Search:
Clean Living Masthead New

EMAIL ALERTS


 
 

Laundry Basics - Sorting it Out


Sorting it Out

The space age has entered today's wash-a-day world. Just sort and pretreat your laundry ... touch the right buttons or dials on your washer and dryer ... match up the wash loads to the right laundry products ... then walk away - and let your laundry problems wash away! All it takes is the know-how of sorting it all out, and that's exactly what this information is all about. Let it help you get clean results - wash cycle, after cycle, after cycle.

The Soap and Detergent Solution

How does your water affect your laundry? The answer is in the water's softness or hardness. Soft water aids cleaning. Hard water poses some obstacles to cleaning.

Hard water contains minerals (mostly calcium and magnesium) which react with soap to form a curd. This soap curd can show up on clothes as a white powder, make fabrics feel stiff and attach to the inside of washing machines. The forming of the curd uses up some of the soap and reduces its cleaning power.

Detergents are less sensitive to the hardness minerals in water; therefore, they perform better and do not form a curd. Because of these features, detergents, instead of soaps, are used for laundry products.

However, if you are doing laundry in hard water, even a detergent needs some help. Add slightly more detergent than the product label directions recommend. The extra detergent will help soften the water and allow the remaining detergent to do its cleaning job. You can also add a water softener or detergent booster to the wash water to increase cleaning power.

Is Your Water Hard or Soft?

Your local water company, public utility consumer service department or Cooperative Extension Service office can provide this information or refer you to someone who can. You probably have hard water if:.

  • There's a "ring around your bathtub."
  • Soaps and shampoos do not lather easily.
  • White residue forms around faucets and drains.
  • Fabrics feel stiff, not fluffy.

About Detergents

General Purpose Detergents

Liquids
All-purpose laundry detergents that are especially effective on food, greasy and oily soils. Since they are liquids, they are good for pretreating spots and stains.

Powders
All-purpose laundry detergents which are ideal for general washday loads. Especially effective on lifting out clay and ground-in dirt, thus ideal for children's play clothes.

Ultra Detergents
Most liquid and powder detergents are now concentrated. They come in much smaller packages - yet offer the same amount of cleaning power as the familiar products in larger packages. You need less ultra detergent than with an unconcentrated product, so follow the label instructions and use the measuring cap or scoop that comes with the product.

Combination Detergents
One detergent that does two jobs. Look for:

  • Liquid or powder detergents with built-in fabric softeners
  • Powders detergents with color-safe bleach
  • Liquid detergents with bleach alternative

Fragrance or Dye-Free Detergents
Many laundry products are now fragrance-free and/or dye-free. Read product labels for specific details.

Light Duty Detergents

Laundry Liquids and Powders
Designed for hand or machine washing those lightly soiled items and delicate fabrics. Ideal for baby clothes.

Dishwashing Liquids
Designed for washing dishes, but some can be used for handwashing delicate fabrics. Do not use in automatic washers!


Washday Helpers

Attack those difficult laundry problems with the right laundry aids. There are products to solve every kind of wash problem, attack every kind of stain, work in every type and temperature of water. Which products should you choose? Here's a quick review to help you find the ones best for you.


Bleaches

Benefits
Convert soils into colorless, soluble particles which are easily removed by detergents, then carried away in the wash water. Brighten and whiten fabrics; help remove stubborn stains.

Types
Sodium hypochlorite bleaches (also called chlorine or liquid household bleach) are the more powerful laundry bleaches; they disinfect, as well as clean and whiten. They work on many whites and colorfast washables - but not on wools or silks. Oxygen (color-safe) bleaches are more gentle, working safely on all washable fabrics. They work best in maintaining whiteness, not in restoring it.

Techniques
For Sodium Hypochlorite Bleach, read the label and dilute as directed. For best results, add 5 minutes after the wash cycle has begun to agitate in order to avoid destroying enzymes and fluorescent whiteners in the detergent.

For Oxygen Bleach, add directly to the wash water before the clothes are added. Do not pour powdered bleach directly on wet clothes. Most effective in warm-to-hot water.

IMPORTANT: Have doubts whether a garment is safe to bleach? Don't guess - you may be sorry! Read the garment's care label for specific instructions. Test first for colorfastness in an inconspicuous area by following the instructions on bleach package label.

Enzyme Presoaks

Benefits
Especially effective in removing protein stains, like baby formula, blood, body fluids, dairy products, eggs and grass. When added to the wash water, they also boost the cleaning power of the detergent.

Type
Powders

Technique
Presoak laundry in the washer, sink or a pail before washing. Follow the label directions.

Fabric Softeners

Benefits
Decrease static cling, which is especially useful when washing permanent-press and synthetic fibers. Make fabrics softer and fluffier... reduce drying time ... reduce wrinkling ... make ironing easier.

Types
Liquid fabric softeners go into the final rinse water; one type can also be used on a cloth and tossed into the dryer. Follow the label directions.
Softener sheets go into the dryer.
Packet-type softeners attach to the fin of the dryer drum.

Techniques
When adding liquid softeners to the rinse water, be sure to dilute first. Do not pour directly on fabrics, because this may cause staining or spotting.

IMPORTANT: Fabric softeners may reduce the effectiveness of flame retardancy on fabrics, like those used in children's sleepwear.

Prewash Soil and Stain Removers

Benefits
Effective in pretreating heavily soiled and stained garments, especially those made from polyester fibers. Work well on oil-based stains like animal fats, body soils, cooking oils, cosmetics and motor oils. Soap bars work well on fabric softener, perspiration and tobacco stains.

Types
Liquids, sprays, gels, sticks and soap bars

Techniques
It's best to treat the stain as quickly as possible. Use liquid, gel and spray removers just before washing the garment. If the stain still remains, apply a second treatment, rubbing directly into the stain.

When using the stick type, immediately rub the stick on the fresh stain, then set it aside and wash later - even as much as a week later.

IMPORTANT: Do not use prewash soil and stain removers on neon and fluorescent colors. The colors might fade or run.

Starches, Fabric Finishes and Sizing

Benefits
Give body to fabrics ... make fabrics more soil-resistant ... make ironing easier.

Types
Powders, liquids and sprays.

Techniques
Use starches on cottons and cotton blends ... use fabric finishes and sizings on synthetic fabrics.

Water Softeners

Benefits
Help detergents do their job better by inactivating calcium and magnesium minerals which make water hard.

Types
Powders and liquids.

Techniques
Add powders to the wash or rinse water. Add liquids to rinse water only.


Label Savvy

Don't guess - read the product label. It's the way to get the best possible results from any product - wash, after wash. There's more on the label than you might think. Here are some important clues to look for.

What's in a Name?

Look closely - the name and the product's identifiers say a lot. A few facts to look for: Is the product a liquid or a powder? Is it a general purpose or a light duty product? Is it concentrated? Is it a multi-purpose combination detergent with extras added, like a bleach or a fabric softener? Is it fragrance free? If the product is a bleach, is it a sodium hypochlorite (chlorine) type or an oxygen (color-safe) one?

The Ingredients

You will often find an ingredient statement, which includes such facts as the ingredient composition of the product and whether or not a fragrance has been added. Some statements add the generic names of the ingredients plus their functions.

Read the Directions First!

Find out the recommended temperature of the wash and rinse waters; the best wash cycle to choose; how much product to use; when to use more - or less; on which fabrics to use the product; in which order to add the detergent, clothes and water.

Laundering Tips

You'll find special techniques and when to use them: presoaking, pretreating, prewashing, bleaching. Also, look for helpful hints on removing stains, keeping "whites" white and colors bright.

Cautions...and What to Do If

Here you will find common sense guidelines against misuse. Plus, first aid information for what to do in case someone accidently swallows the product or splashes it in their eyes. Liquid detergents also warn against using the package for storing beverages or other liquids, since the package is not food-safe. If refills are available, refilling the package with the same product is fine.

Biodegradable Statement

Sometimes appears on the label to state that the product contains biodegradable surfactants and enzymes.

Environmental Statement

Tells if the package can be recycled ... if the package is made from recycled paper or plastic ... new innovations in product packaging.

Contact the Manufacturer

Call toll free. Look on the label for the 800-number. Call to get more information about the product; obtain help in using the product; submit comments about the product. Or, look on the label for the manufacturer's name and address, then write.


Garment Savvy

Check the Care Label

To give you the best of wear, your clothes need the best of care. Garment manufacturers are required by law to stitch care labels into their garments. Check these labels carefully. They are your best guide for what to do and what not to do. The manufacturers know their garments well: their fabrics, their construction, the dyes. Always follow their instructions!

TIP: Some care labels state: "Use A Mild Detergent." In this case, use a light duty detergent. A general purpose detergent may cause light spots to appear on the garment, especially on pastel-colored cotton fabrics. Should such spotting occur, soak the entire garment in a solution of 4 parts water and one part general purpose detergent. This lightens the entire garment and evens out the color.

First Time Around

Have doubts if a new garment is colorfast? Test it first! Here are two tests to try:

  • Wash it separately the first time around. If there is color left in the wash water, continue washing it separately the second time, the third time and so forth, until the color no longer bleeds into the water.
  • Apply a little water or detergent on an inconspicuous area. If the color runs, wash it separately.

Sorting Secrets

There's more to the sorting game than just keeping dark garments away from the gleaming whites. The secret is mixing and matching items into loads that need similar soaps or detergents, wash cycles and water temperatures. It's the time to check those garment care labels for special cleaning instructions. Without a doubt, smart sorting is the way of insuring clean results - wash, after wash, after wash.

First, sort by color.

Wash all whites separately; pastels and medium colors together; brights and darks by themselves. Pay special attention to white and lightly colored synthetics; they can pick up dark dyes from other fabrics during washing. Check trimmings and decorations for colorfastness too.

Second, sort for soil.

Sort out those heavily soiled items away from the lightly soiled ones, since lightly soiled items can pick up the extra soil from the wash water. Whites will slowly get grayer or yellower; colors will become duller and duller.

Third, consider Specialty Sorts.

  • The Unmatched Set: Mix small and large items together in each load. This lets clothes move more freely, resulting in better washing.
  • The Fabric Types: Consider the fabrics and how they are constructed. Separate loosely knitted garments and delicates from regular wash loads, then wash on the gentle cycle.
  • The Lint Losers: Fuzzy sweat shirts, chenille robes, flannels and new towels have a tendency to share their lint with other garments during washing. Wash them in a load by themselves - away from corduroys and permanent press garments, which attract lint easily.
  • The Fluorescents: Hot pinks, bright greens, electric blues are often much less colorfast than other fabrics. Wash them separately or test them first before washing with other colors. For safety's sake do not pretreat with stain removers unless you have tested them for colorfastness first on an inconspicuous area. Fluorescent colors may fade over time.

Spot Attack

Take care to wash away any spots and stains on your washables. Here are a few tips:

Identify the spot. The more you know about what made the spot or stain, the more likely you are to treat it appropriately. This means you have a better chance to remove it, plus you are less likely to set it further by using the wrong treatment. When in doubt, rinse or soak in cold water before treating or laundering.

Treat the spot immediately! The sooner you attack the spot, the easier it is to remove. Get into the habit of checking freshly washed wet clothes for stains that don't wash away. Instead of drying them, pretreat the stains and wash them again. Drying can permanently set the stains.

Pretreat, plus Pretreating a stain before it is dried or set increases your chances for removing it. Use a prewash stain remover, liquid laundry detergent, or a paste made from a powdered laundry detergent and a little water. First, test for colorfastness by pretreating a seam or other inconspicuous area. Then, launder the entire garment with a detergent - plus a bleach that's safe for the fabric.

Blot it out! Sponge a stain - don't rub it. Rubbing only spreads it and may even damage the fabric.

Beverage stains:
Beverages containing sugar, such as wine or ginger ale, may seem to disappear. But don't be fooled - they may still be there! Once the stain has been exposed to air, the sugar oxidizes and leaves an invisible stain, which ultimately turns yellow or brown. The stain never left .. it was there all along. To remedy? Treat even those light stains you can't see immediately - before they dry.

Using a bleach? Prevent uneven color changes by bleaching the entire garment - not just the stain.

Old stains rarely fade away- but it's possible! Try pretreating or soaking in a product containing enzymes, then launder.

Wash it away! After treating a stain, launder the complete garment to remove any residue left from the stain or stain remover.


Laundry Tips

  • For the best washing action, mix large items like sheets with a few smaller items, like blouses or hand towels, in the same color range. Avoid wrapping sheets around the agitator post of the washer. They need to be free to move easily.
  • The recommended amount of detergent on the label is based on average conditions: 5 to 7 pounds of clothes which are moderately soiled and are washed in an average amount of moderately hard water. Change any of these conditions and you should change the amount of detergent. More detergent may be needed for: larger loads, heavily soiled clothes, a larger-capacity washer, hard water conditions. Slightly less detergent may be used if the water is soft, the clothes are only lightly soiled or the wash load is small.
  • For the best cleaning action, clothes need room to move freely. Plus, there must be enough free water to carry away the soil easily. Fill the tub loosely, not completely.
  • Detergents work best in warm-to-hot wash water. Consider using cold water only for washing clothes whose colors might fade or clothes that are only lightly soiled.
  • Follow the manufacturer's labels and add products accordingly. Some products like oxygen bleaches are added to the wash water before the clothes are added. Liquid fabric softeners go into the rinse water.
  • Cold rinse water saves energy, makes ironing easier and helps prevent permanent press fabrics from wrinkling.
  • Don't overload the dryer. Clothes need room to tumble freely in order to dry fast and wrinkle-free.
  • Use the specially designed permanent press wash and dry cycles for permanent press fabrics, To minimize wrinkling, the wash cycle has a special cool-down rinse; the drying cycle, a cooling-down period.
  • To save energy, always wash a full load or match the water level setting to the amount of clothes being washed. When washing small loads, use a lower water setting.