Ah, laundry — the never-ending cycle. Piles of dirty clothes are something we all have to deal with. Most of us do it the way we’ve always done it, just to get it over with so we can move on with the rest of our day.
Unfortunately, some laundry room shortcuts may be shortening the life of your clothing — and your appliances. It's time to come clean about the most common clothes washing mistakes and how to fix them.
Detergent gets clothes clean, so more detergent must make clothes even cleaner, right? Nope. Excess laundry soap doesn't rinse out of clothing as easily and leaves behind irritating residue that can attract grime and bacteria. The result? Your laundry might end up dirtier than before you washed it.
The fix: Today’s detergents and washing machines are extremely efficient, so try using half the amount of soap you used to per load. You might be surprised when your clothes come out even cleaner.
Furiously scraping away at a stubborn set-in stain with harsh solvents only makes the problem worse by permanently damaging the fabric.
The fix: Treat stains as soon as possible. The longer they stay on the fabric, the more embedded in the fibers they become. You’ll have more success rinsing away a fresh splat of tomato sauce with a drop of mild soap and cold water than trying to get rid of it with harsher chemicals later.
Zippers on jeans, dresses, hoodies, and jackets have sharp metal teeth that can snag on clothing in the washing machine as they spin around at high speeds, leading to tears. Likewise, leaving buttons buttoned — even on shirt sleeves and collars — can stretch buttonholes and loosen button threads. The fix: Make sure you zip up all zippers, unbutton all buttons, and fasten all bra clasps before tossing these items into the wash.
Over the past few decades, fabric softeners and dryer sheets have fallen out of favor — and for a good reason. Despite making laundry smell as fresh as a daisy straight out of the dryer, the chemicals that coat the sheets can, ironically, trap odor-causing bacteria. And although the softening agents also leave towels super-fluffy, they greatly reduce their absorbency, which kind of defeats the purpose.
The fix: Add a cup of distilled white vinegar during the rinse cycle to cut through any remaining detergent residue and soften fabrics naturally.
If you wash your white towels and dark rinse jeans together, eventually you’ll no longer have white towels or dark rinse jeans. Being careless about color transfer and mixing textures is a great way to ruin your laundry.
The fix: Always wash white and light-colored laundry separately from dark and bright colors — especially reds, which tend to bleed the most. Wash colorful loads in the coldest water possible to keep dyes intact and prevent fading. The opposite is true for lighter color clothing, which you should wash in the hottest water recommended on the label.
To ensure clothes remain in peak condition, it’s just as important to sort items by texture. Separate lightweight tops and delicate dress shirts from heavier items, like chunky sweaters and heavy jeans, to prevent wear and tear. It’s also good to wash bulky non-clothing fabrics, like towels and bedding, separately.
Tired of sending out search parties for missing socks after every load? Wondering why your bras are busted after a few washes? Odds are, you’re throwing them in the washer and dryer with everything else.
The fix: Hang a spacious mesh laundry bag next to your hamper for your socks and favorite undergarments. This will keep pairs together and protect the structure of more delicate items.
Front-loaders are infamous for trapping moisture, which make them a breeding ground for smelly mold and bacteria growth.
The fix: To keep your machine as fresh and odor-free as possible, leave the door ajar after each wash cycle; let it air out until the washer drum is completely dry.
Waiting until your hamper is full and then dumping as much dirty laundry as possible into your washing machine might seem more efficient, but the results are usually the exact opposite. With less room to move around, clothing doesn’t get as clean as it should. Furthermore, tossing too much damp clothing into the dryer at once just doubles the drying time. Overstuffing also puts excess strain on your machine and wears down the motor, shortening its lifespan.
The fix: Get in the habit of doing smaller loads of laundry more frequently to prevent big backlogs. Most machines these days have water level sensors or at least a small load option, so you won't waste water.
We expect a washing machine to clean our clothing, but it's easy to forget to clean the machine itself. Detergent residue, hard water deposits, and grime from dirty clothing all build up over time. The fix: Use the self-clean cycle, if your washing machine has it. If it doesn't, pour a cup of distilled white vinegar directly into the barrel and run the empty machine on the longest cycle with the hottest water. Once that cycle is finished, repeat the process, this time with a cup of baking soda. Once complete, wipe down the inside of the machine and leave the lid open to air it out. At least once a month seems to be the accepted frequency.
Don't take lint buildup lightly. Not only does a full lint screen lengthen drying time, but it’s a serious fire hazard.
The fix: After every dry cycle, big or small, make a habit of removing the lint screen and brushing away as much lint as possible. Then, clear out the cavity that houses the screen with a long, skinny brush for those hard-to-reach places inside the vent. At least once a year, remove the hose at the back of the machine to clear debris from the dryer duct.