I think I am doing laundry wrong. Hope me?
June 3, 2014 2:23 AM   Subscribe

I have noticed that after being washed for a few months or so all my clothes begin to go stiff, especially t-shirts. I miss having soft clothes. What am I doing wrong?

Relevant info: I live in London and the water is hard. I use powder detergent and fabric softener in the amounts recommended on the boxes/bottles or slightly less, and I air-dry the clothes on a maiden/airer/clothes-horse/what-have-you indoors. I usually wash at 40 degrees. I don't iron. I have a washer-dryer and rarely use the dryer. Air-drying outside is not an option. Help? Is this a hard water thing? Do I need to soak everything in vinegar?
posted by corvine to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
How spinny is your spin cycle?

Slower drying, from a "wetter state", means softer fabric generally.

(So put your spin cycle on less rpm.)
posted by taff at 2:26 AM on June 3, 2014

Wash at 30 degrees if you can. It's kinder to fabrics in the long run.
posted by Chairboy at 2:52 AM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I find that my clothes get stiff when air-dried inside. An occasional cycle in the dryer (on the lowest temperature setting) helps soften them.
posted by third word on a random page at 3:08 AM on June 3, 2014 [26 favorites]

This looks potentially helpful, and makes me think your problems might be solved by using more detergent, a liquid detergent that dissolves more easily and/or warmer water.
posted by jon1270 at 3:14 AM on June 3, 2014

I have a washer-dryer and rarely use the dryer.

This is your problem. I've always found that air-dried clothing, especially air-dried-inside clothing, gets very stiff after a while. Start using the dryer more frequently.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 3:32 AM on June 3, 2014 [12 favorites]

It's the indoor air drying. When you dry on a line, the clothes are moved (or sometimes whipped!) by wind. That doesn't happen indoors and they just dry stiff.

If it irritates you (and it would irritate me), you can take the dry clothes and try chucking them in the dryer for literally like 5 minutes. They may come out better or worse depending on the dryer, but it is worth an attempt.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:34 AM on June 3, 2014 [10 favorites]

I am also a Londoner with stiff, air dried clothes. As other have said, I finally worked out it was in the indoor drying, but I have no other option. Adding a teaspoon of hair conditioner in with your fabric softener seems to help a little with clothes made of natural fibres.
posted by Acarpous at 3:40 AM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Try using your washer's gentle or handwash setting. I wash my clothes at 40° and line-dry them indoors, and I find that my t-shirts stay soft and my husband's stiffen up; use of the gentle setting is the main difference between them.

You can also try adding a cup of baking soda instead of fabric softener; that's sometimes recommended to soften cotton bedsheets.

Also, this is really anecdotal, but I feel like my clothes aren't as soft if I don't regularly clean the inside of my washer with vinegar. I guess it could be the effect of residual vinegar, leftover after I run an empty load to rinse the machine.
posted by neushoorn at 3:55 AM on June 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

I live in the US so the water/type of soap may indeed be a factor, but I air dry all my laundry (don't have a dryer) and they're all soft.

-I wash in cold water
-use liquid detergent, and a bit less than what the directions say
-I run the rinse cycle *twice* to make sure all the suds are rinsed out
-I use a bit of liquid fabric softener in with that second rinse

All my clothes get hung up on a rack to air dry. I think the second rinse makes a ton of difference in the stiffness. Extra detergent could definitely be the culprit here.
posted by phunniemee at 3:57 AM on June 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I live in the US so the water/type of soap may indeed be a factor, but I air dry all my laundry (don't have a dryer) and they're all soft.

It's a regional thing -- in common with many areas of Europe, London has hard water, so results for washing clothing (and hair!) will be very different as the chemistry of the water itself is very different.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:00 AM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Most dryers have an "Air" setting, where it simply tumbles the clothes with unheated air. Throw your rack-dried clothes in the dryer for a spin on that cycle and they'll lose the stiffness.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:30 AM on June 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

After my washer and dryer died, I handwashed and air dried all my clothes, and even with a fan blowing on them, many articles dried stiff.
I'm with Thorzdad; putting them in the dryer for a quick no-heat tumble ought to soften them to tolerable levels.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 4:34 AM on June 3, 2014

White vinegar instead of fabric softener every so often can help, you won't smell like vinegar. Just put it in the softener dispenser and run your lead as normal. Tumble drying without heat is a good fix.
posted by wwax at 4:52 AM on June 3, 2014

I line dry outdoors, and my clothes dry stiff if I don't snap them before hanging. In the video, they say it's to reduce wrinkles, which probably does, too, but I've done a side-by-side test, and it does actually prevent stiffness for me.
posted by BrashTech at 6:28 AM on June 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Do an experiment, wash at home, dry at a launderette. If your clothes are soft again, that's your answer fishbulb. (I suspect that it is.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:30 AM on June 3, 2014

I hate to ask, but are you perhaps stuffing the washer too full? Too-full means fewer loads, sure, but it also means your clothes aren't getting fully washed and rinsed.
posted by easily confused at 7:04 AM on June 3, 2014

My water is as hard or harder than London's (200 ppm permanent hardness and above), and I don't iron and I don't use a dryer for my clothes, and my clothes aren't stiff. It was a learning process, though, and overloading/under-detergenting were factors in having clothes that didn't get clean.

In a top-loading machine, your load should be loose enough so that you can see clothes submerging and re-surfacing steadily and periodically. Try doubling the detergent that you use in the same load, and see if things improve. You're already doing the right thing with 40C water.

The hard water deposits I do see are generally on my heavy jeans. It gives them a dusty, slightly chalky look in certain places where the fabric always dries last, but it doesn't make them stiff.
posted by the Real Dan at 10:13 AM on June 3, 2014

Yeah, air-drying. Maybe let them get almost-dry via air, then throw them in the dryer to finish them. The tumbling will un-stiffen them.

If that doesn't do the trick, can you add water softener? In the US you can get Calgon (their bath products division is different than the water softener, which is harder to find in my area). I'm not sure what brands you'd look for in the UK.

I too have noticed that vinegar helps softness as mentioned by others.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 11:02 AM on June 3, 2014

I indoor air-dry, and used to have stiff clothes. Now my clothes are no longer stiff. This is because a washing machine repair man told me to use 1/3 to 1/2 the recommended detergent, and fabric softener. Works like a charm - whenever my husband does the laundry and is overzealous with these amounts, they come out stiff again.
posted by shazzam! at 1:06 AM on June 6, 2014

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