Suddenly, all the sheets were pink.
January 8, 2012 7:30 AM   Subscribe

How to do laundry when you start buying clothes at more than 5 bucks?

We usually just separate the clothes into two or three piles (any color, any situation) and dump them in the washing machine with a bunch of detergent. Then dump them in the dryer with one of those flowery sheets. we never iron, add softener, starch (I know about starch because of my mom) or do anything other than these two very simple steps.

The new situation:

- We started buying *nice* clothes that we would like to keep for a while, and that also seem to be more high maintenance, like shirts with stiff collars, nice wools and cottons, nice jeans, etc.

-Among our new nice clothes, there suddenly are a lot of business shirts. They have really hard collars and come with two little metal/plastic sticks inserted in them. I have no idea how we should use those or if we should take them out to wash, etc.

- We have a lot of black clothes, and they end up purple, unless the dye is great quality and they keep black forever.

- We don't know what to iron, when and how.

- We don't know about water temperatures, color grouping, washing delicates, or anything.

- We would like to use as little detergent/products as possible, but want the clothes to keep and look well.

We went to the supermarket, and got some stuff. This is what we have now (I know I said I would like to use as few products as possible, but bought these things for emergencies or special situations...and because I got excited with the variety of products)

A washer and a dryer, separate
bleached detergent
non bleached detergent
Starch spray product
A very weird looking gel for stains (oxy clean)
detergent for black clothes
dryer sheets

Should we ditch/buy anything?
do we really need to use a dryer or fabric softener?
How do you do laundry?
posted by Tarumba to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, honey! You must dry clean business shirts if you want them to last a while.

Hot water will precipitate the dyes in dark clothes to bleed, so wash your dark washables on low.

Check the tags of your clothes to see suggestions on how to clean them.
posted by zoomorphic at 7:37 AM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wash everything on cold, and do separate loads for darks/bright colors/jeans and whites/light colors/towels.

Wool should never be put in the washer - either dry clean or hand wash in the sink with a little detergent and lay flat to dry.

Business shirts should be dry cleaned, and if you don't want to do that, just recognize that they won't last as long. For washing at home, take the collar thingies out and wash on cold with similar colors. Hang up immediately after drying, and if there are wrinkles, this is when you can iron.
posted by ella wren at 7:48 AM on January 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

And here are more detailed instructions: Ask A Clean Person: How Do I Do Laundry?
posted by ella wren at 7:50 AM on January 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Turn your dark jeans inside out and wash them on cold; shake them out so they're not all twisted before you put them in the dryer and remove promptly when they're dry.

I have a bunch of business-y shirts that are staying nice through regular washings, but YMMV. Take the collar stays out before you wash them. Wash darks in cold water. If they're wrinkled when they come out of the dryer, you can iron them or hang them in the bathroom when you're taking a shower - the steam will dewrinkle them somewhat (though not entirely). This is a pretty good guide to how to iron a dress shirt.

If you're in the U.S., you should know that most detergents available have recommendations for using waaaay too much. We use maybe a third to half of the recommended amount and everything comes out clean.

The temp of the water in your hot wash is set to whatever your water heater's thermostat is set to, so check that and you'll know.

Read the labels and sort laundry accordingly. Most wool items can't go in the regular wash, although you may be able to send them though in the delicate cycle (possibly in a lingerie bag or similar). They may be hand-washable. If they're items that don't get worn next to your skin, they don't need cleaning all that often.

OxyClean is great for organic stains (mustard, jam, etc.). Never wash and dry a stained item if you haven't done your damndest to treat the stain first - hot water and definitely the dryer will set the stain and you'll never get it out.

Go to the library or just go buy Home Comforts, which is all about keeping house and has an excellent section about laundry. It's a very interesting and accessible book.
posted by rtha at 7:52 AM on January 8, 2012 [8 favorites]

The little collar thingys are called collar stays. Shirts often come with plastic ones that get bent in the wash. Sometimes they are removable, sometimes not. You can buy replacements that aren't expensive.

You iron things that are wrinkled when you want them not to be. I remember seeing some very useful YouTube videos about how to iron shirts. Can't find the one I liked, but one trick was to use the shorter end of the ironing board as a surrogate "shoulder" to keep the shirt in place while ironing. (Simple, I know, but my mother never taught me this!)
posted by sesquipedalian at 7:54 AM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Guide to Common Home Laundry Symbols PDF as well.!

Also, googling 'laundry symbols' brings up more charts.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:57 AM on January 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I never use fabric softener.

I use Tide for most of my clothes.

I use regular Clorox bleach on white socks, my kids' and husband's white briefs, white towels, sheets, and wash cloths.

I use Woolite for delicates - like wool cashmere, silk, etc. There is a Woolite available for dark clothing. Wash your black clothing together and wash on cold, cool, or "colors" setting.

I also always have a Spray N Wash or Shout stain spray for pre-treating stains.

Do not use too much soap. Too much detergent ruins clothes and there is a film of detergent left on the clothing.

Separate by color and type. My loads go something like this: black clothing, whites like socks and underwear, sheets (don't wash dark sheets with light sheets), towels, drab mid-tones like gray and khaki and powder blue (these colors can take warmer water), dark jewel tones that may bleed and need a cooler setting to prevent fading (dark purple, red, navy, dark emerald green, etc.), delicates such as lingerie and cashmere sweaters. It goes without saying but don't wash items with hooks (bras, collars with metal or plastic) with sweaters or other items that could be ruined.

How to Wash Men's Dress Shirts

Do not overload your washer. Clothes will not and cannot be properly cleaned when there are too many items in the washer.

I find that you can launder most garments at home if you take the proper care.

I don't dry a lot of "nice" clothes. I am female and hang my "work" pants on hangers with the clips. I also hang nicer jersey t-shirts and tops, and cotton and cotton blend blouses up to dry. I hang them in my laundry room. You can hang anywhere you have enough room and air. Outside is ideal but I cannot be bothered. I then iron these garments, usually the night before I need them. You might be ambitious and do all of your ironing on the same day. Your clothes will last longer if you hang to dry. I basically only dry t-shirts, underwear, jeans, durable pants like chinos and khakis, sheets, towels, and workout clothes in the dryer. "Nice" clothes should not be thrown into a clothes dryer. If the garment can be dried in the dryer don't overdo it. Maybe hang until mostly dry and then fluff in the dryer.

A really good iron and a wide ironing board is recommended. When you have a super nice iron -- like a Rowenta --- it makes ironing more pleasurable.

I will second the book Home Comforts. I think Martha Stewart also has a guide on what you can launder at home even if it says Dry Clean Only.
posted by Fairchild at 8:13 AM on January 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Nthing Fairchild about hanging things to dry. (It's good for the environment to do that anyway!) Get a clothes-rack or indoor clothesline (if you can't hang clothes outdoors). I hang-dry my good jeans, my washable dresses, basically anything that isn't cotton knit or casual clothing.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:18 AM on January 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Also consider this.

We have bceome used to tossing everything in the wash after a single wearing. However, that is very harsh on clothes. The more expensive your clothes, the less often you may want to put them through the wash.

This recalls a nearly lost art of clothes care. When my grandmother was in her 20s and 30s, she spent most days in a wool-blend street suit with a blouse underneath. She changed the blouse often, but the suit came off in the evening when she changed into a "housedress." It went right back onto a hanger and was hung out in the air of the bedroom for airing. Then it was brushed with a clothes brush to remove surface dirt and lint. These are still made.

Since I've started purchasing better pieces - wool blazers and pants, suits and wool-blend dresses, nice sweaters, good stiff shirts - I've reclaimed some of these habits. I'm not going to dry-clean after every wearing, but if you remove the nicer clothes once at home for the day and return them to the hanger and provide a little care, they'll last much longer and not get thrashed in the washer as often. Needless to say, everything has to pass the smell and visual test to warrant a re-wearing, but that's not hard to do. And when you assume that you're going to care for your clothes throughout the day, you also take more care about eating lunch and snacks, not sitting on messy park benches and pet-hair-covered car seats and stuff, in order to preserve the cleanliness of the clothes.

Added bonus: less water and detergent use + longer life for clothes = environmental benefit.
posted by Miko at 8:20 AM on January 8, 2012 [12 favorites]

I am female and hang my "work" pants on hangers with the clips.

Oh, and a good tip for this: hang them by the ankle hem, not the waist. You can fold them in half along the front/back if you want the crisp center crease to stay, or you can fold them side to side if you don't want a crease (though 'nice' pants usually have them, depending on material). But either way, you get a much nicer line and less sagging (and you preserve any ironing you just did much better) when you hang them "upside down" like that.
posted by Miko at 8:23 AM on January 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

60% of my wardrobe is black. Staying ahead of the fade is a constant part of my laundry effort. I wash all-black loads (we call them "Johnny Cash loads"), where the only non-black thing allowed in is a dark gray t-shirt or track pants.

I use Woolite Extra Dark, about half of the recommended amount. I turn woven items like cotton pants and sweaters inside out first.

I never launder wool, silks or business clothes at home. It all goes out to the dry-cleaner. I will wear pants or jackets three or four times as long as I didn't spill something on them. Sometimes I will refresh them with one of the home dry cleaning solutions like Dryel, where you spot-treat and fluff the item briefly in the dryer with a dry cleaning sheet in a special bag. (Still never the wools though. You only accidentally put wool in the dryer once before you learn never.)

And as mentioned, I put almost nothing in the dryer, especially the black and dark items. I even hang t-shirts to dry. It requires a little planning because you can't wear the item that same day, but I find things last ten times longer.
posted by pineapple at 8:41 AM on January 8, 2012

Best answer: From the author of the excellent Home Comforts, as recommended above, Laundry: The Home Comforts Book of Caring or Clothes and Linens. It's fantastic too.

I'll also add that I have these in my arsenal, and use them every time:

- this kind.

A Fels-Naptha bar is great for grungy shirt collars and cuffs.

I also have, left over from the days I worked at a drycleaner, a tamping brush, and I do use other things like peroxide and vinegar and baking soda, and I have a (version of this) steam cleaner that I use to blast stains appropriately and de-wrinkle things.

Having lots of clean old white towels for blotting and rolling sweaters in (to dry them, or to lay them on to shape them) and stuff is good; and I have some old enamel bowls handy for when I need to pour water through stain (this describes it well).

Sweater-drying racks like these don't work in my current home, and I have room to lay them out in an unused area on towels - but I used to have some and used them often.

Mesh laundry bags are great for things that would be ruined by snags on other things, and for items you don't want to get too twisted. It's also good for keeping socks together, but that's fussy even for me.

And, while there is much discussion about laundry germ science, there's some good hygiene to consider - wash your laundry hampers/baskets/bags (they touch your undies, which have, you know, farticles) and clean your machine. Make sure your hot water is turned up enough to really clean the things that need to be cleaned in hot water (towels and kitchen rags and underwear). Clean your lint trap every time. Learn to check simple things, like gaskets and hoses and various filter screens. Your washing machine, if it's a front-loader, will have one or two traps too, that will cause it to stop draining/spinning if they're full. We have our (refurbished old) machines serviced once a year, for about $45 per visit, and this will help them last another 15-20 years. For a while, we had brand-new machines that had a planned obsolescence of about 5-7 years, and there wasn't as much our guy could do. But caring for the machines will help care for your clothes, no matter what you have.
posted by peagood at 8:49 AM on January 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: How do you do laundry?

I separate laundry into three piles: clothes in dark/bright colors, clothes in light/white colors, and what I call "hot wash" (basically all my bath and kitchen linens: dish towels, bath/face/hand towels, bath mat, sheets, dish cloths, and fabric potholders when they need washing).

All clothes get washed in cold water. "Hot wash" gets washed in hot water. In both kinds of wash, I use a liquid detergent free of dyes and perfumes. I always measure about half the amount of detergent recommended on the bottle. I do not use a detergent with any kind of bleach added to it.

I always read the care label on a new piece of clothing, and generally follow its recommendations.

I do not wash anything made of wool, silk, cashmere, or any other "special" fiber/fabric unless the label explicitly says I can. (For example, Smartwool merino socks are made to be washable.) Those clothes get dry cleaned, usually after multiple wearings.

Swimsuits and underwire bras get hand washed and hung up to dry. Nylons/tights (hosiery) go in a mesh "delicates" bag and get washed in cold water along with clothes. I also use a larger mesh bag to contain my jersey wrap dresses, which have long self-belts that tend to get twisted around the agitator or other clothes.

I never use fabric softener or dryer sheets. I use stain removers according to the instructions on stains as needed.

I use the dryer mainly for sheets, towels, underpants, and socks. (Sheets and towels on the hot cycle; everything else on the low cycle.) I try to hang dry all my other clothes; I have three laundry racks for the purpose. When I'm short on time, I will put jeans, weekend T-shirts, and other casual clothes in the dryer, but I make a point of hanging up any clothes that I want to take care of and make them last, which basically means all my work clothes. I think the dryer is really hard on clothes.

I hate ironing, but I do it when I need to. As a general rule, only woven fabrics get ironed, not knits. (Hence I favor knits when shopping for new clothes!) I usually end up ironing woven cotton and linen shirts, dresses, skirts and pants. Woven wool clothes get handled by the dry cleaner but can be spot-pressed at home if they get creased. I don't bother ironing anything that I'm only going to wear around the house. The art of ironing could be a whole separate Ask Metafilter question (and, in fact, has been), but my main tip is that for most cotton/linen items, it works best when the iron is very hot and the clothing is just slightly damp all over. (Use a spray bottle from about two or three feet away to mist clothes a few minutes before ironing them.)

Clothes care extends beyond the laundry cycle. When I come home from work, I take off my good clothes, hang up the re-wearables in a closet and deposit the wash-after-wearing ones in the laundry basket. Then I change into jeans or sweats and an old sweater or flannel shirt before cooking dinner, letting the cats climb on my lap, etc. I've invested in good (thick) hangers and stopped using wire hangers from the dry cleaner. When clothes come back from the cleaners, I transfer them from wire hangers to good plastic or wooden hangers. I generally only hang up woven fabrics; knits get folded and put in a drawer. Anything nice that I wear very rarely (formal gowns, interview suits) gets hung up with a dry cleaner bag over it.

In general, like anyone else, I learn from my mistakes. Something new and cheap with a red dye tinges everything else in the wash pink? I learn to be extra-cautious about washing cheap, dark-colored things for the first few times. Hanging clothes over the corners of the drying rack leaves stretched-out "bumps" in the fabric? I learn to arrange things carefully on the bars of the drying rack, never dangling over the corners. Etc.
posted by Orinda at 9:23 AM on January 8, 2012

We have a pretty simple laundry system, but it works for me.

We have this laundry hamper. Section one is for regular wash (t-shirts, underwear, socks, etc). Regular wash is a warm wash, tumble dry. Section two is for the rest of the clothing (dark colors, nicer fabrics). Section two gets washed on cold and hung to dry (use a drying rack) - this really extends the life of the clothing. Section three is for towels, sheets, etc - which get washed on hot, tumble dry.

We use cold-water detergent for everything, because having two detergents is a pain, and regular detergent doesn't work as well in cold water.
posted by insectosaurus at 9:27 AM on January 8, 2012

Oh, I thought of another clothes care tip you might not know about if you're just starting to buy nicer clothes. A lot of women's blouses and dresses come with two loops of ribbon sewn into the inside, typically in the armpit or shoulder. These are hanging loops and you're meant to hook them onto the notches in a hanger like this or the hooks on a hanger like this, in addition to putting the shoulders of the clothes over the shoulders of the hanger. The hanging loops help take some of the weight of the fabric and prevent the garment from getting stretched out at the shoulders.
posted by Orinda at 9:34 AM on January 8, 2012

So much good advice here. I wash everything but towels in cold, I hang dry everything except towels and socks and undershorts. If I remember, bras go in a mesh bag. I don't separate anything, but I don't have a lot of heavily soiled or professional type clothes, either.

When I was washing a lot of dockers-style pants and button down shirts, I would wash those in separate loads just in case there was something that bled dye, etc. Shirts got several good shakes and then I'd hang them on hangers, smoothing out wrinkles with my hands, buttoning them up and smoothing the placket and straightening the collar. Pants would get hung by the hem after the same shaking/smoothing treatment. I hate to iron, I left that to the wearer of those clothes and as I recall, he rarely thought it was necessary.

The advice not to overstuff the washer is *gold*. That alone will lessen wrinkles, ensure that you're not left with white detergent patches, you name it.

I used to make my own laundry soap and it was all right. I found a cheap generic that works better and smells better (smells like Tide mountain spring, I think), and I use that along with a couple of squirts of Dawn dish soap for loads that seem a little extra grungy. I use a shout stain stick, rinsing and treating stains as soon as I can after finding/creating them.

The great thing about air drying is that if a stain doesn't come out the first time, you haven't set it, and you can just treat it again and wash it again. Repeat as necessary. I've done this where a particular item was washed with every load I did for a few weeks and finally the stains did come out.
posted by lemniskate at 9:35 AM on January 8, 2012

And one more thing about reading care labels. As a rule of thumb, assume that what the care label tells you is the maximum/harshest treatment you can give the clothes, but anything milder is probably OK. Generally hotter temps are harsher than colder ones, washing is harsher than dry cleaning, and tumble drying is harsher than air drying. So if a garment says "tumble dry medium," it's OK to tumble dry low or air dry. If a garment says "wash in cold water," it's probably OK to dry clean (if you want to dry clean it for some reason). Make sure you don't do anything the label says explicitly not to do.
posted by Orinda at 9:47 AM on January 8, 2012

What I noticed since buying nicer clothes is that you do have to separate out more different loads and that you do a lot more cold/delicate cycle loads and that none of the stuff in those loads gets tumble dried.

I also noticed that mesh bags, previously reserved for bras (I cannot be asked to spend excessively on those so if machine washing them shortens their life so be it), get used for all sort of stuff now for reasons mentioned by others.

As I currently live in a country (Switzerland) where dry cleaning costs are prohibitive I tend to wash most things that say dry clean only on a cold delicate cycle with extra water. The items then get straightened and hung up carefully and ironed if required and that works well most of the time. Sometimes it doesn' take this advice with a grain of salt....but a lot of dry clean only labels are in clothing because the manufacturer wants to be on the safe side not because careful washing actually really damages the garment - especially in medium priced clothing. Clearly the expensive wool suit you want to wear for the next 5 years plus would get dry cleaned....

Generally you may want to consider what kind of care the clothes you are buying require before you buy them. For example I loath ironing and I loath hand washing clothes so I stay well clear of most things that require ironing and/or hand washing. So I will go for knit work tops as opposed to blouses. I will go for dresses with significant synthetic fibre content etc.

I never use fabric softener or drier sheets or spray starch - see point above about hating ironing.

Items you could add to your list are:
Mesh bags - different sizes
Good quality clothes hangers
lint rollers
bobble remover thing for knit wear
Sewing kit to re-attach those buttons and what not - after all you are looking to take care of your clothes now and want to wear them for a while so you'll have to start doing some maintenance.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:40 AM on January 8, 2012

I hate ironing too. I buy Brook's Brothers non-iron shirts and they last forever, always looks great and they're wash-dry-hang simple. I just picked up a pair of their pants, so I don't want to say those are awesome just yet. Buy slimmer than you'd think, I'm average at 6'2" and 190 lbs and their slim fit is a bit on the big side for me. I only buy them on sale and don't ever pay more than $30 per shirt. Just picked up 5 polos several weeks ago for $110. This is my normal, looking-nice, going-to-work or dinner clothes.

For more formal things (e.g., weddings, etc.) I have two nice suits, gray with a patterned stripe and black with pinstrips. Throw in a few different possible shirts under the suit and some ties and formal clothing is taken care of.

I also have three pairs of jeans (Carhartt, since they last forever) and a bunch of t-shirts (Uniqlo since they're long fitting but still form fitting and cost $6 each and come in a bunch of colors).

I wear jeans maybe a few days, if they're not getting dirty or sweaty. I usually wear suits more than once as well.

My laundry has three options: (1) things to bleach [undershirts, white towels, dish rags, etc.], (2) nice things [dress shirts, non-denim pants, etc.] and (3) not so nice things [jeans, t-shirts, sweatshirts, socks, boxers, etc.]. I wash everything permanent press with warm water and tumble dry on low. I use Gain's Mango Tango detergent. I don't usually use dryer sheets but if I'm washing the GF's laundry with mine, I'll throw one in.
posted by Brian Puccio at 3:26 PM on January 8, 2012

Best answer: A bunch of good advice, but I'll add my thoughts and reinforcement.
I have clothes that I've washed weekly for years that still look brand new, here's what I do:

- Dress shirts: If possible, get them professionally done. I know my way around an ironing board, and yet I can never get them as nice as the cleaners do.

I break my laundry into four piles:
- Whites. Wash hot, sometimes with a little whitener. Dry depending on what it is.
- Durables (stuff I can wash on hot and dry on high. Underpants, jeans, towels, sheets, etc.)
- Moderate care. Stuff I can wash on warm and dry 3/4
- Gentle. Wash on cold, gentile cycle. Dry 1/2 way or not at all.

Damage from washing comes from two places:
1) The washer, which is mostly the chemicals you use and the temp of the water.

- If you don't need to wash it, don't. Underclothes: every time I wear them. Outerclothes: Depends.
- Don't use beach or bleach-like stuff unless you're doing a load of whites. And even then...
- Use 1/2 the recommended amount of detergent.
- Don't use hot cycle unless you're doing whites or the Durables.
- If your washer has an extra rinse option, it's a good use of water. Much cleaner and fresher smelling clothes.

2) The drier. All that stuff in the lint trap? That used to be your clothes. I only ever completely dry the durables. Oh, and sheets. Everything else I take out before it's dry and hang it. The more delicate the sooner it gets taken out. (Very delicate stuff doesn't go in.)
posted by Ookseer at 3:32 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I got the book you recommended from my library. I'm excited to start implementing your advice!
posted by Tarumba at 5:24 AM on January 10, 2012

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