Beyond sorting lights from darks, there's an art to getting clothes really clean, and chances are you're unwittingly making some mistakes. We asked laundry experts to give us the dirt.
By Erika Rasmusson Janes
White jeans that are a cotton/spandex blend (and that's pretty much every pair these days) present a challenge because they can't be washed with that go-to stain remover for whites: "You can't bleach spandex," says Clorox scientist and "Dr. Laundry" blogger Mary Gagliardi. Using chlorine bleach on white jeans with spandex will result in yellowing -- exactly the opposite of what you want. Instead, use color-safe bleach.
Tossing your suit in the wash—even in a mesh bag, even on the gentle cycle—is a mistake, says Steve Boorstein, aka The Clothing Doctor. Skip the washer and the detergent, and simply rinse your suit with water after each dip in the pool. If a salt-water or chlorine smell still lingers, soak it in water mixed with a teaspoon of vinegar. And to prevent chlorine or salt-water damage in the first place, wet your suit with regular water before taking a dip in the pool or ocean.
To keep your dark clothes (especially cotton) from fading, you know to wash them inside out, in cold water -- but you need to skip the dryer, says Gagliardi. The heat is far more damaging to dark-colored clothing. "Air-drying is the secret to keeping clothing looking like new," says Lindsey Boyd, co-founder of The Laundress.
Your Kids' Clothes
They go into the washer dirty and look totally clean when you put them into the dryer, so how is it possible that when you then pull them out, you find them ruined by a constellation of dark, blotchy stains that appeared from out of nowhere? Those blotches are actually oil-based stains -- the remnants of last Friday's pizza dinner, for instance. From now on, Gagliardi recommends, pretreat oil-based stains with a tiny amount of liquid dishwashing detergent. "The superconcentrated grease-cutting surfactants work well on these types of stains," she says. Boorstein suggests washing these items in a mesh bag, so you know exactly which items should be air-dried. Another tip: If it's a special item -- say, his holiday button down -- take it to the dry cleaners; the solvents used can cut through tough oil stains. To get a better price (these are your kids' clothes, after all), tell your cleaner that the items don't need to be pressed.
Down Jackets And Comforters
The secret to washing down items correctly: an extra rinse cycle! Residual detergent in the feathers can reduce down's ability to be fluffy and trap air, which is how it holds heat, says Gagliardi. Part of the problem is that when you wash a coat or comforter, the down gets wet and clumpy and the weight doesn't distribute evenly, making it hard for your machine to rinse and spin effectively. She recommends taking your down items to a laundromat and washing them in a large-capacity washer. Then, dry items completely with a clean tennis ball.
Skip the fabric softener or dryer sheets. "Fabric softeners reduce the absorbency when drying off -- the whole point of a towel," says Boyd. To prevent towels from getting a yucky smell (the result of bacteria, says Boorstein), be careful not overload the machine, wash on the longest cycle in the hottest water and remove immediately after the wash cycle is finished.
Surprise! The washing machine itself needs an occasional cleaning, thanks to build-up of detergent, fabric softener, dirt and dead skin cells. (High-energy and front-loading machines are especially susceptible to mildew, according to The Laundress.) While commercial, washing-machine cleaners are available, Boorstein recommends regularly running a "rinse" load of hot water and bleach.