A previous post, Fabric Softener Products are the Problem Not the Solution, struck a chord with thousands of readers. I know because you send me messages and letters, which I love—even ones from some who are not 100% satisfied making the switch from problematic laundry softeners to what I find are amazing wool dryer balls.

But first, let’s review the problem:

The trouble with fabric softeners

The medical website, WebMD.com, reports that the perfumes and additives in laundry products may cause skin problems. Fabric softeners are very allergenic and can cause eczema, which appears as dry, itchy skin.

Dryer sheets contain fragrance and volatile organic compounds like acetaldehyde and butane, which can cause respiratory irritation. Fabric softener chemicals known as quaternary ammonium compounds have been linked to asthma. Acetone, also used in dryer sheets, can cause nervous system effects like headaches or dizziness.

Why wool dryer balls?

These things look like overgrown tennis balls, made of 100% wool yarn, that over time becomes “felted,” making them especially durable and not at all prone to unraveling. One set of wool dryer balls will last what seems like forever, softening thousands of loads of laundry—no batteries, refills, repairs or reconditioning required. It’s one [purchase] and done! Read more

What do stinky, yellowed, and crayon-stained laundry items have in common? They’re the reason lots of people write to me. Fortunately, each of these problems has a unique remedy—a way to reverse the stains and get those items back to looking good as new.

Stinky towels

No matter how many times you wash those items, you just cannot get rid of the disgusting sour, mildewy odor. They’ve become stiff and scratchy and have begun to repel rather than absorb water. The problem is clear evidence of a build-up bacteria that continue to live along with soap and softeners that have not been rinsed out—despite having been previously washed and dried.

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It looks and feels for all the world like laundry detergent. White. Coarse. Powdery.

A mineral mined from vegetation in dry lake bottoms in the Middle East, kelp from Scotland and seaweed from Spain, it’s used to make glass, bricks, paper, rayon, and toothpaste. It cleans silver and softens water.

Its real name is sodium carbonate, but this stuff also goes by soda ash, Na2CO3, and good old Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda.

Washing soda and I go way back. For years, I have added washing soda to the washer for cleaner, whiter, brighter laundry. More recently, it has become one of the ingredients in our homemade laundry detergent.

Best of all, washing soda (aka sodium carbonate) is cheap. Depending on the source, expect to pay around $.10 per ounce.

More recently, I am discovering that washing soda is much more than a laundry detergent booster. With a powerful pH of 11, washing soda acts as a solvent all around the house, garage. Sodium carbonate removes dirt, grime, greasy build-up and a range of stains.

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Ever had the occasion to wonder where you’ve been all your life? That’s my reaction to a simple heavy-duty cleaning product, Lestoil.

Apparently, it’s been manufactured right here in the USA for decades and loved by many. Curiously, I’d never even heard of it—let alone used it like a rabid fan—until only a few years ago.

Woman Thrilled by the Results of Lestoil Heavy-Duty Stain Treatment

On the off chance you, too, are not familiar with the powerful cleaner of all things hopelessly stained, here are 10 things you will be glad you know.

Lestoil Heavy Duty CleanerLestoil Heavy Duty Cleaner

Heavy-duty grease and stain remover

Lestoil (pronounced less-toil … get it?) can be used full-strength on stains—especially really difficult stains; the kind of stains you just give up on like ink, toner, grease, oil, scuff marks, blood, lipstick, nail polish, paint, grass stains, coffee stains, crayon and marker stains on every surface you can imagine. Even the sticky stuff left behind by stickers and labels.

Really old

Lestoil has been around since 1933. While I have not been around quite that long, this makes me wonder where I have been since I’ve only learned about Lestoil more recently.

So far 100%

Lestoil has removed every old stain I’d given up on as well as every new stain I’ve acquired since the two of us met—on clothing, carpet, concrete and all kinds of patio furniture including molded plastic. It removed black stains that accumulated on outdoor furniture covers.

RELATED: How to Make Sure You are Using the Right Amount Laundry Detergent

It made short order of some ugly stains on cultured stone. It removed that gross, sticky residue that shows up on vinyl and plastic, restoring it back to its former glory.

So far, Lestoil has worked on everything I’ve tried, most recently this shirt (with apologies to all of my expert photography readers—I promise to work on my lighting ).

Before After Results of Lestoil Heavy-Duty Stain Treatment

Before After Results of Lestoil Heavy-Duty Stain Treatment

It’s soapy

Lestoil contains, among other things, sodium tallate, which is a type of soap. This means that once the job is done, it must rinsed out, washed off or otherwise removed to make sure the item being treated doesn’t retain a residue that will attract a new stain.

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As you know, and only because I do mention it from time to time, I get a lot of email. If I were to respond to each and every message, that is all I’d ever do, and still not get through the piles that replenish daily.

So, I use the subject line method of quick elimination to winnow the pile to something I can deal with. Negative subjects lines are the first to go—instant delete. Subsequent passes from there get my messages down to something manageable, with the most interesting and useful rising to the top of the pile.

 

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Dear Mary: I love all of your washing machine tips, but can you guide us on using the correct amount of detergent? I know you say small amounts, but I hate to do a load with too little or too much. It feels like a guessing game. I tried googling this, but the information I found was not helpful.

You are such an expert on these things that I thought you might have some additional tips—if you can bear the thought of another post about laundry, that is! Hugs to you for such fantastic work. Your Anonymous Fan

 

Dear A.F.: Great question. And yes, flattery did get your letter to the top of the pile so good job on that!

Most of us use way too much laundry detergent, which can present all kinds of problems like skin irritation, grayish looking whites, and stiff scratchy clothes and linens.

Whatever amount of detergent you use, it must be completely rinsed away for the results to be beautifully clean, whiter-than-white, brighter-than-bright colors; soft clothes and linens.

Variables

Generally, (there are variables, which I’ll touch on shortly) if you have soft water use 1 tablespoon (1/16 cup) of HE (high-efficiency) detergent per wash load in a front-loading machine; for top-loading refer to your owner manual, or about 1/4 cup if you can’t find it. If you have hard water use 2 tablespoons (1/8 cup), which begs the question “How do I know if my water is hard or soft?”

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I love to do laundry. I’m crazy that way. And I enjoy discovering ways to do it more efficiently—and by efficient I do mean cheaper, better and faster.

 

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In fact, I was about ready to give myself a proper title, The Laundress, until I discovered a couple of very bright young women in New York City beat me to it. It’s OK. They can keep the title and charge an arm and a leg for their chi-chi laundry products in little bottles.

Me? I’d rather use every tip I can find to create equally beautiful results and keep my money, too. Are you with me? Great! Here are some of my favorite laundry tips to get going.

When wrong is right

Wash your clothes inside-out to keep them looking newer longer. In this way, the wrong side of the garment takes all of the abuse and fading caused by the agitation—not the right side. Clothes get just as clean when washed inside-out.

Soft dry jeans

You’ll never experience the heartbreak of shrunken jeans if you do this: Put them in the dryer for only 10 minutes. That’s enough to soften them. Take them out still wet and hang on a hanger from ankles. The weight of the semi-wet jeans will pull out the wrinkles and keep them at their proper length when fully dry.

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If you assume the inside of your washer is the cleanest place in your home because you put detergent through it with every load of laundry, join the club. Most people think that. 

So why is there dirty residue on the agitator? Why do washed clothes sometimes come out with stains they didn’t have before they went in? Why do towels and the washer get stinky?

The answer is germs.

help-my-laundry-stinks-smells

Experts tell us that most washing machines are teeming with bacteria that sit and multiply, finding their way back into the washed clothes. 

According to Charles Gerba, professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona, if you wash a load of just underwear, there will be 100 million E. coli in the wash water, and they can be transmitted to the next load of laundry. Yikes!

If you rely on your detergent to get rid of all the dirt and germs, but are not occasionally using bleach and very hot water, you’re not killing the bacteria. In fact, they’re getting on your hands when you remove the wet laundry and also staying behind in the washing machine.

Do Not Panic

Now before you panic, it’s good to know that of the more than 60,000 kinds of germs, only one to two percent of them are potentially pathogenic. But the other 98 percent, when allowed to accumulate, can produce a terrible odor in clothes, towels and linens—and inside the washer, too. 

RELATED: A Simple Solution for Gross, Smelly Towels

 

Getting Rid of Germs in Laundry

Chlorine Bleach

Using the right concentration of bleach and water, you can easily kill the bacteria. If chlorine bleach isn’t appropriate, such as when washing delicate lingerie or colored clothing, hydrogen peroxide or Clorox 2 (which contains peroxide), are reasonable alternatives.

Keep in mind that bleach is not necessary for every load of laundry provided you are following a routine cleaning protocol (to follow) and washing with bleach and hot water when it is appropriate.

On a personal note, along with detergent, I add two tablespoons of chlorine bleach to each load of white laundry—clothes, towels, and linens.

Hot Water

If possible, turn up your water heater to at least 140 F. the day you do laundry or when you wash linens and underwear. Then use the HOT setting for items that can tolerate being washed in hot water.

CAUTION: Be sure to return the water heater setting to 120 F. to avoid unintentionally scalding, especially if there are children or elderly living in your home.

Clean the Machine

Washing machine manufacturers almost always include a cleaning directive in the owner manual. My 6-year old GE front loader even has a setting on the dial for “Clean Basket,” as do many newer washers. Start following the directions in your owner manual if you have such a setting, or follow these general instructions:

RELATED: Fabric Softener Products are the Problem Not the Solution

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Apparently, I’m a slow learner. I can’t think of another reason why it took years to associate my sons’ and husband’s itchy skin problems with the dryer sheets I used in the clothes dryer.

box-of-dryer-sheets

While we didn’t experience respiratory problems that are often associated with fabric softeners, the medical website, WebMD.com, reports that the perfumes and additives in laundry products may also cause respiratory problems in some individuals.

One would expect that such a life-impacting revelation (all the skin problems disappeared once I stopped using any fabric softeners or dryer sheets) would have banned those pesky sheets from our home. But that’s not true.

Dryer sheets have so many other uses around that home—indoors, outdoors, and in the garage too—I keep a box of fragrance-free dryer sheets on hand for many other uses. (Even without fragrance, dryer sheets pose a problem for my family when used in the dryer with clothing, sheets and towels).

A used dryer sheet is ideal for many of the applications that follow. However, if you, like me, don’t end up with used sheets from the dryer, simply soak a new sheet in water and then wring it out. Most of the time you want to the sheet to be damp anyway. Hint: If you are sensitive to dryer sheets, be sure to wear rubber or latex gloves when handling a new sheet.

RELATED: Fabric Softener Products are the Problem Not the Solution

SCREEN CLEANER

Dryer sheets make great dusting and cleaning cloths for television and computer screens. Not only will they clean the screens, but the antistatic properties will also treat the screens to repel rather than attract dust. Dryer sheets are designed to reduce static cling, so they remove the dust and help keep it from resettling from television and computer screens.

DRY-ERASE

To add luster and restore the surface of a dry-erase memo board, polish it with a dryer sheet.

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