It is usually the last thing on your mind… until you can’t find your favorite shirt. You can re-wear something dirty for the 3rd time…until it is your underwear we are talking about. Laundry. We all have to do it. Maybe you are one of the lucky ones who has someone in their life who enjoys doing their laundry for them, like a college student who only visits home for their parents to do their chores. But if you are like the majority of us, at some point, you have to do your own laundry.
A whole post on laundry? You might think, what is so hard about that. There are people out there (and you might be one of them) who have never had to do their own laundry and don’t even know how to operate the machine, let alone decide how each item should be washed. That is ok. I know as a mom, it was always easier for me to just do it myself than to teach my kids how to do it. However, I did need the help and I often asked my kids to pitch in. Does that mean they are laundry experts? Heck, no! I wouldn’t even consider myself an expert, but I have had a few laundry disasters that qualify me in what not to do.
If you are living on your own and doing laundry for one, it might make sense to save up as much dirty laundry as you can, head to the laundromat, and wash and dry it all at once. That might even work, depending on your clothes. But there are a few reasons why that might be less than ideal.
- Washing too large of a load will not get your clothes clean and will probably take a very long time (and lots of money) to completely dry.
- Some colors may bleed onto your favorite white t-shirt. You can’t always be sure, even after you have washed it, that you won’t have a whole pile of pink underwear or blue splotches on your other clothes. (Again, I know from experience, turning my husband’s undershirts for work pink).
- Not all your clothes are meant to be washed or dried at the same temperature. Too hot and your clothes will shrink, especially cotton, wool, and other natural fibers. I shrunk my daughter’s boyfriend’s sweater into doll size one time…I felt terrible.
- Some items may be better off not going in the dryer at all. My husband, for example, prefers all of his shirts hung up to dry, while I have several nice outfits where the tags recommend laying flat to dry.
- In the same vein, there are items that cannot be washed at all. There are dry cleaners for a reason. And yes, it is a pain to have to go to the dry cleaners for your favorite outfits, but trust me, if you invest in a top with a lot of embellishments, you will be sorry the first time you try to clean it yourself. Oftentimes, spot cleaning may be able to do the trick, but some fabrics cannot get wet at all, so I would either invest the time and money in dry cleaning, research at home dry cleaning products, or check those tags before you buy!
Speaking of checking the tags, I always check the tags before I wash a new item of clothing to make sure I am washing it correctly. Usually, if there is some sort of decoration, you may have to turn it inside out, wash on cold, and lay flat to dry. I like to seperate my clothes into at least 3 piles. Towels, items that cannot be dried, and everything else. Here is how I tackle these:
- Towels can be washed on high or medium heat and usually do not need any type of fabric softener, which can actually inhibit the drying power of the towel and can ruin microfiber towels, if they are in the same load. They are bulky, so you may need several loads if you are doing them at home, or use the larger capacity washer at the laundromat. Towels can be dried on high to medium heat. Again, do not put too many in the dryer, or you will be waiting all day for them to dry. I use wool dryer balls to help with static cling that often arises with towels.
- Items that cannot be dried in dryer. My husband prefers all of his shirts be hung up to dry, because he worries about shrinkage, especially around the arms. He tends to do the same with most of my shirts when he is doing laundry and any clothing I have that recommends it not be dried. If he isn’t sure, he doesn’t put it in the dryer. Because we are worried about shrinking, we usually wash this load in cold water.
- Everything else. This include underwear, shorts, leggings, etc. This is usually washed at least on medium heat if not high heat and is dried on high heat.
- Miscellaneous, like masks or blankets, are done separately and per manufacturer’s instructions.
Okay, we are sorted, now what? Do you know what detergent to use? Do you need fabric softener? What about bleach? And where do we actually put this stuff?
When it comes to detergent, I have found that it doesn’t matter what type you use. If you prefer the scent of one over the other, or you choose to be eco-friendly, there are choices for everyone. I have splurged on the expensive brands and have had to use the cheapest. I guess the difference in quality is the amount you have to use, typically, to get the same results. I am fine with a middle priced brand, and I prefer the type with no dye or fragrance, just because it can be an irritant. There are also different types depending on if you are using a high efficiency (EF) washer or not. Check you labels and your machine. If you have the old fashioned top loading washing machine, you will measure the amount of detergent (usually listed on the cap), start running the water, and pour the soap in, before putting your clothes in. This eliminates any soap buildup on your clothes. I usually just let the water run for a minute and then put the clothes in, and let it finish running. In a front loader, there is usually a pull out drawer that shows exactly where and how much soap to put in.
Bleach can be your enemy or your friend, depending on your knowledge of how to use it. I wouldn’t recommend using bleach regularly, more for tough stains. If, for example, you have a tough stain on a white table cloth you love, then you could soak it in a bleach/water solution. Bleach can also be used a disinfectant. Warning: Bleach is a caustic chemical, meaning it can damage you clothes, and anything else it touches. If you are soaking something in bleach, do not leave it too long, or it could eat a hole right through it. It can also be very drying to your hands, can irritate your eyes, nose, and throat, and should only be used to whiten objects. Use in well ventilated area, use gloves, and protect your eye from splashback. Honestly, I prefer oxygenated bleach alternatives, just because they are a bit safer. In a top loading machine, there is usually a place to put the liquid bleach along the rim and in a top loader, it is in the same place as the detergent, marked for bleach. Some bleaches are concentrated, so make sure you use the proper amount. There are safer, natural alternatives to bleach, but some people prefer it. Powdered oxygenated bleach alternatives have their own recommendations of how to use it, I would follow those directions.
In-wash fabric softener is again, your preference. I used to use it religiously, but eventually the smell got to me and I didn’t want to use it anymore. There are so many tricks online for making your own versions, or just using vinegar, but our water in our area does not make my clothes rough, so I don’t feel the need for it. Your water might leave your clothes feeling stiff or you may have items that wrinkle easily, and for you, fabric softener might work. In top loading machines, there might be a receptacle for adding fabric softener, but a lot of the times, you are expected to put it in manually before the final rinse. This means you need to know when that is going to be. If you put it in too soon, you clothes could end up with a greasy, unclean feeling, and spots that cannot be removed. Some brands have their own delivery system, a ball that you fill up and put in at the beginning of the wash load, and it opens up at the appropriate time. This can save you the hassle. Again, front loaders tend to have its own area for fabric softener that you can fill up when you add the detergent. It will be labeled.
Fabric softener sheets. I like these. Not only does it add a nice scent to your laundry, but it helps deter static cling and can attract dog hair, lint, and smaller particles that might be in the fibers of your clothes. Some claim to help get rid of wrinkles, as well. These aren’t considered environmentally safe options and again, you can look online for DIY alternatives or you can use wool or plastic dryer balls. These won’t add a scent, but they will help with the static cling and are reusable. All these choices are added to the dryer after you have added your clothes, for best results. If money is tight, it is absolutely okay to not use anything!
If you are a sweat pants and tshirt wearing person who has the most basic items of clothing to wash, then go ahead and wash it all in one load! This information is good to have for those times when you actually get to invest in your clothing and you don’t want to ruin the investment. I don’t know how many times I spent $100 on a jacket that I ruined because I threw it in the washer when the season was over without realizing the filling was made with down, or it shrunk or got holes. It is very disappointing to ruin your (or someone you loves) clothes. This stuff all becomes basic knowledge after doing it a few times and you get quicker at sorting each time. For me, who hates laundry, this part is way easier than the folding and putting away of the clean laundry. I have bad habits, too!
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