Our Best Laundry Tips to Keep Your Clothes and Linens Looking Good as New

Photo: Jonny Valiant

You work hard to maintain your home—which is why working smart, especially when it comes to laundry, is so important. To help you out, we've culled some of the best laundry how-tos and innovative tips that'll reduce your time in the laundry room and leave your clothes looking as good as new. A piece of advice to start: Don't skip the prep work—take a peek at clothing labels for washing instructions.

While your washing machine will be doing the brunt of the work, some articles of clothing will require more of your attention. Keep in mind that delicate fabrics, like silk or linen, shouldn't be tossed into the same load as more durable pieces like cotton. Although you sometimes do need to dry clean, many stains and odors can be treated with household products you already have. Ahead, we'll explain how to launder all kinds of textiles, including the special ones.

01 of 16

Prep Clothes Before Placing in the Washer

Jonny Valiant

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.

02 of 16

How (and When) to Wash Down Pillows and Comforters

macy's bedroom bedding essentials

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, causing 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.

03 of 16

Try DIY Fabric Softener

vinegar and baking soda next to lemon and measuring spoon
Getty / Eskay Lim / EyeEm

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 1/4 cup and 1 cup white vinegar to the final rinse cycle—and never mix vinegar and chlorine bleach.

04 of 16

Blue Your Laundry to Brighten Whites

woman pinning laundry on clothing wire outdoors
Getty / Tetra Images - Jamie Grill

Once a laundry room staple, bluing is an old-fashioned product 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 ($5.29, amazon.com), particularly on antique linens and lace.

05 of 16

Remove Stains Like an Expert

woman looking at a stain on her sweatshirt at a laundromat
Getty / GoodLifeStudio

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.

06 of 16

Increase Your Laundry Detergent's Efficacy With Borax

wicker basket filled with white towels and laundry detergent bottles
Getty / Jamie Grill

Use a gentle, nontoxic soap or detergent in every load of laundry and boost the cleaning power as needed by adding 1/2 cup of borax. This naturally occurring mineral has antiseptic, antibacterial, water-softening, and whitening properties.

07 of 16

Brighten Whites Sans Bleach

woman hanging up laundry on washing line outside
Getty / Mint Images

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 1/2 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.

08 of 16

Baby Laundry 101

baby in laundry basket
Getty / AE Pictures Inc.

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.

09 of 16

Keep Up With Napkin Laundering

edged cloth napkins orange blue stripes folded
Sidney Bensimon

Though you may be worried about pulling out your good linens outside of holiday celebrations, they actually benefit from occasional use. Soak them in an ice-water bath after the meal (you can leave them there overnight). Pull them out and squeeze out the water, treat any remaining stains, and then submerge them in another soak with hot water and laundry detergent. Gently squeeze the linens in the soapy water to ensure they're getting clean. To dry, roll them in a large towel and gently pat them to sop up the water. Let them hang dry on a rack (in the sunlight, if possible). Before putting them away, Martha recommends ironing them.

10 of 16

Hand Wash Delicate Fabrics

hand washing laundry in bucket
Getty / Phornphan Pradittiemphon / EyeEm

Just because a clothing label reads "dry clean" doesn't mean it can't be hand washed, even 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.

11 of 16

Know When to Dry Clean

woman collecting blouse from the dry cleaners
Getty / sturti

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.

12 of 16

Choose the Right Wash Cycle

Small boy with his mother in front of a washing machine
Getty / Thanasis Zovoilis

Configuring correct washer settings is 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.

13 of 16

Choose the Right Dryer Settings

Woman emptying laundry room
Getty / gradyreese

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.

14 of 16

Wash Bath Towels Regularly

blue and white bath towels

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.

15 of 16

Maintain Your Washer and Dryer

Matthew Williams

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 3/4 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 blockages.

16 of 16

Keep Clothing Clean

woman looking at clothes
Getty / Sofie Delauw

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 fabric 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.

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