Pimp my laundry!
December 4, 2012 12:47 AM   Subscribe

So, we just got a new tumble dryer because I just wasn't managing the laundry and getting it dry before it got musty, etc. I have been preparing for the first wash and dry, and looking at all the labels, and hey presto, almost nothing can be tumble dried according to the labels. A pair of gym trousers can, a pair can't. A tshirt can, a tshirt can't. I haven't had a tumble dryer for years and years, and I am responsible for the household washing, so I'm now stressed about essentially still having the same problem. I'm almost inclined to try on the cold cycle, but M claims that will not dry the clothes. But also, as I've become stressed about this yet again, the question arises: why can't I cope with this and why do I get stressed about it, when thousands upon millions of households manage just fine. I have a sneaking suspicion that they don't. But I'm not very confident about my housewifely abilities, so I doubt myself there.

Here's what I do:

2 of us but I go to the gym almost every day with thus probably 4-5 sets of trousers, top, bra and one heavy fleece per week additional. We change our clothes very regularly, anything next to the skin gets changed every day, apart from bras, otherwise they smell.
I do a wash about every 2-3 days
I do all washes except towels and sheets on a 40 degree wash to protect the clothes and save money. Towels and sheets go on a hot wash.

Drying: On the line in the summer, usually fine.
On rainy days / winter: on 2 airers in the warmest room in the house. One next to the rad has underwear, the other carefully spaced other clothes.
Even on a sunny winter day, it is not possible to dry anything in the garden, as it is north-facing and belongs to a tall house, thus there is no sun at all into the garden all day from mid-November, only a few hours before then. I have tried leaving clothes on the line (a whirligig) all day on a cold but sunny and windy day and they are sodden when I bring them in.

The problem with the airer in the house is that even with the heating on, which we don't like to have all the time, the clothes take ages to dry, and often smell slightly or vilely musty. I can't send M to work in smelly clothes and am ashamed if mine are, obviously.

I can get stuff dry if I put it on the radiators around the house. a this looks slummy, I feel, b this relies on the rads being on all the time, c clothes get lines on them from the radiator, d it makes the paint/plaster above the rad damp.

I don't like having the heating on a lot. I work from home, so it seems ridiculous to heat a whole house that we wouldn't be heating if I worked outside the house. I keep myself warm with a small low energy heater in my office. There is room for the airer in my room, which is also sunny, but only just, it would be jammed up against my chair and I would be working in a damp atmosphere. Having the heating on constant just to dry clothes seems wasteful and will be expensive.


a) what the hell can I do about this? Throw everything in the tumbler apart from wool and sports clothes (sports tops dry quickly anyway, that's fine)
b) do other people get stressed by this stuff or is it only me?
c) am I actually just doing this all wrong?

Thank you!
posted by LyzzyBee to Home & Garden (35 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think most people don't even read the labels, except on fancy-pants silk shirts and woollens. Most people I know with a dryer just throw everything in there all the time. I used to when I had a dryer too. Probably your clothes won't last as long, but if they aren't expensive, it's probably worth the trade-off.
posted by lollusc at 1:04 AM on December 4, 2012 [22 favorites]

You're overthinking this a bit. Most things can go in the dryer, some things can't. Basically if it's made of silk or rayon or if it is highly structured or if it's like a sweater or some other knit object that would shrink/lose its shape, you need to hang or flat dry it. Otherwise you can just throw that crap in the dryer and let it do its thing. People don't actually pay a lot of attention to care labels except on really expensive clothes, and then usually they just get stuff dry-cleaned.
posted by Scientist at 1:08 AM on December 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

2nding that everyone just ignores the labels. I tend to throw things in on the medium setting on the dryer, then take out the dry, 90% dry and sensitive stuff, then turn up the heat on the crappy cotton Ts and other less critical clothes.
posted by chiefthe at 1:10 AM on December 4, 2012

I don't pay any attention to the labels. My rules are: linedry cotton tshirts the first couple washes, after that they are fine to tumble dry; tumble dry most anything but bras ; don't tumble towels and shiny polyester together (pill hell); throw one or 2 dry clothes in to speed it up; get clothes that need ironing out while they are hot and hang and I won't have to iron. Works for me.
posted by jacanj at 1:22 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I chuck everything in the dryer (we have a washer/dryer so everything that gets washed gets dried in the dryer). It can affect the longevity of some stuff. I wouln't do that if there was something that I wanted to keep really nice but t-shirts and gym pants? I wouldn't give it a second thought
posted by missmagenta at 1:25 AM on December 4, 2012

Also a cold wash doesn't affect whether an item dries or not.
If you're really worried your dryer will have a cooler setting - things will take longer to dry, but it'll protect your clothes more.
posted by shazzam! at 1:33 AM on December 4, 2012

I get neurotic about this, too!

My solution?

Everything goes into the dryer (within reason, certain items will never go there and instead get hung up immediately, but your workout gear is good to go,) and I put the dryer on medium for about 15 minutes, until most items are just slighty damp. Synthetics will be dry, but not heated through, at this point.

I take out all delicates, anything totally dry (like socks) and anything that I don't want ruined or shrunk, and hang them up or put them away, depending on dryness. The rest dries for another 10 to 20 minutes. Feel the remaining clothes and judge how much longer you want to let the dryer go.

If your dryer runs especially hot, do this on low instead of medium heat.

That's it.

If you get everything you don't want ruined with excessive heat to the ever-so-slighty damp state, these items will quickly finish drying once hung up. Be careful not to "over-dry" the rest when you leave it in the dryer for that last 10 to 20 minutes.

I set a timer on my phone so I don't forget to take stuff out when I intend to.

It takes some attention, but your nice things will remain nice so much longer.
posted by jbenben at 1:35 AM on December 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

Can I just make a quick comment about the cold wash thing and the drying: I know it doesn't affect how long something takes to dry but I believe it doesn't kill of the microbes that make the smell. That's why I wash towels and sheets on hot, to kill of, um, stuff. This seems a bit odd once I write it down.

Thanks for the answers so far!
posted by LyzzyBee at 1:40 AM on December 4, 2012

Depending on how you get to the gym, you can keep workout gear for at least a few sessions before washing it (nobody will care if you smell at the start of your workout as well as the end.) Just make sure the clothes get aired out a little so they aren't still damp and going moldy when you put them on again, then throw them back into the gym bag.
posted by jacalata at 1:48 AM on December 4, 2012

Sorry to thread sit, I wear the same kit for my 2 yoga sessions in the week but other than that I sweat and sweat and sweat and heave for an hour or more each time, I don't think it would be hygienic to wear that gear again, really, really not. Anyway it wouldn't dry, it's soaked through by the time I'm done!!
posted by LyzzyBee at 1:57 AM on December 4, 2012

I'm pretty sure you'd have to be using really hot water to be sterilizing clothing or anything else - tapwater that begins cooling as soon as the washer basin is full probably won't do the job unless your water heater is turned up really inefficiently high.

If you're worried about killing bacteria bleach will do the job for anything that's bleach-safe much more assuredly than the "hot" temperature setting. I'm not really sure that you should be concerned, though.
posted by XMLicious at 2:40 AM on December 4, 2012

Ah - just found a thing from the NHS that does recommend washing at 60 http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/homehygiene/Pages/prevent-germs-from-spreading.aspx we have a washing machine that takes in cold water and heats it up, so it's not the water from our hot water system.

Oh, and in answer to a question from New Zealand, we are in the UK and have radiators on the walls to heat the house so no lovely vents we can stand stuff over!
posted by LyzzyBee at 2:49 AM on December 4, 2012

Does your washing machine have a smell? Because that seems like the ultimate culprit here, and no amount of washing stuff on cold or hot/drying it in a dryer is going to make a difference if you've got a mildew problem brewing in the machine itself. We dry all of our laundry on racks in the lounge, and never have had a problem with mustiness, because I kind of religiously wipe down the machine after use, air it out, and periodically do vinegar washes in there.
posted by catch as catch can at 2:51 AM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I wash my towels on 90, bedding and bath mat on 60, everything else on 40. Handwash stuff never gets handwashed, it goes on 30/delicate with no spin.

i tumble dry all socks, cotton pants (knickers/boxers not trousers), pjamas (they do shrink but im ok with buying cheap pjamas a few times a year)

bfs tshirts i tumble dry inside out (logos, graphics etc), some of them have shrunk a little but over a period of 4yeras of doing his laundry again i dont think too much about that as a trade-off for quick drying, fresh smelling and tidy house. Jeans, i tumble his, but i'm a skinny jean girl so maybe only 10 mins for mine to get the dampness out then i hang on a hanger from the curtain rail in the spare bedroom (the curtain rail is above the radiator).

The only stuff i dont tumble are fancy knickers, bras and handwash stuff. This gets hung on teh curtain rail or hung on a hanger on the airer (not a big fan of laying stuff flat over the airer and it doesnt seem to hekp with ironing). I also have one of those clip over small airers which fits over and away form the radiator. Thats what i use for bras, fancy knickers and tights.

Dont overthink it. You can always replace stuff, and over time and seasons and trends we pretty much all do that anyway right? Anything you're really concerned about (suits, handwash, really fancy/expensive dresses etc) - send out. Its not that extravagant if you find a local company rather than a big usiness dry cleaners (though they often have offers on). I recently started using a small local company for my ironing and i know they have a full laundry service so there are plenty out there that do that too. I dont do it all the time and they dont expect a regular committment. They come and pick up in the evening and drop off the following evening. Usually costs me about £20-25 for a bulk load of ironing (including bed linen) that has moutned up over a couple of weeks and would have probably wasted a good 4 hours of my sunday afternoon. Money well spent if you ask me.

Also, my mum who is in love with doing laundry (crazy lady) just bought a new tuble dryer and it has a setting that senses when clothes are dry so you dont over tumble them apparently so read your manual in full - there will be basic guidance/help/FAQa/web links etc in there
posted by moreteaplease at 3:32 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Anecdotally - I've been washing everything (bed linen, workout gear, clothes) in cold water my entire life, and I haven't got sick from it yet. Every so often, I put my towels and bathmats through a hot soak + wash, but that's it. Way better for the environment and for my electricity bill.

OP, I read that page you linked from the NHS; I don't do half the stuff on there, and I'm ridiculously healthy. Of course the National Health Service is going to spruik absolute best practice, but I really don't think you need to worry about whatever microbes are on your bed sheets, unless you're immunocompromised in some way.

What I do have is a washing machine with many special cycles, like 'handwash', 'delicate', etc. Everything goes in that bad boy with cold water, and comes out great.
posted by Salamander at 3:59 AM on December 4, 2012

I know it doesn't affect how long something takes to dry but I believe it doesn't kill of the microbes that make the smell.

Unless you're running a bunch of HEPA filters and stuff, you're laundry could come out of the washer sterile, but will still develop a smell if left damp for overly long.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:02 AM on December 4, 2012

I'm in the UK too, and I have a cold-water fill washer-dryer. I tumble most things on a synthetic cycle and take out anything delicate or that might crease and hang it up while it's a bit damp. I'd also recommend some of these radiator hangers, which are a godsend for getting delicates dry, or a clothes horse. But I agree with everyone who's said your workout clothes will be fine.

The only T-shirts I don't tumble dry are ones with printed-on designs that could flake off in the heat, even if they say they're dryer-safe. I also don't tumble-dry bras, they just get hung over the end of one of the radiators.

I wash sheets and towels on a 60F wash too, for the sake of hygiene.
posted by essexjan at 4:51 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tip for drying clothes quickly using airers / drying racks indoors - turn an electric fan on them. It's the air circulation that matters much more than temperature, so if you have an indoor electric fan, leave it on aimed at the clothing.
posted by needled at 4:51 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dryers kill elastic. I wouldn't put sports bras in there, and I'd be careful about trousers with elastic waistbands.

Otherwise, dry away.
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:06 AM on December 4, 2012

We hang our clothes to dry on a line in the basement. We don't have to iron that way.
posted by goethean at 5:20 AM on December 4, 2012

1) Don't fuss about the labels, just like everyone else has said already.

2) Have this other person you live with (presumably your husband?) do the laundry!

It sounds like you're doing the laundry for two people here, and it is clearly a chore that causes you undue stress and headache. Have M do it. You, in turn, can do a regular chore they don't like, like the dishes or toilet cleaning or something that doesn't make you anxious.

But having to deal with all this struggle every time you do laundry? This is no way to live.
posted by phunniemee at 5:46 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

You have to have a water source at least 150'F, usually 160'F, in order to reliably kill most bacteria. As already noted, this is not energy efficient.
posted by jgreco at 5:58 AM on December 4, 2012

A few quick answers ...

I don't go by all of that NHS thing, was just searching for anything where I could have got that from!

Thanks for the info on eleastic

Re the mildew in washing machine issue, I regularly clean it and run the vinegar cycle.

Re division of labour, was wondering when that would come up: I do the majority of the housework as I work for myself from home and partner works outside the home doing fairly long hours. My work is fairly flexible, so I can look after the house stuff more easily - he has other tasks and we have an arrangement re the heavy housework / not having a cleaner / payment which works well for us. Even if he did it, I would still be upset to wear musty clothes, anyway! So, assumption is that this is my area of responsibility and I am happy with that.
posted by LyzzyBee at 6:05 AM on December 4, 2012

Are you sure you are really cleaning the washer the right way? We ran vinegar through ours but it didn't get rid of the smell. When we finally figured out how to clean the reservoir (or whatever it's called), it got rid of the smell. I have airdried about half of my clothes for most of my life, and I've never had problems with a musty smell just from airdrying, even in old unfinished basements that were a bit damp and moldy! However, before we figured out how to clean our washer, I did.
posted by beyond_pink at 6:11 AM on December 4, 2012

The only things I don't put in the dryer are things like fleece, wool, and other fancy outdoor clothes; sweaters that will shrink; and my partner's bras. Everything else goes in the dryer and does fine. (We don't own any dry-clean-only clothes, but that would be another separate category if we did.)

I mostly just wash towels in cold water along with the clothes, but every month or so I'll run a separate towel-only load with hot water and bleach; if I don't the towels start getting faintly musty after a while.
posted by Forktine at 6:47 AM on December 4, 2012

I'll nth the 'everything goes in the dryer' sentiment, except for the things that obviously shouldn't. The only other exception I've found is that the really tall people in my life always wash their shirts in cold water, and never throw their shirts in the dryer - instead they're hung to dry. For them, finding shirts long enough to fit is a challenge, and even the slightest shrinkage from the heat is enough to make the shirts unwearable. So if you're washing a tall person's clothes, thats something to keep in mind.
posted by cgg at 7:22 AM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Here's my list specifically (I will sort laundry by color and by drying temperature, so I don't have to stress about remembering to pull stuff out halfway through a cycle - if it works for you, great - this is a personal preference).

Towels and sheets (we have 100% cotton sheets): Hot wash, medium dry
Cotton tshirts: medium wash, medium dry. Tshirts with logos get turned inside out.
Jeans: cold wash, medium dry.
Work pants (generally polyester, rayon, wool or a blend): cold wash (delicate), low dry or line dry if the label says dry clean only.
Work shirts: Rayon/poly blend: cool wash delicate, low dry. Silk: cool wash delicate, line dry. If the label says dry clean only, I line dry.
Underwear: Cotton: medium wash, medium dry. Poly/rayon/silk/blend: cool wash delicate, line dry
Bras: Cool wash delicate, line dry
Sports bras: Medium wash, low dry
Sports tops and shorts: Medium wash, low dry
Blankets/comforters: Medium wash, low dry (I've melted the batting before on medium dry... bummer)

I don't think I missed an item, but if I did, you can ping me via memail. Good luck!
posted by RogueTech at 8:54 AM on December 4, 2012

Basically I just put everything in the dryer and if I wreck something then it just wasn't meant to be.
posted by Jairus at 8:57 AM on December 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

I would dry all gym clothes by default, except perhaps for sports bras (though I put mine in the dryer, because I like to live on the edge). I mean, what's the worst that could happen if it turns out to have been a bad idea? It fades? It doesn't last as long? Obvious caveat for anything made of a material that will melt under heat, of course.

I would dry all t-shirts and other casual cotton knitwear. Underpants. Pajamas. Leggings. Hoodies. Stuff like that.

I would dry all cotton housewares like sheets, towels, napkins, placemats, etc. Again, obvious caveat for anything not made of cotton that would clearly be destroyed (wool, something flammable, etc).

I would dry most cotton wovens. This is probably where I'd start reading care instructions, though I'd still err on the side of putting it in the dryer.

Some people swear by keeping jeans out of the dryer. Some people swear by drying them. Your call.

I don't dry wired bras, wool, silk, anything terribly delicate, anything with a label that says "dry clean only", or most vintage clothes. From time to time I will find that I have a shirt I don't want to fade, a pair of jeans that fit just right and that might shrink in the dryer, etc. and I will hang those, too. But mostly I put all my clothes in the dryer and don't worry too much about it.
posted by Sara C. at 9:35 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ah - just found a thing from the NHS that does recommend washing at 60

I just wanted to note that the page you linked to says
To prevent the spread of germs, all underwear, towels and household linen should be washed at 60C (140F) or at 40C (104F) with a bleach-based laundry product.
So it's only talking about underwear, towels and household linen and it's saying either 60°C water or lukewarm water with bleach.

Like Salamander, I nearly always wash with cold water and don't have any consequent problems with getting sick or any odor on clothes. I'm also pretty sure that if you wash an occasional load with bleach regularly that will do even better in keeping the machine mildew-free than vinegar would.
posted by XMLicious at 9:53 AM on December 4, 2012

Using a dryer on clothes that already have that mildew smell won't get rid of it, and can even make it worse (I live in rainy Ireland, I know this for sure!). But that Vanish powder you put in with your wash is really great for fixing this problem. It buys you a little bit more air drying time, means you can keep using the 40 degree wash without worrying, won't add any extra smells of its own, and will fix any problems you already have. Any of them seem to work fine (Tesco seems to send us the different types at random) but I prefer Sensitive because I have weird allergies.

Then yeah, you can put most things in the dryer regardless of what the label says. I pay a lot more attention to the label that says what something is made of than the washing instructions, e.g cotton is fine but wool isn't. But even just using the dryer for all your towels and sheets should make a huge difference given how hard they are to dry inside, particularly once you get rid of that mildewy smell for everything else.

Lastly, living in the UK do you have stairs? We have a dryer rack that hangs outwards from the top stair rail like this. It's a total godsend and is how I manage without a dryer at all. Because it's out over the gap you can hang full length things like those bras and exercise pants and shirts you don't want to dryer, and because it's up high it gets warm air funnelling up past it so everything dries surprisingly fast. Plus being out of the way means I'm not so pressured to get everything put away immediately. If you have space for one then definitely try it out, I think it would work well with the routine you're describing.
posted by shelleycat at 10:56 AM on December 4, 2012

Thank you Shelleycat. To you and others, the mildew smell is never on the clothes as they come out of the washer, but adds itself as they dry. I don't like to add bleach, but will see.

I LOVE the stair rack. Unfortunately our top of stairs rail is sloped as the stairs go up another flight (without one at the top) but I bet I could game it to make it work. Is that what they're called and do you get them from Lakeland?
posted by LyzzyBee at 11:29 AM on December 4, 2012

I think ours was from B and Q or simular, a few places had them. I don't know what it was called exactly (my husband bought it) but it was definitely designed for a stair well so probably something like stair well drying rack. It's just flat plastic hooks and leverage holding it on so could be jimmied to fit a less optimal stair rail easily enough.
posted by shelleycat at 1:21 PM on December 4, 2012

I wash almost everything in cold water. I only use warm or hot water if something is particularly dirty, or for towels and sheets when someone's been ill. Things don't get musty unless I've left them wet in the washer for multiple days.

Are you still getting the mildewy smell with the new tumble dryer? To me, that implies that the mustiness isn't actually being removed in the wash. I had some experience with a situation like this -- some towels that had been left damp in a pile for much too long (not by me) that smelled incredibly musty. I washed them with boiling hot water, used oxygen bleach, dried them on very hot heat until bone dry, and still they were musty. Finally I put some white vinegar in the rinse, and that completely removed the mustiness. I was shocked by how well it worked. So it may be worth trying a cup of white vinegar in the rinse.

Also, yeah, I would just put everything in the dryer on low or medium, unless it's wool or silk or something else that obviously should not be exposed to heat.

As for getting stressed: You're not alone. It doesn't make you a failure. It just means for whatever reason, managing this particular chore isn't second nature to you. You have to think explicitly about it. That's okay.

Try treating it more like an actual project than like something you should "just do." Put on your to-do list items like "Wash load of gym clothes," "Dry load of gym clothes," "Fold load of gym clothes," and "Put away load of gym clothes." (I put similar items on my to-do list.) Set a timer to remind yourself to check on the clothes in the washer or dryer. (Yes, even if the machines have buzzers. I tune out those buzzers, but I'll pay attention when my phone chimes.) It's okay to add some external reminders and structure to the process of getting the laundry done.
posted by snowmentality at 3:50 PM on December 4, 2012

Just wanted to come back and say thank you to all who contributed to this one.

I have used the tumbler a few times now, only stuff that said it could be tumbled the first time, then getting braver. Some things have joined me in my warm study on a small airer and that has been fine. The freedom of knowing I can do the laundry any time, not worrying about whether I'm likely to have the heating on to help dry it is fabulous and the clothes come out soft and nice. Hooray!

No more mustiness either - must have been the slow drying!
posted by LyzzyBee at 10:26 AM on December 9, 2012

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