Laundry gets a bad rap, and for good reason. It’s inconvenient. It’s often stinky. It’s kinda gross to touch 10 pounds’ worth of fabric covered in body oils, skin cells, dust mites, pet hair, and the occasional mystery stain. On top of that, it’s one of those chores that seems to be never-ending, with underwear, socks, and towels multiplying overnight in the laundry basket like tweens at a Justin Bieber concert. But over the years, we’ve collected a bunch of tips that have helped us simplify our laundry cleaning. So fire up the DVR or Netflix and switch on a couple episodes of Scandal while you get down to some serious cleaning.
1. Get a 3-compartment hamper for your laundry, and sort into whites, colored items, and delicates as you go. Trust us on this one: huge time saver.
2. Keep your carrying basket by the dryer, ready to relocate finished loads. Also keep an extra basket in the laundry room to separate clothes or housewares that need mending or ironing.
3. Pretreat stains. Our favorite tried-and-true stain removers:
- Cut a lemon in half. Squeeze one half over the stain, until it’s saturated. Place the stained item in the sun for 2-3 hours, then launder as usual. Important: Check to make sure the stain is completely erased before drying. If it’s not, repeat the process.
- Mix a simple concoction of two parts hydrogen peroxide, one part regular (not antibacterial) Dawn dishwashing liquid, and a tablespoon or two of baking soda. Pour the mixture on the stain. In many cases, this alone will do the trick. But for stubborn spots—like armpit stains or red-wine spills—try scrubbing gently with a laundry brush. (If the stained area is big, make a larger quantity of the cleaner in a bowl or bucket and sink the entire stain into the solution. Launder as usual.
4. If you’ve assigned laundry detail to a forgetful spouse or young kids, don’t stress about your hang-to-dry items. Just use a dry-erase marker to note the pieces on top of the washing machine, and ask the laundry monitor to pull them out before transferring the load to the dryer. The marker wipes away easily with a paper towel or dry eraser.
5. Don’t overload your washer. Sure, you don’t want to run puny, energy-squandering partial loads, but if you overstuff the machine, there isn’t enough room for items to move around—and get clean. Fill your washer about ¾ full to ensure ample agitation space.
6. Fugghedabout using the cap that comes with your liquid detergent to measure; the markings on these caps are hard to read at best and often recommend way more soap than is necessary, resulting in a sticky, oily residue on clean clothes. Instead, get an inexpensive plastic measuring cup from the grocery store, and follow the appliance manufacturer’s recommendations for detergent amounts.
7. For extra whitening and color-brightening power, add about a half cup of borax or baking soda to your wash, along with your regular liquid laundry detergent. (If you use powdered detergent, add the baking soda during the rinse cycle.)
8. Save energy by doing most loads in cold water. You’ll see a real reduction in your electric bill over the course of a year. The exceptions: underwear, socks, kitchen and bath towels, and pet bedding should always be washed in warm water.
9. White vinegar is your best friend for cotton, linen, Tencel, and bamboo. Add ½ cup to the rinse cycle to de-stink work clothes, gym clothes, and towels; to remove soap residue; to reduce bacteria; and to boost whitening. That said, never combine vinegar with bleach (the fumes can be toxic), or use it on silk or synthetics like acetate and rayon.
10. Add 3 drops tea tree essential oil to the white vinegar in rinse cycle for extra bacteria-blasting oopmh and to help get rid of stubborn smells.
11. Forgot a load in the dryer? Reduce wrinkling by placing thin cotton or jersey knits or linens on a hanger and dangling them from a hook to “steam” while you take a shower (keep the bathroom door closed). You can also dampen a bath towel and put it and the wrinkled item back in the dryer on low setting for about 10 minutes. Neither method will release every wrinkle, but if you’re short on ironing time, it will at least help your items will look less crumpled.
12. Skip the dryer sheets. Most are made with skin- and allergy-irritating fragrance chemicals and volatile organic compounds . . . not to mention that they sit in landfills for decades. Instead, pour ½ cup white vinegar in the rinse cycle (for softening and mild antistatic effect) plus ½ cup baking soda mixed with 5 drops of your favorite essential oil (we like lavender, bergamot, or neroli). You can also put 2 to 3 drops of your favorite essential oil on a small square of clean cotton (a great use for all those old, holey towels and socks), let it sit for a few minutes, and then toss it in with your dryer load.
13. To fluff up duvets, pillows, or any other plush dryables, toss in a couple of old tennis balls (never use new ones; the neon dye could run onto your fabric. Better yet, get white tennis balls). Dry on low setting, and check at the halfway point; remove the balls if everything seems sufficiently plump.