Martha Stewart: Laundry tips will keep clothes looking their best

Here's how to avoid wrinkling, shrinking, staining and fading

Published: Monday, July 3 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

Washing clothes is probably something you do without much thought. By now, you know the basics: sorting darks from lights, picking the right cycle. But the process, though simple, isn't always perfect. Almost everyone has had a favorite item that faded, shrank or had a stain that just wouldn't go away. Here are some tips that will help you get the most from the washer and dryer so that your laundry will look its best.

Sorting

The standard advice is to sort laundry items by their color, durability and degree of soiling. But take a moment to mix large pieces with smaller ones — varying the size of items gets clothes cleaner. Also, separate lint-producing materials, such as terry cloth or flannel, from dark fabrics and lint-attracting items, such as corduroy. Consider the drying time items need, separating T-shirts and permanent-press items from thick towels, for instance.

Preparing clothes

Mending any tears before washing will prevent the damage from becoming worse. Also, undo buttons on collars to minimize wear along folds, and turn dark clothes inside out to help prevent fading. Washable sweaters should also be turned inside out to reduce the chance of pilling.

Choosing and using products

It's better to choose a powdered detergent for clothes caked with mud or clay, since these frequently contain color-safe or oxygen bleach, making them effective at removing ground-in dirt and stains. Liquid detergents contain surfactants that work well on oily spills. Add a little extra detergent if you have very "hard" water (a good way to tell if you have hard water is if your soap doesn't lather well) — if your water is "soft," use a bit less.

When it comes to bleach, the common approach is to use it as recommended by the fabric-care label on your clothing. A label that doesn't mention bleach implies that any kind of bleach can be used safely. Remember that chlorine bleach is harsh on fabrics and should be used only when whitening is really needed.

When you add chlorine bleach, do so about five minutes after starting the wash cycle, or it will counteract the detergent. Color-safe bleach, which doesn't whiten but keeps colors and whites bright and fights stains, should be added with the detergent.

As for fabric softener, always check care labels first. Liquid softener contains oils that can damage some materials, such as spandex and many polyesters. If you use softener, add it only during the rinse cycle so it won't interact with detergent and leave a residue on fabric.

Washing

Care labels often indicate the correct temperature and wash cycle. But if your washer doesn't have a true-temperature setting, you might want to test the water temperature once at each setting with a digital thermometer. A cold-water wash should be 65 to 80 degrees. If the temperature is lower, your detergent will be less effective. If this is the case, consider choosing the warm setting (90 to 110 degrees) instead. Although the warm setting is fine for most loads, to remove stains created by body heat (think deodorant deposits), you must use the hottest water the fabric can endure.

Pretreat any stains before washing. If the stain isn't gone after the wash cycle, treat and rewash. Do not dry until the stain is gone, as the heat may set the stain and make it permanent.

Drying

Overdrying clothes makes them heat up and shrink. It's better to remove clothes that have a tendency to shrink when they are still slightly damp and hang them on hangers or a clothes rack to air dry.

Get into the habit of emptying the lint filter before each load, not after. This way you won't miss a dirty filter — a potential fire hazard — if someone else forgot. If you discover paper bits on clothes after a wash (evidence of a tissue forgotten in a pocket), dry half the load at a time to remove the bits effectively and empty the filter midway through the cycle if there's a lot of paper.

Hanging and folding

To reduce wrinkling, fold or hang clothes as soon as possible after the dryer cycle ends. If this is not possible, slightly dampen a cloth, add it to the load and then run the dryer for a few minutes. The moisture and heat will help the wrinkles fall out. It's also a good idea to run a cool-down cycle at the end of the drying time. All laundry items are more prone to wrinkling if left sitting in a pile when they are hot.


Questions should be addressed to Ask Martha, care of Letters Department, Martha Stewart Living, 11 W. 42nd Street, New York, N.Y. 10036. Questions may also be sent by electronic mail to: mslletters@marthastewart.com. Please include your name, address and daytime telephone number. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; Martha Stewart regrets that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually. For more information on the topics covered in the Ask Martha column, visit www.marthastewart.com. © Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. All rights reserved. Distributed by New York Times Special Features

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