Does anyone actually like doing laundry? Lugging baskets of dirty clothing around is no fun, and all that sorting and folding seems never ending. After all, unless you complete this chore au naturel, you can never really be done with laundry — there’s always something in the bottom of your hamper waiting for you. If you’re like most people, you probably dread laundry day for all the sorting, waiting and the inevitable stain that refuses to come out.
Luckily, there are ways to get yourself organized to make this task go more smoothly, and knowing a few pro tips will help rescue your favorites from staining or shrinkage. Try these eight tricks to master this chore and move on to something more fun.
1. Sort at the Source
One of the biggest pains about doing laundry is the sorting. Though some experts recommend as many as five loads based on color — darks, reds, mediums, lights and whites — most people can get away with just darks and lights when it comes to clothing. To make this easier, try having two hampers in your bedroom where you pre-sort clothes into darks and lights as you take them off. This allows you to wash one load when a hamper is full, and your sorting is already done a little bit each day.
Pro Tip for Families: Give each family member his or her own dark and light hamper set to encourage sorting, and don’t mix loads together. This will save you the hassle of sorting out tiny baby socks from your sweaters or dad’s shirts from sister’s training bras.
2. Pre-Treat Stains
A spray-on stain remover works for most stains, but you’ll get better results if you make sure to spray both sides of the fabric for a thorough soak. Use your finger to gently rub the wet spray into the area as well. This is better than rubbing the fabric together, which runs the risk of transferring your stain to a clean area.
For grease stains, soak the item in Dawn dish soap instead of relying on a spray, which isn’t designed to break down fats and oils. For protein-based stains (think bodily fluids), soak the stain in cool water until you can wash it — accidentally letting a pretreatment dry out will allow these stains to set.
3. Make Laundry a Family Affair
When you’re doing laundry for a whole family, it can easily take a whole day or even an entire weekend to get the job done. You can alleviate the burden by having each family member be responsible for his or her own laundry. By the time your child is eight-years-old, laundry is a very doable chore — so teach them! Then assign each family member a different laundry day to prevent backups at the machines.
Pro Tip for Families: Even small children can help with the folding. Have toddlers help match socks, and teach preschoolers to fold easy things like towels and underwear before learning to do t-shirts and sweaters.
4. Wash Neckties With Care
On the bright side, a necktie rarely gets truly dirty, so most people can go for years without washing one. However, a slip of the wrist and a cup of hot coffee can spell disaster. Silk and wool neckties should only ever be dry cleaned, though other fabrics may be hand washed if the label gives you the go-ahead to do so. Try soaking your tie in the sink with some Woolite or other gentle cleanser. Never twist or wring your tie, as this can cause it to lose its shape. Instead, place it flat on a thick towel, then fold the towel over the tie and press out excess water. Hang to air dry.
For a badly stained necktie, proceed straight to the nearest dry cleaner.
5. Air Dry Dress Shirts
A crisp dress shirt feels luxurious when you put it on, but eventually you’ll need to clean it. To do so without relying on the local dry cleaner, make sure all buttons are undone before washing on the gentle cycle. Remove shirts promptly from the washer to keep wrinkles from setting in. For best results, hang shirts to air dry on a soft hanger and iron when just slightly damp to remove the last bit of moisture and get the perfectly smooth look you want. This technique will also keep cotton shirts from shrinking or losing their shape.
6. Keep an Eye on the Dye
Though most clothing in your closet is colorfast, a few items may be super-saturated with dye or otherwise prone to bleeding. Dark jeans are notorious for transferring indigo dye; bright red is another famous bleeder. If you’re not sure, test your item before the first wash by soaking it in the sink. If the water is tinted, you must wash this item separately — or run the risk of turning everything in your washing machine pink. Feel free to add a bit of detergent and hand wash since it’s already in the sink, or you can do a machine load dedicated to bleeders if you have enough.
Pro Tip: Turn jeans inside out to keep indigo dye where it belongs. This won’t necessarily protect your other clothes, but it will keep your denim from fading before its time.
7. Keep Your Cool
There’s nothing worse than shrinking a favorite blouse or dress. It’s always best to follow the directions on the label, but when in doubt, you should wash your items in cold water and dry them on a low setting. Heat is the enemy of delicate fibers and can cause them to expand and contract. This eventually wears out the fibers and can lead to shrinkage — sometimes right away, but other times only after several washings. If you dryer has an air-dry setting, use it. If you have a drying rack, even better.
8. Be a Good Neighbor
If you use a communal laundry room, you can still take good care of your clothes — but you’ll want to stay on top of your game to avoid losing your place in line. Set an alarm on your phone so you can remove items from the machines promptly, and consider leaving a note on the machine with your cell number in case you’re running late. If you have to remove someone else’s item from the washing machine, place them gently in their basket and leave a note with the time you removed them. If you have to remove items from a dryer, try to place them neatly in a laundry basket or laid out across the table instead of in a crumpled heap.
When you know your way around a washer and dryer, you can make sure your clothing stays looking just as good as it did the day your brought it home from the store — and you can get back to doing something more fun than laundry in no time!