Man's sweater shrunken to toddler size

Laundry Problems, Mistakes, and Mysteries—and How to Solve Them

Laundry challenges, it seems, come in every size, shape, and intensity. Rather than thinking there is no solution for that stain, shrunken item or another laundry disaster, consider the ways you can recover and renew situations gone bad.


Man's sweater shrunken to toddler size

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Honey, I shrunk your sweater

Don’t be too quick to toss out that favorite sweater that just got shrunk in the hot wash or went through the dryer accidentally set to hot. Chances are good you can unshrink it if you move quickly:

In a large container, make a solution one-gallon lukewarm water and 2 tablespoons baby shampoo. Soak the shrunken garment in the solution for about 10 minutes until totally saturated. Now the important part: Don’t rinse! Simply blot out all the excess water with a dry towel and very gently lay it flat on a fresh towel. Reshape slowly and carefully as you stretch it back to its original size. Dry away from direct sunlight or heat.

This technique will work provided the fibers have not become permanently damaged, or “felted.”

Super stains

You’ve washed and dried that item dozens of times and still the ugly grease or other annoying stain hangs on. Before you toss it out, try one more thing, Lestoil.

It’s been around like forever, but so few people know about it. Lestoil, an all-purpose, heavy-duty oil and grease remover has been manufactured right here in the USA for decades.

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. While not only for laundry, Lestoil is a laundry room’s best friend.

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—especially on clothing.

MORE: 10 Things You’ll Be Happy to Know About Lestoil

Melted-on crayon stains

With so many restaurants giving the kids crayons to keep them occupied while waiting for the meal to arrive, it’s handy to know how to remove crayon stains from clothes that have inadvertently made their way through both the washer and dryer.

Melted-on crayon can be removed by first applying WD-40 to the area working it into the stain with your fingers. Once the WD-40 has begun to break down the petroleum base of the crayon, apply a concentrated detergent like Blue Dawn to remove both the stain and and the WD-40. Put back into the washer and launder as usual. It works like a charm on fabric, and will also work to clean up the inside of the clothes dryer from the melted-on crayon wax, too.

Yellow armpit stains

Armpit stains on white t-shirts are caused by the reaction between antiperspirant ingredients and the salts in human sweat. Most antiperspirants contain aluminum compounds to reduce wetness. It is the aluminum that causes the build-up and yellowing on fabrics. The stains don’t appear overnight, but without proper washing of shirts after each wearing, the stains will start to show and the show will be yellow on white shirts.

You will need these items:

  • Blue Dawn liquid dishwashing detergent
  • fresh* hydrogen peroxide
  • baking soda
  • bristle brush

In a small jar or bowl, make a mixture of 1 part Dawn and 2 parts hydrogen peroxide. Protect your countertop or work area with a thick white towel, fully saturate the stains with the liquid. Now sprinkle baking soda over the stain and with an old toothbrush or bristle brush, scrub the areas well. Allow to sit for at least an hour, then launder as usual.

MORE: How to Get Yellow-Stained Bed Pillows White Again

Laundry cash

Keep hearing coins clanging away in the dryer? Annoyed by trying to figure out who left currency in their jeans pockets? Replace your irritation with a new house rule: Whoever finds money in the washer or dryer gets to keep it.

Next, hide a container or piggy bank in the laundry room to collect the stash. Who knows? By the time you need to buy a new washer or dryer, you may have a nice down payment in that stash. You’ll also discover that no one misses the money they left in their pants. 

Hide then seek

Those tags sewn into the neck area of shirts can really bug the wearer. But if you cut them off and throw them away, you could end up laundering the garment incorrectly. That’s a good reason to cut the tag then sew it into a pocket or the inside seam somewhere on that shirt or blouse. You may play hide-and-seek to find it in the future,  but you won’t shrink any more clothes.

Targeted treatment

Got a stain on a shirt or garment that’s mostly white but with pictures or colored trim that may be ruined if you wash it with bleach? Do this: Apply a gel cleaner with bleach (as usually used on countertops) directly to the stain and the stain will come out, but the gel formula keeps any other part of the shirt from being bleached. I have been doing this for about a month, with great success, and no damage to the fabric. 

Pitch out

Here’s a super way to get pitch stain from firewood out of a garment. Rub an automotive hand cleaner like Goop! onto the pitch then launder the item as usual. Those work clothes will look as good as new! 

Old yellowed linens

Got a stash of old table linens that have yellowed from age. They may be too delicate to for the laundry detergent and bleach in the washing machine, so try this instead:  Soak the linens in Iron Out for about 20 minutes and then hand-wash, as usual, using a mild detergent. Expect the items to come out sparkling clean, almost as if new.

Smelly towels

If your bath linens have become dingy gray, stiff, scratchy and super smelly, chances are very good it’s the result of the build-up of detergents and fabric softeners that have not been rinsed out properly. That condition together with damp, moist conditions can produce a breeding ground for bacteria. No wonder you’ve got a big gross smelly laundry problem.

You are going to use white vinegar and baking soda to fix this skanky problem once and for all. But not together. This will be a two-step process.

Vinegar contains acetic acid that breaks down mineral deposits and dissolves the build-up of detergent and fabric softeners. Baking soda is alkali and breaks down dirt and grease and neutralizes odors. Used together they counteract one another. For this process we want them to do their work independently. This will strip the residue, leaving them fresh and able to absorb more water again.

Wash #1

Load towels into the washer loosely. Set it for a long wash cycle and fill with the hottest water you can manage. Turn the water heater up to 140F for this event. Or boil water on the stovetop then carefully transport it to the washer. The point is that the water must be very hot to kill the bacteria. Add two cups of white vinegar to the load. Allow it to run the entire cycle then leave the towels in the washer.

Wash #2

Fill the machine once more with the hottest water possible. This time add 1 cup baking soda. Run the entire cycle.

Whether you hang the towels outdoors or put them in the dryer, make sure they are completely and thoroughly dry. Now smell them. If they do not smell fabulously clean, repeat Wash #1 and Wash #2 as necessary until the smell is completely gone. The investment you’ve made in these towels makes them worth the effort.


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1 reply
  1. Michael D Rice
    Michael D Rice says:

    Hi Mary. I owe you an enormous thank for [most recently] coffee tips &
    reminders [re: coffee storage]. I too want the most perfect cup of coffee. And furthermore [at last] I am happy with my laundry. I use [sparingly] the additives
    that you put in your liquid laundry detergent. The clothes look really clean;
    these are the filthy clothes of 2 hard-working men & another older, lazy one [me]. Thank you! for much needed information about house-keeping & saving
    money too.


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