It might seem like a basic chore, and one that you've been doing since forever, but laundry is a science that most of us never learned. We were thrown into the real world with a roll of quarters and a box of soap, stuffing as much into a laundromat load as we could, and we took those bad habits through life even after getting our own washer and dryer at home.
If you've ever wondered why your shirts started pilling, or why the washer smells like mildew when its purpose is to clean, here are six simple tips and tricks for the laundry room that you never knew you needed.
1. Deodorize your clothes hamper.
Hampers can start to smell a little ripe when packed with soiled clothes week after week. To keep your laundry pile from stinking up the room, toss a sachet filled with baking soda into the bottom of the hamper. If you have a particularly offensive garment that won't get washed for a few days, sprinkle a little baking soda on it before putting it in the hamper. The baking soda will neutralize the odor in the meantime, then freshen and soften your laundry once it goes in the wash.
2. Soak stains immediately.
Soaking a stain as soon as it happens improves your chances of removing it later; a stain that's been allowed to dry can turn into a permanent blemish. If you can't do a load of laundry right away, soak the garment in a tub of warm water with a little detergent added. Sometimes, a few hours of soaking is all that's needed to lift the stain without any other treatment.
If you think it might be a day or two before the garment goes in the wash, treat the stain with an enzyme spray or stain stick before putting it in your laundry pile.
3. Wash your towels separately from your clothing.
Towels, dish cloths, rags, and other materials made from terry cloth tend to be very abrasive in the wash. The thick material rubs against clothing and agitates the fibers, causing them to pill. To preserve the fabric on your garments, sort them from your towels and wash the loads separately. The same goes for other heavy materials, such as denim or blankets — wash them separately from thin cotton, jersey, etc.
4. Keep socks together in mesh bags when washing.
If your socks tend to pull a disappearing act in the laundry room, try this trick: Throw all the socks into a mesh bag (the same kind used to wash lingerie) before putting them in the washer. You can designate a separate mesh bag for each family member to keep the pairs together all the way through the dryer. No more missing socks!
5. Ditch the fabric softener.
Fabric softener works by coating the fibers with a thin layer of chemicals. These chemicals have lubricating properties that give fabrics that gliding softness out of the washer or dryer, but they're hard on your skin and can actually make fabrics less absorbent (such is the case with bath towels).
In place of liquid fabric softener, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup white vinegar to the rinse cycle or the fabric softener dispenser of the washer. Vinegar helps remove mineral deposits that can stiffen clothing, thereby making them feel softer naturally. (And don't worry, your clothes won't come out smelling like vinegar.)
For the dryer, ditch the dryer sheet and toss in a couple of tennis balls instead. Tennis balls are the original wool dryer balls that have become so popular. Their bouncing action helps dry your clothes faster and fluff up heavier items like towels and blankets.
6. Leave the washer door open after each use.
Dark, moist environments make ideal breeding grounds for mildew, the primary cause of stinky washing machines. By leaving the washer door open after every cycle, the residual moisture has a chance to air out. This is especially true of front-load washers, which use less water and have a tendency to collect scum on the sides of the machine, creating mold-loving conditions.
If you find that your washer has been breeding a colony of mildew, run an empty load on the hottest water setting with a cup of white vinegar in the detergent dispenser, then leave the door open when done.