One of my most favorite pastimes is laundry. The hum of the washer and dryer alone puts me at rest for some reason. I often wonder if it’s because the house I was born in was so tiny that the only place for my mom to put my bassinet was right next to the washer and dryer. The smell of softeners and fresh air as I hang laundry to dry, a closet full of clean clothes and the anticipation of untold stylistic possibilities contained inside, the bliss of falling into fresh sheets… It’s my happy place. I’ve picked up a few things over the years as I’ve navigated the challenges or rusty well water, years of living through cross-country travel with a sense of undying frugality, and a husband who resolutely believes everything can be thrown in the dryer! Here are my recommendations for augmenting the process of doing laundry so that it becomes more enjoyable and successful from start to finish!
Leverage the power of hot water.
Time and again we hear about not washing reds with whites, and this is absolutely true. But why is this the case? Primarily, because people utilize bleach to remove stains. Furthermore, they often wash whites in hot water to sanitize them and this step serves to kill bacteria which result in those stains.However, the hot water used in this process can separate the colorants from the fabric, which would be problematic if you don’t want your red sock to turn your whites pink! You may want to “boil” your sheets in a long, hot wash when it’s time to freshen/sanitize them, and do the same with your bathroom linens or your gym wear that is prone to collecting sweat. But be extra careful not to mix them haphazardly unless you want to play tie-dye with your whites.
Keep an eye on dyed fabrics.
Freshly purchased and vibrantly dyed fabrics are still unstable and can easily transfer their dye to other garments, especially if they’re washed in hot water. This applies to exceptionally vibrant colors and many kinds of denim(personal experience). You should also be extremely cautious with any garments you dye yourself! It’s best to wash all of these items by themselves for the first wash, if not the initial second or third if you’re concerned about dye transfer.
Cold water + color catchers = profit.
With the exception of garments and linens that need to be sterilized with a hot water wash, newly purchased brightly colored or dyed items, and anything that you need bleach for, most things can actually be washed together regardless of color! This is especially true if you use a color catcher! These are sheets of fabric, not unlike a fabric softening dryer sheet, that absorb any dye in the water before your laundry gets the chance to. This practice is perfect for mid-week laundry washings… not enough darks or colors or lights to merit their own load? That’s quite alright. It’s also excellent if you find yourself with a lot of accumulated laundry to wash, when you return home from a trip and want to finish unpacking as fast as possible, or are using the machines at the laundromat and want to keep your expenses down. Not only that, I find that teaching young people how to do laundry is ill-based on color. It does nothing to teach about clothing preservation, which brings me to my next tip!
Invest in compartmentalized laundry hampers.
Since learning about the existence of color catchers, I’ve started dividing laundry by washing requirement rather than color. I prefer to hang dry work clothes, as this results in the seams drying flatter which is more useful to me. I never dry denim or chambray in the event it will shrink. More refined knits are also hung dry to prevent seams from twisting and material from balling. I also hang dry any items I’m partial to, especially those that are thrifted, to preserve them longer. I prefer drying anything that can qualify as workout attire, since there’s SO MUCH OF IT between the man and I and it’s usually needed on a quicker basis. This includes plain cotton socks, tshirts, sweats, yoga pants, leggings, and the like. My lingerie is delicate and expensive so I like to baby it, thoroughly using stain removal as needed anywhere it may come into contact with sweat, washing it by itself and hanging it to dry. Towels and sheets need to be sterilized, and rags used for cleaning have products on them that I don’t want to touch other fabrics. Having a laundry hamper with multiple compartments has made this SO much easier. Now that my husband is on board with the system, I never have to sort dirty laundry ever! When we take it off, that’s the last time it needs touched other than when it’s put into the washer. This also makes it far simpler to put away laundry, since most of each individual load all belongs in the same place.
Purchase a drying rack for delicate laundry.
While there’s certainly some comedy in hanging my silky things from door knobs and ceiling fans, a nice industrial drying rack has made a huge difference in laundry ease. Most of my laundry is hung to dry, and having all of it in one location makes the whole experience much more streamlined.
Buy yourself a stand up and a portable steamer, and learn the ways of wrinkle releaser.
The average woman has plenty of fabrics in her wardrobe that shouldn’t be dried or ironed. This is where the steamer comes in handy. Most stand up steamers come with a hanger to clip or drape garments on to ease the steaming process, and a large reservoir to hold a volume of water that doesn’t need frequent refilling. Once I’m done laundering, I plan my wardrobe for the week and steam everything before sectioning it off to streamline my morning routine. When I finish with my husband’s laundry, I steam all of it so that whatever he grabs is ready to wear. I have also found use in a portable steamer I take on trips, to my bridal suite for last minute touch-ups, and sometimes I also take it to work to sort out post-commute wrinkles.
Limit the dryer’s volume and supplement with dryer balls.
It’s a sad fact of life but the standard washer cannot launder our entire wardrobe in one cycle. I know, very sad. So, we must learn to temper our urges. The same principle applies to the volume of laundry we put in the dryer. If the laundry has enough room to tumble around, it is less likely to get tangled up or end up twisted. Not only do twisted and tangled fabrics a pain to remove and at risk of not drying completely, they almost always end up wrinkled. I limit load size and also use dryer balls to prevent this issue. Dryer balls are little spiked plastic balls that you pop in the dryer which bounce around and serve to keep clothing somewhat separated. As an added plus, I’ll throw them in with tshirts or sweats that I’ve spritzed with water to remove any wrinkles that set in during clothing storage.
Brighten your whites.
Bleach is only part of the recipe for blinding bright whites. Getting those whites in the sun also seems to help, so if you are the anti-chemical type, get your clothesline or drying rack ready. Pro-tip from my late grandma, whose whites were ALWAYS blinding… drop a tiny bit of bluing into the water as the wash bin fills up and then add your whites to ensure the blue dye is evenly distributed. This counteracts any yellow or orange tones from sweat, makeup, and dirt that might be dulling your laundry.
Stain removal is fundamental.
There are so many products, all of them great for specific stains. My best advice is to be preventative, treating the parts of each garment that are most liable to become stained. Sweat stains and makeup stains in particular are often not noticeable at first but rather build up over the series of multiple wears. On anything lightly colored (white, light beige, or pastel) I use a stain stick on collars and armpits even if I don’t see any stains yet. I usually spray all of my undergarments, and in general do all of my stain removal treatments, before I start running the water so that the chemicals have time to work. The only stains I remove promptly are blood, which is handily removed by hydrogen peroxide followed by stain remover spray, and grease. For the latter, any grease oriented spray should work!
Starching is the key to crisp garments and linens.
I, and most farm kids, like my work jeans to stand up in the corner on their own accord like something you’d see in a paranormal horror film. Spray starch is okay for dress shirts and anything lighter weight than denim, but nothing works wonders on a pair of jeans like a bottle of Sta-Flo. I wash my jeans and flimsier button ups, then soak them in a five gallon bucket of starch and water solution overnight. I feel warm water is better to mix the solution, and I’ll use anything from a cup to a whole bottle depending on how much fabric I’m working with. I wring them out, straighten them out, line up seams, then let them dry on the drying rack. Then it’s just a matter of a firm ironing and everything is deliciously crisp. I never dry these garments in the machine because I don’t want them to soften up at all.
Make use of a dry cleaning bag.
When our suits and other dry clean only garments are in need of cleaning, I hang them back up in a bag strictly for dirty garments. I don’t want them to get wrinkled up and smashed in a hamper, and I also want them tidy and organized so that I don’t have to sort through things in order to take them to the cleaner. Once the bag is full enough to merit a trip, or once our clean options are limited, I take them to the dry cleaner.
Laundry can absolutely be a burdensome task, but I find that knowing how to do an excellent job of it with systematic steps that work flawlessly make the process more enjoyable. The familiarity of this set protocol makes it all the more comforting, too!