The Basics of Laundry, Part I

Did your mom always do your laundry for you when you were growing up? Does she still do your laundry when you go home? If so, I’m terribly sorry, because now you have a bit of a problem – you might not know how to do it yourself, and your mom will not always be around to do it for you.

The good news is that the Internet is full of resources on how to do and fold laundry. I recommend Mama’s Laundry Talk – it’s a blog specifically about laundry. I’ve learned a lot from her, and from my mother.

If you’re just starting out, though, you probably don’t have enough laundry to make all of her tips and opinions work for you. For example, she recommends not washing sheets and towels together, nor does she recommend washing sheets and towels with dirty clothes. Chances are that you don’t have enough of any of these items to wash them all separately, and if you’re using a coin-operated laundry, doing so becomes expensive as well as wasteful.

With that in mind, this post suggests a method that won’t waste your whole day or a ton of water and soap. I’ll discuss clothes that need special treatment in a different post; this post covers only the very basics of T-shirts and underwear.

Do not wait to do laundry until you have no clean clothes. I suggest doing laundry when you’re down to two clean wearings of anything. You should own enough clothing that you can do laundry on a weekly schedule; this would mean that you own about 8-10 outfits.

Step 1: Sort Your Laundry

Some sorting does have to be done. The most important sorting criteria is by color and by fabric type. How you sort your laundry will depend on how much of each color you have, and that’s going to depend on what colors you like to wear. If you’re like me and wear a lot of blacks and understated colors, you’ll have larger dark loads. Colorful dressers will have lots of colors, and almost everyone has some whites.

If you don’t sort by color, you run the risk of having a darker garment bleed dye onto a lighter one. The classic example is washing a white shirt and a red one in the same load ending with your white shirt being turned pink. If this happens, there usually is nothing you can do to save the garment.

Some fabric types need to be washed more gently, or not thrown in a washer at all. Separate these out; the tag that dictates how it should be washed will be either in the back of the neck or in one of the side seams near the bottom of the garment.

💡You won’t always have time to do multiple loads of laundry, so consider purchasing socks and underwear in both light and dark colors. Even if you only have time to do one load, you’ll always be able to throw a few pairs of socks and underwear in every load.

Step 2. Setting Up the Washer

Water Temperature

Generally, the lighter the clothing, the hotter water you want. Whites can be done in hot water; colors are by default done in warm water, and dark clothes should be done in warm or cool water to prevent dye bleed.

Some fabrics and stains absolutely require that the garment be washed in cold water to avoid damaging the garment. For example, any garment that has blood on it should soak immediately in cold water and then be washed in cold water. Warm or hot water will set the stain and make it permanent. I’ll talk about stains in more detail in another blog post.

Washing Machine Cycles

For jeans and T-shirts, normal cycle is fine. Most washers have a normal cycle. Delicate fabrics will want the Gentle or Low cycle, but I’ll talk about that in another post.

Adding Laundry Product

There are multiple types of laundry products that serve different purposes:

  • Detergent: Soap. Gets your clothes clean.
  • Fabric softener: This substances relaxes the fibers in your clothes, so that they come out soft and relaxed instead of stiff and scratchy.
  • Bleach: Removes stubborn stains from your clothes and is often used as a disinfectant. Use cautiously, because if it isn’t color-safe, it will remove all color from your clothes! (Chemical name is sodium hypochlorite.)
  • OxiClean: Similar to bleach, with similar effects via a different chemical method. This is calcium percarbonate, which when dissolved in water becomes hydrogen peroxide and calcium carbonate or washing soda.
  • Pre-treatment (Shout is a common one): This stuff when dabbed or sprayed on stains and left for a few minutes helps remove stubborn stains from your clothes.

🏠💡 Bleach is good for many things in the home, including cleaning; OxiClean is more specialized for laundry but is just a touch safer. I’ll talk more about “safer” in a future post about cleaning supplies.

Detergent can come in powder/crystal form, liquid form, and in pre-portioned capsules commonly referred to as Tide Pods. Liquid dissolves better than crystals, but is somewhat more expensive and difficult to lug around if you have to transport your laundry a lot.

⚠️ No matter which form you choose, before you buy laundry detergent, check the washer you will be using! If you see the designate “HE” in a blue and white circle, you need high-efficiency laundry detergent to use that washer. A box or bottle of the right type of detergent for these machines will have the same logo on the front. Never use traditional detergent in an HE washing machine, or you’ll end up with a mountain of suds all over the floor and clothes that need to be washed again because they’re still full of soap – after you clean out the washing machine!

As long as you have the good sense $DEITY granted a garden slug and know better than to attempt to eat a Tide Pod, I recommend them for people new to doing laundry. One is sufficient for an average laundry load, and it contains both detergent and fabric softener. Toss it in before you toss in your clothes.

One caution — they don’t work so well in cold water. Make sure you leave them at the bottom, or there’s a risk they won’t dissolve completely, and if you have to wash in completely cold water, you may wish to consider liquid detergent.

If you use crystal/powder or liquid detergent, or liquid fabric softener, read the manufacturer’s instructions on how much to use, and do not exceed that amount. If in doubt, go easy on how much you use. If you don’t use enough, the worst that will happen is your clothes won’t get clean; if you use too much, it leaves a residue in the washer that will affect the next load of clothes. If you’re using a laundromat, the next person to use that washer could be allergic to your detergent, and they really won’t thank you to overdo it.

Step 3: Are Your Clothes Clean?

When the washer is set up, start the washer according to instructions. Once the cycle finishes, check the wet clothing.

  1. It shouldn’t smell like anything but maybe detergent or fabric softener.
  2. It shouldn’t crackle – if it does, it still has soap in it. Run a rinse cycle, with no product, to rinse it more thoroughly.
  3. No soap bubbles should be visible.
  4. It should be damp, not soaking. If you can wring water out of it, it didn’t spin very thoroughly. This is annoying, not serious, but do wring the water back into the drum before putting the clothes in the dryer or else you’ll grow cobwebs waiting for your clothes to dry.

If they’re clean, time to put them in the dryer. Stay tuned for part II!




1 thought on “The Basics of Laundry, Part I”

  1. Great minds think along the same lines… I was going to do a post on the laundry symbols today. Instead, I’ll just tag this onto yours. 🙂

    Tide publishes a guide to those crazy laundry symbols that you find on the washing instructions tags. The guide is very enlightening! Here’s a link:

    Sorry for the link-shortening service; the original was really, really long!


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