster. More laundry detergent does not always equal cleaner clothing. If you are using a high efficiency washing machine, there is usually less water used for rinsing out all that detergent and if left not properly rinsed, it can leave your clothes looking dull and stiff.
- Avoid denim shrinkage. A great tip from com, put jeans in the dryer on medium or low heat for 10 minutes, just enough to soften them and then hang them to dry from the ankles. The weight of the jeans will help pull out the wrinkles and keep them at their proper length.
- Make a tennis ball sized ball out of tightly compressed aluminum foil to throw in your dryer. This cuts back on dryer sheets, your laundry comes out static-free and it cuts down on the wrinkles as well.
- Coffee and black tea are natural dyes. Add 2 prepared cups to the rinse cycle of your black clothing that needs a little color boost. (Do this at your own risk as this is not likely to be on any list of recommended uses for a washing machine!)
- If you own wool clothing, you will love this next tip. Mix a gallon of lukewarm water and two tablespoons of no tears baby shampoo. Soak the item for about ten minutes. Do not rinse. Simply blot out the excess water with a towel, reshape the garment and lay it flat to dry out of direct sunlight or heat. This process works for cotton and linen too.
- A time saver for drying a load of laundry a bit quicker; throw a dry bath towel into the load and it will reduce the drying time significantly.