Available in powder or liquid form, these laundry aids can brighten, deodorize, and soften laundry. Here is some know-how from Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook.
An effective cleaner, deodorizer, and fabric softener. Apply a paste (mix 4 tablespoons baking soda and an equal amount of water) to stains to absorb odors and help break down grease, or presoak new clothes (1⁄4 cup baking soda to 1 gallon water) to eliminate factory residue.
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A liquid added to laundry during the Wash or Rinse cycle to combat the yellowing of whites. Its blue (usually ultramarine) pigment adds a subtle tint to fabrics, which makes them appear whiter (but doesn’t actually whiten them), because a “blue” white appears brighter and cleaner than a “yellow” white or a “red” white. Bluing must be diluted with water before it’s added to the washer. You can still find bluing in some supermarkets, but it is no longer a staple of the laundry room, since today’s detergents -- which often contain optical brighteners, dyes that make whites appear brighter -- do a much better job of cleaning clothes and don’t cause them to weaken the way chlorine bleach does.
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Available at most supermarkets, borax is a naturally occurring mineral. It has antiseptic, antibacterial, water-softening, and whitening properties, and boosts the cleaning power of detergents. It is a useful additive when washing cloth diapers because it whitens and neutralizes the ammonia odors found in urine. Add 1⁄2 cup to the wash.
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There are two types of bleach: sodium hypochlorite (commonly known as chlorine or liquid household bleach) and oxygen (also called color-safe or nonchlorine). Chlorine and oxygen bleaches should not be used together -- chlorine bleach will deactivate any oxygen bleach already in the laundry detergent. A fabric care label that doesn’t mention bleach implies that you can use any type safely; it’s best to avoid both types when washing anything with a “no bleach” label.
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is most often used in liquid form, although it is also found in dry form. It is safe only on whites. It can lift stains and maintain whiteness, but can’t restore clothing to brand-new whiteness (nothing can). It also deodorizes laundry. The bleaching action of liquid chlorine bleach takes about five minutes after adding it to the wash (although it may occur more quickly in hot water and more slowly in cold). Chlorine bleach also acts as a disinfectant, since it kills bacteria. Always use caution when using chlorine bleach: It can weaken fabrics and even a tiny drop will spot or discolor a colored fabric. Always wear gloves and old clothes or an apron when you use chlorine bleach, and work in a well-ventilated area. Never add chlorine bleach full strength—always dilute it first in water and add it to the wash about five minutes into the washing cycle. (Most machines have a bleach dispenser. Follow the instructions in your user’s manual.) Also, never mix chlorine bleach with either ammonia or vinegar; these combina- tions will result in the release of highly poisonous gases. Do not use chlorine bleach on vintage linens, baby clothes, silk, wool, mohair, or any synthetic fabric. Avoid chlorine bleach if your water is high in iron (as well water often is); it may cause yellowing.
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are available in both powders and liquids. It is a gentler, less toxic alternative to chlorine beach that relies on hydrogen per- oxide for its cleaning power. Oxygen bleaches maintain colors and help keep whites white (but will not make them whiter). They are safe to use on colored cotton, wool, silk, and synthetic fabrics. Oxygen bleach is added to the wash at the same time as the detergent. They are especially effective with hot water, but will still work well at temperatures below 130°F as long as you increase the exposure time. For dingy whites, try presoaking the laundry with oxygen bleach overnight before washing (always follow label directions).
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These products are formulated to work on tough stains, especially hard-to-remove stains like perspiration and blood, but they can also be added to a load of wash to boost the effectiveness of regular laundry detergents. enzyme presoaks consist of a number of active ingredients, including enzymes, which break down stains; builders, which enhance cleaning efficiency; surfactents, which loosen and remove soil; and bluing agents and optical brighteners, to make whites appear whiter. Some enzyme presoaks also contain an oxygen bleach.
Available in supermarkets, this mineral has strong cleaning and degreasing properties. Add 2 tablespoons to laundry detergent to make it more effective, or mix it with a small amount of water to form a paste to remove greasy stains.
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Naturally acidic, white vinegar cuts grease, softens water, and whitens fabrics when added to the rinse water. Add it to the first rinse so it can be washed out by the second rinse. Depending on the size of the load, add any- where from 1⁄8 cup and 1⁄2 cup. Although it was long thought to be a good idea to add vinegar or salt to wash water to help “set” dyes, this is of doubt- ful value. These household staples may indeed help to counteract dye loss by reducing the alkalinity of the wash water, but they will also inhibit the detergent’s ability to clean your clothes. In any case, the quantities used would have to be extremely large to be effective.