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.

 

Blue jeans hanging on a cloths wire outside

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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If you’ve ever experienced the heartbreak of shrinking your favorite pair of jeans to a length that would make them perfect to wear to a flood, you’re going to be particularly fond of today’s first great reader tip. And like me, you’re probably going to wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that!”

Black and white photo of man in shoes

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If you’ve ever sent perfectly functional household linens or clothing items to the rag bag simply because they turned a dingy shade of gray when you expected your white laundry to come out brilliantly white, you’re going to identify big time with today’s first reader question.

Help! My White Laundry is Coming Out Dingy Gray

Dear Mary: How can I whiten my whites? I have well water and I use the homemade laundry detergent. But my whites—especially my white uniforms—are graying. I use white vinegar in the rinse. I can’t soak my whites in bleach or use the Cascade formula every time I wash. Any ideas? Dotti

Dear Dotti: Dingy gray is usually a sign of too much detergent that is not getting rinsed away completely in the rinse cycle. If your well water is especially hard, that could also be contributing to this problem. White vinegar doesn’t necessarily help to whiten clothes. We use it in the rinse cycle to help release all of the detergent.

Here’s a frugal fix for your problem. Add a half cup of borax to each wash load. This will boost the cleaning power of your laundry detergent. (Your homemade version does contain Borax, but a very small amount, which for normal situations is sufficient.) Borax offers many laundry benefits:

  • Borax is a natural mineral, sodium tetraborate, which has been mined and used for thousands of years. 
  • Borax is safe to mix with chlorine bleach and detergents and has been proven to enhance their cleaning power. 
  • Borax whitens your whites because it converts some of the water molecules to hydrogen peroxide, which is a whitening agent. This enhances the action of bleach, whether you add it separately or it’s already present in your laundry detergent. If you don’t like to use bleach, borax is still a good whitener on its own.
  • Borax acts as a pH buffer which means cleaner clothes. It softens hard water and also helps to remove soap residue from clothing.
  • Borax neutralizes laundry odors because it inhibits fungi and mold; it has disinfecting properties. 
  • Borax increases the stain-removal ability of your detergent. The alkaline pH of borax helps to break down acidic stains like tomato or mustard.

For super-stained items or uniforms, like yours, that have become dingy gray, do a one-time pre-soak for 30 minutes in a solution of one tablespoon of borax per gallon of warm water or add 1/2 cup of borax to a pre-soak cycle. Then continue to launder as usual.

Borax is sold as Twenty Mule Team Borax in many stores or in bulk as just plain borax.

Hope that helps, Dotti!

Related: Simple Solutions for 3 Common Laundry Problems

Dear Mary: What size Instant Pot would you recommend for my husband and me? I want to use it primarily to make cheesecake, but now wonder if most IP recipes would work well in the 5-quart size. Carla.

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Favorite bed pillows get a lot of use every night. We keep clean pillowcases on them and don’t think much about the pillow inside until it’s time to change the bed linens. Lately, have you looked?

how to get yellow stains out of white bed pillows

Yikes! The pristine white pillows have turned blotchy with disgusting yellowish-to-brownish stains. What on earth…?

The most common response is to stuff an ugly, stained pillow into a clean pillowcase and hope never to have to look at that mess again!

What are Those Stains?

The culprit is sweat, the chemical composition of which varies from one person to the next, depending on what that person has been eating and drinking, or medications he or she is taking. Now add drool, body oils, makeup, hair products transferred to the pillow from lying down with wet hair—all of these things over time discolor pillows. But why not the pillowcase? Because we launder them frequently so stains are banished quickly before they have a chance to become a problem.

But the pillow itself? When did you last launder yours? Right.

You may not think you sweat while asleep, but if your pillow has become stained or just looking dingy gray and old-looking, that’s a sign you do. Congratulations are in order. This means you’re normal.

Some people sweat more than others, which can account for why your spouse’s pillow is far more stained than yours. Or your teenage son’s pillow is more disgusting than say his little brother’s. Your face or head resting against that pillow hour after hour releases sweat, which travels easily through the pillowcase into the pillow.

Get Rid of the Stains

Depending on how old these stains are, it’s a good bet you can get your bed pillows clean and beautifully white again. You can wash most types of pillows in the washing machine.

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Perhaps it’s happened to you: A many-candled birthday cake or lovely candle centerpiece go awry, leaving you with a mess of melted candle wax, now hardened and hopelessly stuck to your beautiful wood table.

Can that table be saved?

Young girl blowing out the lit candles on her birthday cake

Coax Candle Wax Off Wood Surface

Dear Mary: I was given a beautiful wood pub table. It has candle wax stuck to it from, I am assuming, someone blowing out candles. How do I fix this without scraping it with a knife? Kathy

Dear Kathy: Soften the dried wax with a hair dryer set to medium heat, pointing the dryer to the wax while keeping it 3 to 4 inches away from the table.

Once softened, blot the wax with a soft, white cloth. Keep working at it by softening then blotting until you have removed all of the wax.

Next, mix 1/2 cup white vinegar with 1 cup of water. Dip the cloth into the vinegar mix and wipe away any wax that may remain.

Last, clean your table with furniture polish to restore the shine. That should do it!

Sanitize Laundry

Dear Mary: Thank you for all you do to help us save time, money and our planet. I have been following your advice for years, and eagerly pass on what I find helpful and the products that have become second nature in our home.

My husband is a plumber, and to say that his work clothes get nasty is an understatement. Recently we bought Lysol Laundry Sanitizer—two large bottles for $16. I make our laundry detergent, add white vinegar to the final rinse, and have two sets of wool dryer balls. Was I already sanitizing his clothes with that vinegar?  Nancy

Dear Nancy: Lysol Laundry Sanitizer has been around for years. If you check the ingredients, you’ll see that it contains mostly water with  small amounts of ethanol and alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chlorides (basically alcohol and “salt”). I’m not saying those two ingredents together don’t kill some bacteria but why pay $8 a bottle to do what you can, and are already, doing yourself?

Detergent and hot water kill most bacteria. Acetic acid (white vinegar from the supermarket is 5% acetic acid) is a great disinfectant. It also acts as a deodorizer and cuts grease.

You can tackle salmonella, E. coli and other “gram-negative” bacteria with vinegar. Gram-negative bacteria can cause pneumonia, meningitis and bloodstream, wound or surgical site infections.

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It may not show up in The Top Tens Biggest Pet Peeves (yes, there is such a thing), but getting the corners right when putting on a fitted bed sheet ranks high in my mailbox.

Here’s the funny thing: Because it doesn’t bother me, I had no idea that quickly figuring out which corner goes where when putting on a fitted bed sheet was a major pet peeve for so many people! I guess I’ve lived my life just assuming that everyone knew the easy trick to get it right the first time, every time.

Q: Putting sheets on my bed is one of my biggest pet peeves. The frustration and total waste of time trying to figure out which way that fitted sheet goes drives me absolutely crazy. Help!!

Bed sheets, both fitted and flat, have a tag sewn into or near one of the four corners. The tag gives care instructions, the manufacturer’s name, sheet size and so forth.

Related: Best Inexpensive™ Bed Sheets

Find the tag then place it at the bottom right corner of the bed as you are standing at the foot of the bed looking toward the head. Right bottom corner. Visualize it. That’s all you need to remember for both the fitted and the flat sheet. I cannot confirm that this is universal tag placement protocol for all sheet manufacturers, but it’s true for the sheets I own now and have over the years. Read more