The Best Tips for Perfect Laundry
If cleaning and organizing are two mainstays on your perpetual household to-do list, it's likely that keeping your laundry in order falls close behind. You work hard to maintain your home—which is why working smart, especially when it comes to laundry, is so important. To help you do so, we've culled some of the best laundry how-tos; even the most knowledgable laundresses will benefit from these innovative tips. Work them into your routine, and they'll reduce your time in the laundry room and leave your clothes looking as good as new. A good piece of advice to start? Put time into the prep work—that means taking a peek at any clothing labels that list how certain pieces should be cleaned.
While your washing machine will be doing the brunt of the work to tidy up soiled garments, some articles of clothing will require more of your attention. Keep in mind that clothes made out of more delicate fabrics, like silk or linen, shouldn't be tossed in the wash with other more durable pieces (think cotton). Ahead, we explain how to best launder all kinds of textiles, including the special ones. There's good news: You can beat the hassle of taking items like these to your dry cleaner by hand washing them.
Laundry does, however, occasionally require that extra hassle, especially when it comes to pesky stains; trying to eliminate odors can be just as challenging. Even so, neither of these nuisances have to to cause a headache. With products like white vinegar in your corner, you will be able to lift the most stubborn of marks and smells without having to depend solely on bleach or other products that can, unfortunately, damage clothes. You'll soon be able to hit the reset button on the rest of your laundry misconceptions—use these helpful hints to craft a laundry routine you can rely on.
Ready Clothes for the Washer
Before you toss items into the washing machine, remove pins or buckles, zip zippers, close snaps and hooks, and secure Velcro to prevent snags and abrasions. But don't button buttons—this can stress the buttons themselves and buttonholes.
Next, empty pockets and turn them inside out, unfurl socks, and unroll cuffs. Tie sashes and strings to prevent tangling. Place delicate items like lingerie and fine knitwear in zippered mesh bags. Turn delicate items, sweaters, and cotton t-shirts inside out to prevent pilling. Put socks in a pillowcase or mesh bag so they don't get separated.
Wash Down Pillows and Comforters
Clean down pillows in the washing machine every three to six months to remove bacteria and odors, and launder comforters only as needed, up to twice annually. (Each washing strips feathers of their natural oils, which causes them to lose their loft.) Dry both on the lowest heat setting—along with a clean tennis ball, to help evenly redistribute the feathers—and keep them even by fluffing daily when you make the bed. Between washings, air out down items, preferably outdoors on a clothesline, once or twice a year to keep them smelling fresh, and spot-treat small stains with mild dishwashing liquid and water.
Try DIY Fabric Softener
Residues from fabric softeners and their fragrances can aggravate allergies and sensitivities, and leave buildup on moisture sensors or lint screens, blocking air flow. To remedy this, create your own: Add between one-fourth cup and one cup white vinegar to the final rinse cycle (never mix vinegar and chlorine bleach).
Blue Your Laundry
Once a laundry room staple, bluing is an old-fashioned product that was added to the wash or rinse cycle to give whites a very subtle blue tint. Bluing makes some white fabrics that already have a blue-white hue appear even brighter, cleaner, and whiter. Bluing fell out of use as fabric detergents became more effective, but even with improved formulas, whites gradually begin to look dingy after repeated washings. Chlorine bleach is an effective whitener, but it can weaken fabrics and fibers. Martha likes to use Mrs. Stewart's Bluing ($5.12, amazon.com), particularly on antique linens and lace.
Remove Stains Like an Expert
The best way to fix a stain is to treat it before it sets. Quickly scoop up solids with a dull edge, and blot liquids with a clean white cloth from the outside in to avoid spreading. Treat stains before washing, and always make sure stains have been removed before putting items in the dryer; heat sets stains into fabric. Use our comprehensive Stain First Aid chart to treat specific spot types.
Increase Your Laundry Detergent's Efficacy
Use a gentle, nontoxic soap or detergent in every load of laundry and boost the cleaning power as needed by adding one-half cup of borax. This naturally occurring mineral has antiseptic, antibacterial, water-softening, and whitening properties.
Brighten Whites Sans Bleach
The first step to keeping whites bright is to wash them separately in hot water. Smaller items like napkins, socks, and linens can be whitened on the stove in a solution of hot water and lemon slices. Fill a pot with water and a few lemon slices, bring to a boil, turn off the heat, and add linens. Soak for up to an hour and launder as usual.
Whites can also be lightened with one-half cup of borax or white vinegar mixed into one gallon of water during the wash cycle. For an extra brightening boost, hang laundry in the sun for natural bleaching.
Understand Baby Laundry 101
Regular detergents are often too harsh for sensitive baby skin. To avoid irritation, use the mildest soap available without unnecessary additives and chemicals. Some of these are less alkaline than regular soaps, so they may not clean stains as well, but they will be safer for your baby. Avoid fabric softeners, and always pre-soak stains in cool water as soon as possible to prevent spots from setting.
Keep Up with Napkin Laundering
Though you may be worried about pulling out your good linens beyond holiday celebrations, they actually benefit from occasional use. After the meal, place napkins and other linens in an ice-water bath—Martha always lines her sink with a sturdy bath towel before filling it with water. You can also leave the linens in the water bath overnight.
After the items have soaked, lift the towel from the water—with the linens still inside—and drain in the sink. Then, fill the sink with very hot water and laundry detergent. (Martha likes to add some non-chlorine bleach to the water for gentle brightening.) Spray any remaining stains with a stain treatment, and allow to sit for a few minutes. Afterwards, add linens to the wash water, gently squeeze suds through, then drain the sink. Carefully squeeze excess water out of the linens and rinse away the soap.
To dry, roll linens in a large towel and gently pat to remove excess water. Lay the linens on a rack—ideally in the sunlight—until they are dry. Make like Martha and iron your napkins before putting them away. She puts a terry-cloth towel over her ironing board and places a dampened napkin, back side up, on top. (If your napkins are monogrammed, always iron on the back side.) As you work, fold the napkin in half, then in quarters, gently ironing over the creases for a neat, crisp finish.
Hand Wash Delicate Fabrics
Just because a clothing label reads "dry clean" doesn't mean it can't be hand washed, especially if it's made of natural fibers. Wool, silk, rayon, and linen can usually tolerate hand washing. When hand washing, immerse delicates into a solution of lukewarm water and mild detergent, and swish for three to five minutes. Drain soapy water, rinse items until water runs clear, and then gently squeeze out excess water, but do not wring. Reshape clothing flat on a towel, and roll up, pressing out excess water. Repeat with a dry towel, and then hang on a drying rack or another towel, flipping once.
Know When to Dry Clean
Some clothing items need truly professional care. Don't chance washing very delicate fabrics yourself, especially if they include embellishments like beading, fur, or sequins. Leather and suede should also be left to professional handling. Heavily soiled garments, especially those with difficult oil-based stains, should be taken to a dry-cleaner, who may be able to remove them with specialized solvents.
Prepare for the Wash Cycle
The correct washer settings are a primary step to ensuring your clothes are cared for properly. A regular cycle is best for sturdy and dirty clothes, while the permanent press setting is fine for the average load. Use the delicate cycle for lacy and loosely woven fabrics. Use hot water for white loads, warm water for the average load, and cold water for bright colors.
Choose the Right Dryer Settings
Most dryers have a setting called "electronic" or "automatic dry" that lets you choose how dry you want the clothes to be, rather than how long you want them to dry. The permanent press setting has a cool-down cycle at the end to reduce wrinkling. On air fluff, the dryer circulates air but adds no heat; this is good for freshening pillows and reviving clothes that have been packed in a suitcase but don't need to be washed. To avoid shrinkage, you can dry your clothes the old-fashioned way: on a clothesline or drying rack.
Wash Bath Towels Regularly
There is nothing quite like a basket full of fresh, fluffy bath towels. For best results, launder towels every three to four days. For white towels, use non-chlorine bleach and wash on the hottest setting. Do not use fabric softener, which can actually stiffen towels with residual buildup over time. When drying towels, use one scent-free dryer sheet.
Maintain Your Washer and Dryer
Like all other household appliances, the washer and dryer must be cleaned and serviced. Wipe the washer's interior with a clean, damp cloth, then run a short hot wash cycle with detergent; rinse the empty machine with a plain water cycle. Occasionally disinfect with a solution of three-fourths cup chlorine bleach and one tablespoon powdered detergent for every gallon of warm water used. Let sit for a few minutes, then drain and rinse a few times. To prevent the dryer from overheating, clean the screen or filter after every use, and remove accumulated lint from behind the dryer. Every so often, disconnect the exhaust duct to remove blockage.
Keep Clothing Clean
Prevent unnecessary washing with practical clothing maintenance tips. Apply toiletries (deodorant, perfume, hair products) before getting dressed to avoid contact with chemicals that could cause soiling. Address stains as soon as possible with the proper steps, depending on the type of spot. Finally, at the end of the day, change into something more comfortable and hang clothing up to allow wrinkles to release and fabric to air out.