Metafilter, am I a slob?
May 30, 2018 12:01 PM   Subscribe

I love nice t-shirts. Apparently I also love salads, butter, and I dunno....sunscreen? Help. Every t-shirt I get survives a roughly week-long cycle before it returns, freshly laundered, with a few dark circles of oil stain that make it impossible to wear the shirt for work. I got an adorable t-shirt with a barred owl on it on Saturday and it looks like I loaned it to Fred Flintstone.

First, am I a slob, and how can I be less of a slob? Yes, I do love salads and fats. I'm unaware of picking up salad greens in my teeth and spraying salad dressing all over myself, but clearly, in some sense, that's exactly what I do. I use napkins, though, and am generally sensitive to social expectations like not eating like a hormonal, toothy lion. I'm passingly aware of the laws of physics and I do not pour butter on myself consciously.

Secondly, I love t-shirts. I love cotton on my skin, especially when it is nearly threadbare. Is there some miracle that will allow my t-shirts to enjoy greater sustainability? (Please note that I do not see this stuff *before* laundry. It is only after. :( Is there something I should/could be doing?)

Thirdly: does anyone else have this problem? I'm asking simply because despite the fact that I'm pushing fifty, I don't know anyone else so totally incompetent at being an owner of t-shirts.
posted by A Terrible Llama to Home & Garden (66 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe your laundry detergent isn't very good?

I sometimes spill on my shirts, buy they're rarely stained forever.
posted by MangoNews at 12:07 PM on May 30, 2018 [10 favorites]

Yes hi, I bumped into the salad bar at work today and have a grease spot on my t-shirt right this minute. I do not know the provenance of the grease spot I found on my skirt in the middle of the day yesterday. I've had good luck spot-treating with Dawn dish soap even post-laundry.
posted by clavicle at 12:09 PM on May 30, 2018 [10 favorites]

This sounds like potentially a laundry issue. Do you send it out or something? Have you cleaned your washer and checked the dryer?

Wash a few different colored NEW solid shirts and see what happens.
posted by Crystalinne at 12:10 PM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I swear by the various formulations of Carbona stain devils. (ex. fat and cooking oil version)
posted by seemoorglass at 12:10 PM on May 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

That's (on edit: clavicle's comment) what I was going to say more or less. You are probably not dribbling it as you eat, but leaning against an unwiped counter as you prepare the food.
posted by nantucket at 12:11 PM on May 30, 2018

I once salvaged some laundry by soaking it for a good long time in some Oxy-clean before bringing it to be washed.

Try that - get a big bucket, dump in a scoop of Oxy-clean and fill it with cool water. Make sure the Oxy-clean is dissolved, then dump in the shirts and soak a good long time (a couple hours, or even overnight). Then wash them.

You may see the stains are already gone after the soak and before the wash.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:11 PM on May 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

Do you put in the detergent before or after the laundry? I had this issue many years ago and it turned out that pouring detergent on top of laundry was the culprit.
posted by capricorn at 12:12 PM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

My partner is the opposite of a slob and yet this happens ~constantly~ (definitely any time marinara sauce is involved, but oils are a regular occurrence too). And it's always the best and favourite t-shirts that are the worst stain magnets. There is one particular favourite shirt that gets stained literally every time it is worn.

So, I promise it is not just you. It happens to me as well, on occasion. The greatest trick is checking as carefully as you can when you take off your clothes, which is annoying, but if you spot the stain right away it's easy to save your shirt. Cold water and a dollop of handwash dish soap/liquid glycerin hand soap applied to the stain with some vigorous scrubbing will rescue you from oil stains, grease stains, red sauce stains, pomegranate stains, and all the other kinds of stains. If it's too much hassle to check after wearing, do a full check before you do laundry, and repeat the same cold water/soap/scrub protocol before laundering.
posted by halation at 12:12 PM on May 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

First: Take smaller bites with a smaller amount of food on your fork/spoon. I tend to the slob side of eating as well and just reducing the amount of food on my utensils for each bite has drastically reduced the amount of droppage on my shirts.

Second: Go through your laundry BEFORE washing it and apply Shout or some other similar product to any stains you see. Best if you do that just after you take a shirt off, but we're doing baby steps here.

Third: Aw heck yeah. I'll be 48 in September and if my husband didn't do the laundry, all of my clothing (not just t-shirts) would be riddled with stains. I've gotten used to checking for stains now before I stuff things in the hamper, thanks to him.
posted by cooker girl at 12:12 PM on May 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

We've has this happen with liquid fabric softener, it sounds more like something in the laundry process than what you're doing to it while wearing it.
posted by iamabot at 12:13 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have found Goop Hand Cleaner very good for getting out oil stains in clothes. Rub some in over the stain and let it sit for an hour or so before laundering.

It's been able to prevent stains right after the oil exposure, as well as being able to get rid of some stains that had been on T-shirts for years.
posted by ShooBoo at 12:13 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am an inveterate shirt-spiller-onner. But I've only ever lost one or two shirts permanently. A few things:

- Dab it with hot water immediately. My mom used to always make me do this and she was right. Don't rub hard, but use a sponge or dish towel, or - if you're out - your cloth napkin to sort of swipe hot water across the stain. If you do this right away, it will make a big difference.

- Treat the stain with dish soap or a little liquid detergent before laundering. Same dabbing/swiping method.

- If it's white, use bleach. Otherwise just wash it like normal, but don't put it in the dryer until you're sure the stain isn't there. Dryers can sometimes "set" stains.

- Even if you haven't done all this before putting it in the washer, just keep throwing it in. Stains sometimes decrease to the point of being almost invisible with multiple washes.
posted by lunasol at 12:14 PM on May 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

I get stains out of things by rubbing ordinary detergent directly into the stain before washing and then letting it sit for a little bit. I've also used dishwashing liquid. This virtually always works as long as I remember to do it.
posted by Frowner at 12:15 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have this problem. I have often joked that my billion dollar disruption idea is a white t-shirt subscription service. I just need a new one about once every two weeks.

Some things I have done to mitigate the carnage:

1. Get an apron. Actually wear it whilst cooking. Wear it also when you're eating!
2. Change clothes as soon as you get home from work. Don't tempt fate.
3. When you take your shirts off, take them into the bathroom or whatever the brightest spot in your house is and inspect carefully. Get a stain-stick and pre-treat all stains before laundering. Also, pre-soak.

I'm taking notes on all the other methods herein because, as the kids say, it me.
posted by soren_lorensen at 12:16 PM on May 30, 2018 [6 favorites]

I am the same....I have found that "Zout Laundry Stain Remover Spray" works quite well (at least for me) and has saved a number of oil stained shirts.
posted by Captain_Science at 12:16 PM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I agree that this sounds like a laundry problem more than anything. I would rub these oily stains with liquid dish soap, then soak the garment for 20-30 mins before washing. And maybe upgrade your laundry detergent while you're at it?

I do not think you need to "take smaller bites" or anything like that. You're a grown-up. It sounds like you eat normally but your laundry game needs some work.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 12:22 PM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Please note that I do not see this stuff *before* laundry. It is only after.

This is what makes me think this is actually a problem with fabric softener, or mayyybe detergent, not a problem with food or anything. Can you switch to dryer sheets for a bit?
posted by Sequence at 12:22 PM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

My mother always had a bottle of Lestoil on hand to remove grease stains from laundry, and I now use it. Warning: The stuff smells like petroleum chemical. If you're sensitive to that, you're really not gonna like Lestoil.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 12:22 PM on May 30, 2018

I do this all the time. Oxyclean laundry spray works for me. The trick is carefully checking your shirt in good lighting before throwing it into the washer.

Also, I find the Tide pen (which I carry at all times) works well on other food-related stains, but very poorly on salad dressing or oil. :-(
posted by tuesdayschild at 12:23 PM on May 30, 2018

Dawn dish soap (original blue) rubbed directly into the stain is helpful, but seconding the idea that your laundry detergent might be at fault, especially if it's a more "natural" type--for me, Seventh Generation was awful for those little oily spots. Apparently it's something about a silicone-based ingredient that helps HE detergents not foam as much.
posted by pinwheel spark at 12:23 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

All these long answers bewilder me.

I just squeeze some dishwashing detergent on the spot and usually let it soak before throwing it in the wash. Also, I don't have hot water hooked up to my laundry machine, and I air dry (I'm not inadvertently setting stains).

This always works. I don't even think about it any more.
posted by Locochona at 12:24 PM on May 30, 2018 [6 favorites]

If you air-dry your shirts, rather than putting them in the dryer (which is what really sets them), you can often save them even from grease stains. OxiClean Max Force laundry spray is your best friend in these situations. Spray the stain thoroughly and let it sit for 10 minutes or so (can be longer, it's OK to forget) before washing.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:24 PM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I get stains out of things by rubbing ordinary detergent directly into the stain before washing and then letting it sit for a little bit. I've also used dishwashing liquid. This virtually always works as long as I remember to do it.

Another vote for this technique. Works in our house.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:25 PM on May 30, 2018

Do you pretreat the stains? Are these mostly food based stains? Do you wash warm or cold wash? What detergent do you use? What sort of washing machine? HE or normal. Do you line/air dry or use a dryer.

What my mother did to keep chefs whites white & grease free for my father for years.

Soak in oxyclean before washing. Warm wash with a high quality detergent. Line/air dry.

Oxyclean needs time for the enzymes to work & will cut fats & oils. Let things sit in it for 1 to 6 hours. Then launder as normal. It's safe for colors as well as whites.

Warm or cool not cold water & not hot water, hot water sets the proteins in stains & can make them harder to remove.

Don't machine dry again heat sets stains.
posted by wwax at 12:31 PM on May 30, 2018

I keep a little squeeze bottle (mine's recycled from an old sauce bottle, but you can use a big mustard-style bottle or similar) of Dawn in the laundry room. It'll get an old drip that's been through the laundry, though I try to catch them before the first time through.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:33 PM on May 30, 2018

I Shout it out.
posted by rhizome at 12:40 PM on May 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

It's a laundry issue. The oil and grease spots will definitely show up more prominently after laundering, since it's the drying that sets the stain, but they're not invisible beforehand. Beloved t-shirts need to be looked over and pre-treated with Dawn dish soap or similar either as they come off your body or right before they go into the wash.

If you really can't see the spots, then just assume they are there and preemptively rub a light coating of Dawn into any typical problem areas. I do this with my kid's clothes all the time.
posted by anderjen at 12:43 PM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

In terms of seeing stuff before laundry: Look at each shirt carefully in good daylight before washing. It's unlikely that these are truly invisible stains, even if you're not noticing them in the moment.
posted by Frowner at 12:44 PM on May 30, 2018

I certainly am a slob, and asked this question as one of my first here! See if any answers there sound good. I found the ammonia was most helpful. And Zout.
posted by Stewriffic at 12:52 PM on May 30, 2018

You can also, if you have a top loader washer, soak every load of clothes as part of your wash cycle. Add Oxyclean, enough warm water to dissolve. Then add your clothes to the wash basket and leave the lid open. Come back in 1 to 12 hours and close the lid so the wash cycle will continue.

This is good for getting a load started in the morning and then closing the washer when you get home. By the time dinner is done cooking you can hang your clothes to dry. Alternately, let your clothes soak while you sleep, wash when you wake up and hang clothes to dry before leaving home.

Alternately, spray your cuffs, collars, and shirt fronts with stain pre-treat of your voice after each wear. I also try to remember to spray the armpits of my white shirts.
posted by bilabial at 12:52 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Shout is okay, but the real thing to take out oil is ... Lestoil.

I don't really get how it works, but it's sort of an oily soap? Anyway, I swear it somehow binds to the oil or something and gets it out. I put small amounts of it at full strength right onto oily stains, then wash in cold or cool water after letting it sit for a while.

It works best if you get it onto the oily stain quickly, but it can in some cases salvage clothing even after it's been washed once and has spots on it that won't come out.

Sometimes you can find it locally for cheaper, depending on where you live. I've only regularly found it in Appalachia and the northern Midwest, sometimes in Walmart and sometimes in Ace Hardware stores. There it's around $5, from Amazon it'll run you almost $10, but still worth it. A bottle lasts a long time.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:58 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you have a protruding chest or belly, you may just catch more airborne salad dressing droplets, don't ask how I know :(. Also, if you eat kinda slouched or far away from the table that might increase the odds of catching splatter.

Is tucking a napkin in the collar just Not Done anymore?
posted by kapers at 1:00 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

You can also rub talcum powder into a grease stain and let it sit a while before washing. Sometimes this even works with old stains.
posted by dilettante at 1:02 PM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I am notorious for spilling things on brand new clothes. Today I am wearing a brand new dress for the first time and already have a food stain on the chest. Go me!

As soon as I find a stain I pre-treat it. My previous go-to for oil stains used to be Dawn but now I use Zout spray for everything. IT IS A MIRACLE. I spray it on the stain, let it sit for 5 minutes, then throw in the wash with detergent. It even got out a massive oil stain on a silk shirt that my dry cleaner couldn't remove.
posted by joan_holloway at 1:05 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Our laundry detergent is Arm and Hammer Powder, for what it's worth.

We have to go to the dollar store equivalent to get it because the supermarket only sells the liquid kind in plastic jugs.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:16 PM on May 30, 2018

it's the sunscreen, google it is a known issue with MOST sunscreens
posted by patnok at 1:20 PM on May 30, 2018

I have the best results with Tide powder, I don't have to bother with stain pretreatments unless I use other brands of detergent.
posted by gatorae at 1:34 PM on May 30, 2018

Yes, make sure the Oxy Clean is dissolved. I burned a hole in a towel by throwing it in with my dry laundry before starting the machine.
posted by rhizome at 1:35 PM on May 30, 2018

If it can be done discreetly, I'll wet a stain in the restaurant, with a napkin on the skin side to absorb and one on the outside to rub. Club soda is remembered as a stain remover only because restaurant tables once always had club soda handy; anything will do apart from, say, wine or tea.

At home, I'll rub a bit with a bar of naptha soap, which works as well or better than most of the remedies people have mentioned here.
posted by Performing Without Annette at 1:44 PM on May 30, 2018

I am such a cartoonishly messy eater when home alone that I end up with spaghetti sauce on both sides of my glasses and behind my ears, and I do not have this problem with clothing. I agree with all the above comments that this is a laundry issue. I never pretreat, I use A&H pods, and even the most egregiously toddlerish messes I make are sorted out in a single wash, although I will use 2 pods for larger loads.

Is it possible that you're leaving chapstick in your pockets frequently? Melted chapstick through the washer and dryer leaves awful greasy stains.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:51 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Nothing gets a grease stain out like K2r Spotlifter.
posted by elsietheeel at 2:03 PM on May 30, 2018

For oil - I use Lestoil after discovering stains that went through the dryer, and it will work. Sometimes takes a couple tries. Pinesol is a fine sub if you can't find Lestoil (I haven't had a problem) or you want a piney smell. You can also dump this stuff in preventatively, like 1/4 cup or less a load.

For everything else - Oxyclean, soaking in oxyclean, oxyclean paste. Again, can just dump some in every load, I don't do both this and lestoil, though.

I also started going to a nicer laundromat recently (staffed, newer HE machines) and my clothes get cleaner. Machines at my old laundromat almost certainly caused some of my stains, it is the cheapest in the area and generally pretty gnarly, YMMV.
posted by momus_window at 2:21 PM on May 30, 2018

A squirt of DAWN in the wash. With some oxy clean.

That's all you need :)
posted by jbenben at 2:29 PM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Dab the spots with ammonia and throw it in the wash. You're welcome.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:28 PM on May 30, 2018

If you're a person with boobs, stains like this are hard to avoid. I keep a squirt bottle (an old dish soap bottle or condiment squirt bottle) of high-quality liquid laundry detergent in my bathroom where the hamper is. I take a look at what I'm wearing in the mirror to see if it's stained and then pull the shirt off and squirt the spots with laundry detergent before throwing it in the hamper to sit until laundry time. If I wait to pre-treat when I'm doing laundry, I miss so much stuff. As a side note, if I notice the pits of a shirt are smelly when I pull the shirt off, I douse the pits with a generous amount of rubbing alcohol before throwing it in the hamper. Pre-treating as soon as I take the garment off is the only thing that really works for me.
posted by quince at 3:32 PM on May 30, 2018

Definitely check whatever dryer you’re using. I had a rash of oil spots on clothes, and it ended up being a problem with some of the dryers at the laundromat i was using. Switched laundromat, no more spots.
posted by okayokayigive at 3:59 PM on May 30, 2018

Response by poster: If you're a person with boobs, stains like this are hard to avoid.

Yeah, it's more that than leaning on counters I think. I eat like most people in the sense that I don't think there is anything remarkable about how I eat. I knew someone who ate like Cookie Monster but he was aware of it because people told him all the time.

Thanks everyone. I will report back on my findings.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:22 PM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I cook and am messy, I eat at the computer, grease spots happen. Get Dawn dish soap. I dilute it and put it in a squirt bottle. Any suspicious spots get squirted. I don't put most stuff in the dryer - tshirts shrink weirdly, anything with elastic doesn't elast very long. So tshirts go on a drying rack, and don't have grease spots set in by dryer heat. I do put things in the dryer to fluff them for 10 minutes if they are really wrinkled. Dawn has degreasers; that's why it makes your hands dry if you use it to wash dishes. It's great for grease spots.
posted by theora55 at 4:50 PM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is only moderately helpful for eating in public if you care what people think of you, but I just put a fucking towel on my chest when I eat at home, and made some black handkerchiefs (I'm wearing at least 80% black at all times) to use in public, though of course you can buy black napkins or just ask for an extra at the table. I have about 30 jumbo flour sack towels around the house for kitchen towels, drying my hair, utility towels, and I just distribute a couple clean ones to my usual eating spots in the house.

I have a friend who keeps a gauzy light-colored scarf in her purse for general fashion/over-air-conditioned places needs, and uses it as a bib when necessary.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:21 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

My husband and I had this problem until I switched to Tide. We both get food on our shirts regularly, but I can't even remember the last time a food stain survived a laundry load on my clothes. My husband says he still has a few and those may be from before the switch. We use and have always used the dryer, so some old ones are set in.
posted by soelo at 6:46 PM on May 30, 2018

Is tucking a napkin in the collar just Not Done anymore?

I don't care if it's Not Done; for me, it's DONE. I have a large chest and I'm very messy and I can't afford to replace clothing regularly. I often have paper towels stuffed into my shirt collar at home, and have even been known to do so in restaurants if I'm dealing with drippy sauces (looking at you, Chinese dumplings).
posted by dlugoczaj at 8:30 PM on May 30, 2018

> I have a friend who keeps a gauzy light-colored scarf in her purse for general fashion/over-air-conditioned places needs, and uses it as a bib when necessary.

Seconding this. I do this. Eating good food with boobs is just plain hazardous to cotton tshirts.

Also, using the soak option if your washer has one.
posted by desuetude at 11:44 PM on May 30, 2018

If your cottons have gone through a wash cycle and still have visible oil stains, the detergent you're using is garbage. Detergent has one job. If it can't bind oil to water, it fails at it.

I am also an all-cotton T shirt wearer. I also inflict oily splodges on myself. I wash my shirts in cold water with 50ml of this liquid laundry detergent per machine load (after pouring the detergent into the dosing cup, I throw the whole lot in the machine, cup and all - no sense having detergent dry out uselessly inside the cup), then air dry them, and they usually come out completely stain free. If I've come off second best in a bout against a chicken Kiev there might be a very faint residual stain after one wash but it will certainly be gone after two. I don't use any form of pre-treatment.

Any T shirt that does have a faint oil stain, I just wear under something else; it will be presentable again after its next wash.

Yes, it stings to pay $16 for a bottle of liquid laundry detergent. But because I do measure it out with the dosing cup rather than just upending the bottle over the machine and hoping for the best, my detergent ends up costing me only 20c/wash which is more than reasonable.

In my experience, liquid concentrate is much better than powder in a cold wash.
posted by flabdablet at 12:44 AM on May 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

American washing machines (top loaders?) are so very different from those in the UK (mostly front loaders) but when I every 3 or 4 months take a wash out from the machine dirtier than when it went in (seemingly oil and grease stains on tshirts, black skid marks on towels, etc.), I know it's time to (a) clean the washing machine - either with a proprietary product or with common household items (vinegar & baking soda) and to (b) check that the filter isn't blocked with dog hairs and various gunk.

Edited to add a useful YouTube video.
posted by humph at 2:22 AM on May 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

Well...this flies in the face of what others have said (and general good sense)....but I have, in the past, gotten splotches of oil on shirts that I particularly love. If the splotches won't come out in the wash....then I put it in a bowl and pour enough oil on it that the WHOLE SHIRT becomes an oil spot, thus obscuring the original stain.

Then wash the whole thing in the sink with some dish soap to get out most of the loose oil and throw the thing in the washer.

Bam! Shirt with no visible oil stains! Or, if you prefer, shirt with ONLY visible oil stain!

When I tell people about this little trick, they either think it is the stupidest thing they've ever heard or hail me as a genius.

Perhaps it will be helpful?
posted by Bibliogeek at 6:32 AM on May 31, 2018 [11 favorites]

I use baking soda right away to absorb the oil, it works great. And Fels Naptha can get any stain out. It is in most grocery stores in the laundry section.
I spill everything on my shirts, it's awful but this combination had always worked for me.
posted by chocolatetiara at 8:22 AM on May 31, 2018

I put it in a bowl and pour enough oil on it that the WHOLE SHIRT becomes an oil spot

I have SO wondered if that would work. Thank you for enlightening us.
posted by dlugoczaj at 10:47 AM on May 31, 2018

If your present laundry facilities are broken enough that you're giving serious consideration to going the oil-the-whole-shirt route, you might want to mix a few drops of some sweet-smelling essential oil through the oil bath so that you don't end up spending all day wearing something that exudes the gentle scent of yesterday's deep fry.
posted by flabdablet at 1:41 AM on June 1, 2018

Response by poster: OK I'm pretty confidant at this point it was the powder detergent, which I have used for a good fifteen years. We now have a big brightly colored bottle of liquid detergent which is working great. We were using the powdered kind out of concern for the environment about the big plastic bottles.

Not only are there no oil stains, the colors are pretty and it's all dizzyingly suburban-fresh!

I'm going to see if we can get the liquid in bulk at the co-op--we already get plastic jugs of milk, which bugs me, I am not looking to buy more plastic if I can avoid it.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:41 AM on June 25, 2018

We were using the powdered kind out of concern for the environment about the big plastic bottles.

That's a reasonable concern. On the other side of the environmental ledger, liquid laundry detergents are often more compatible with the re-use of untreated washing machine discharge water for backyard irrigation than powders, which tend to be fairly heavy in both sodium and boron salts; even if you're not re-using your greywater directly, the use of liquid detergents gives your local sewerage treatment plant less work to do.

Liquid detergents are also available from janitorial supply wholesalers in sturdy 20 litre (five gallon) pails with sealing lids, which you will not go through at a high rate and which are handy for many kinds of re-use.
posted by flabdablet at 8:01 AM on June 26, 2018

We were using the powdered kind out of concern for the environment about the big plastic bottles.

Actually, I tried Arm & Hammer once and wasn't impressed, so maybe you just got a bum brand of powdered detergent. There are other powdered options that work fine (I'm partial to the Grab Green brand of pods, myself).

I know that there are some eco-friendly liquid detergents you can find in bulk; there's one brand, i forget the name, but it has a picture of a clothespin on the label. And I've seen a couple of co-op type of places have a bulk vat of it that you're meant to refill your own bottle from.

You could still use the Arm & Hammer as a presoak option (in place of the OxyClean in my previous suggestion). I think if you used the Arm & Hammer detergent and added a splash of hydrogen peroxide, it would kind of be like a DIY Oxy-Clean replacer.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:13 AM on June 26, 2018

Response by poster: That's a reasonable concern. On the other side of the environmental ledger, liquid laundry detergents are often more compatible with the re-use of untreated washing machine discharge water for backyard irrigation than powders, which tend to be fairly heavy in both sodium and boron salts; even if you're not re-using your greywater directly, the use of liquid detergents gives your local sewerage treatment plant less work to do.

We have septic so are supposed to use liquid anyway. It was an old hippie urge to buy powdered. I will seek out additional powder and try it. I am forcing a family switch to waxed cardboard milk cartons and am going to step up composting clothes when they have been ruined. We don’t shoot for perfect but we ‘aim to try’ and those bright orange gallons in the recycling bin are like a receipt received by our souls.

I really need the easey ones in my decen human column.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:09 PM on July 15, 2018

If you're going to stick with a powder, you might find you get better results from it if you pre-dissolve a load's worth in a jug of hot water while the machine fills up with cold, then dump it all in once the agitation starts. That way it will get down to business at full strength for the entire wash cycle.
posted by flabdablet at 11:54 AM on July 16, 2018

The technique I always used with powder was to put it in the wash while it's filling, then put the clothes in once it's dissolved. This doesn't work with locking-lid washers, natch, but I feel it gave a bit more even soap coverage.
posted by rhizome at 11:59 AM on July 16, 2018

Another thing to bear in mind is that plastic bottles are not necessarily more environmentally evil than waxed paper cartons. The wax in waxed paper is paraffin, which is fossil fuel derived just as plastics are. Many liquid detergents come in polyethylene or polypropylene bottles (most plastic milk bottles are polyethylene as well) and both of those plastics burn about as clean as waxes do, which is to be expected given that the polymer molecules that make them up are very similar to those of waxes only longer, yielding similar thermal breakdown pathways.

I regularly use cut-up pieces of old polyethylene containers as fire starters for our wood heater and barbecue instead of buying the commercial waxed-sawdust lighting blocks for that task, and they burn smokeless. It's a good way to avoid sending plastics to landfill if you can't be confident that your local recycler is in fact dealing with them appropriately.

If you burn a chunk of plastic and it emits a greasy-looking smutty black smoke, then avoid inhaling the smoke, put the flame out as fast as you can, and don't burn that kind of plastic again. It's probably PVC, whose combustion products include some quite nasty organochlorides.
posted by flabdablet at 12:12 PM on July 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

put it in the wash while it's filling, then put the clothes in once it's dissolved

I've done that very thing and still ended up with powder residue on my clothes after a cold wash, rinse and spin. Never seen it with a hot-water pre-dissolve.
posted by flabdablet at 12:17 PM on July 16, 2018

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