How to do Laundry
There are as many fabrics and methods for doing laundry as there are types of beer at the liquor store. This article is intended as a primer, and not as a definitive directory of clothing care. We are not responsible for any shrinking, staining, or damage of any type to clothing that may occur as a result of any of the methods described in this article. When in doubt about how an article of clothing should be laundered, read the label. The symbols on the tag will tell you how to best care for the garment. The textile industry has a website that explains all those cryptic little symbols. It can be found here. That being said, laundry is not a difficult thing to do. Grab a basket and a roll of quarters and let’s get cleaning.
Step #1 – Should I even be washing this?
There are many fabrics such as wool or cashmere which should never see the inside of the washing machine. Any item which has a dry clean only tag should stay as far away from the washing machine as possible. In addition, many dry clean only clothes require laundering much less often than conventional clothes. Wool for example, does not naturally trap odors, so brushing the fabric to keep lint and debris to a minimum and hanging the garment will keep it fresh. Dry cleaning is hard on fabrics, so try to do it only when the item begins to smell or has a stain. Once again, a link to a site that explains all those little symbols on your tags is right here.
Step #2 – Stains
Stains can be really tricky to get out. Most laundry detergents do a pretty good job of getting all but the toughest stains out, but there are some stains that nothing will get out. The golden rule of treating stains – ACT FAST! Any stain that is allowed time to set becomes much more difficult to remove. There are many stain removal products on the market and most of them do a fantastic job. Another often overlooked stain remover is plain water. Flooding a stain with cold water and blotting it with a clean cloth or paper towel can get out a surprising amount of stains. Water can even work on blood and wine if applied soon enough. Make sure you don’t use hot water though – that could cause the stain to set and become permanent. Some stains such as mustard and ink can be almost impossible to remove, so act fast.
Step #3 – Sorting
Sorting laundry is something that seems to confuse many people. It’s tempting to throw that one red sweater in with all of your white sport socks to save a load – but don’t do it. Run an extra load.
Make the sorting easy on yourself, it’s really just common sense.
- Whites, and mostly white with no bright colors or patchwork.
- Dark colors – this includes dark blues, blacks, dark grays, etc.
- Middle colors – Khaki, soft gray, pink, light blues.
- Reds – Red, dark pink, burgundy, etc.
- Towels, cloths, etc.
I consider towels to be a separate load for a couple of reasons. First, they are usually all a similar color. Second, they tend to be fluffy and fuzzy, and that means lint. Finally, these items are usually used hard and it doesn’t matter if the colors fade a bit over time. However, still use common sense when washing. If you have red towels and white towels, run two separate loads.
When in doubt with sorting, or if an item is new and you do not know whether the color on a particular item is prone to run, wash the item by itself or with a sacrificial white cloth. Many dark colors will indeed run a bit when new, so use common sense.
Step #4 – Setting the washing machine.
When I was growing up, the washing machine seemed to have more cycles and settings on it than the space shuttle. Now I know better. Use cold water and the regular cycle. Today, washing machines are much more efficient, and there are detergents specially formulated for cold water. Washing in cold water helps keep colors brighter longer, minimizes color runs, and lessens the chance of shrinkage (of clothing at least).
If your machine does have a delicate cycle, use it when required. Most often this will be for fine fabrics, or dainty items. The tag should indicate when a gentle or delicate cycle is required.
There are many detergents on the market today, and picking one can be daunting. Generally I prefer a cold water liquid detergent, as they work well in cold water (obviously) and liquids tend to dissolve more evenly.
If the clothes are not deeply soiled, it can sometimes help to wash dark colors inside out. This prevents fading and can make colors last a bit longer. There are also special detergents available for dark colors to prevent fading, but these are generally not required.
The basic steps of running the washing machine:
- Select cycle (usually regular wash)
- Select water temp (usually cold, sometimes indicated as cold/cold)
- Start the cycle with the washing machine tub empty
- As the water fills the tub, add the detergent, and let it mix up a bit
- Add the clothes and close the lid
There are some times when you may want to vary these rules a bit. These include when using liquid fabric softener, or when adding a starch to the wash load. Fabric softener makes the clothes…softer. Adding a starch product such as Peal Starch to the load will make any items that need ironing look much better, and will help you save time when ironing. In both cases, follow the directions on the packaging of the product you are using. I don’t like using bleach in the wash, as the chemical is really harsh and hard on clothes. If you must, remember that it will destroy any colors it finds. Use only in pure white loads, and follow the directions on the package.
Step #5 – Drying
When it comes to laundry, I don’t like to let machines do things that are hard on my clothes. This definitely includes throwing them in a dryer. Dryers use heat to speed up the drying (duh) of the clothes. Unfortunately, this heat can also cause clothes to shrink. If your clothes are likely to shrink (new, cotton, etc.) hang them to dry. Laundry racks can be found at almost any store like Wal-mart or Target, and will save your clothes and your money. About the only thing I put into the dryer are towels, socks and underwear. Personally, I have had good luck with jeans and khakis in the dryer, but I do have experience with some brands that have shrunk. Dress shirts should ALWAYS be hung to dry on a good quality hanger, then ironed.
When hanging clothes, try to use a good quality hanger or drying rack. The best hangars are made out of wood, followed by plastic. I try to avoid metal hangars as they can rust when exposed to moisture and cause stains on your clothes.
Step #6 – Ironing
TheGenuineMan.com has already covered this topic. Click here.