Ask a Clean Person: Laundry Basics

Humble-brag for New York: I have a washing machine in my apartment. Even though it’s newish, the washer smells … not so good. Like mildew. How do I fix that?

Also, uhm, how do you do laundry?

I’m confused as to why you’ve not asked me over to give you personalized laundry lessons? “I’VE BROUGHT SAMPLES.” *dumps entire load of towels into this lucky bitch’s machine*

Now then, I bet there are a bunch of know-it-alls out there with their hands stuck straight up in the air hoping I’ll call on them, because they just know the answer is white vinegar.

And you know what? They’re right. But let’s make them sit there working for it, shall we?

To deal with your smell issue, you’ll want to run an empty load of wash on the hottest water setting possible, and use 2 cups of white vinegar (so you’ll need at least a 16 oz. bottle of the good stuff) in place of detergent. You can run the same game with bleach if you’re still in ❤ u Bleachie mode after last week; the vinegar is a better choice, though, because you won’t run the risk of having any bleach residue ruin your clothes and/or being scolded by a hippie.

There’s also this stuff called Smelly Washer Cleaner. I have no earthly idea if it’s any good, but maybe someone out there does? The same manufacturer also offers a product called Smelly Towel Cleaner, which I’m mentioning because when I shared the anecdote about the time my boyfriend mildewed on me, several of you segued into a discussion of persistent towel smell issues, so.

As for the hows of laundry-doing, it’s pretty easy! Let’s break it down:

1. Separate the laundry into lights and darks; you’ll want to wash them separately so that the darks don’t bleed onto the lights, and also because darks will take cold water, which helps to reduce fading.

2. Put a load of laundry into the machine.

3. Add the detergent of your choice. Most detergents come with a cup designed to serve as a measure of how much to use, as well as instructions about the circumstances under which you should use different amounts. Read those! If you’re using a top loading washing machine (the ones with the lids on top of the machine that flip upwards), you’ll add the detergent directly into the machine, on top of the clothes. Sort of sprinkle/pour it around. If you’re really anal and have time to kill, you can wait to add the detergent when the tub begins to fill up with water. I am really anal and have time to kill and even I don’t do this, but it’s good for you to know that you have options in life. Most front-loading machines (the ones with the see-through door on the frontface of the machine that opens outward into your cooch) have a … unhhh how you say? … a contraption? into which you’ll put the detergent.

4. Once the detergent is in, you need to select your cycle and your water temperature. Unless you’re doing a special load, the “regular cycle” will work just fine. As for water temperature, in general you want to use cold water for darks and hot or warm water for lights. Your mnemonic for this is: C (for cold) and D (for darks) come before H/W (for hot or warm) and L (for lights) in the alphabet. If you refer to your lights as your whites this trick still works. If you refer to your darks as your blacks you have a goth lifestyle and that’s OK too. Also the trick still works.

5. Turn the machine on! When the machine turns itself off, take the clothes out of the washer and put them in the dryer. If you’re a person who likes dryer sheets, go ahead and toss one in. Just don’t use them with your towels because they create a coating that makes towels less absorbant. Turn the dryer on to the appropriate setting — use medium or low for your darks because of the fading properties of heat — and time. 30 minutes should about do it for a normal-sized load of laundry, but every machine is different, and you may need some trial and error. Bulkier and heavier-weight items will need more drying time. Many delicates shouldn’t be dried at all (bras will scream for mercy in the face of a dryer; hosiery will beg to be put in a protective mesh bag). Gym clothes hate towels and fleece, so don’t mix those things if you can avoid it. Jeans can be turned inside out to help protect the integrity of the color, if that’s an issue for you. Mostly you should get to know your things, talk to them about what they like and don’t like, remember what they told you so they don’t have to write to A Lady to complain about how you don’t pay attention to their needs.

6. Once the dry cycle is complete, it’s time to fold! You should fold your clothes as quickly as possible post-dryer removal to help prevent wrinkling. I feel like folding might be its own post (one of these days I swear I’m going to start doing how-to videos. Probably while hopped up on pills and Qream, because that’s the way we like things around here). For whatever it’s worth, I separate my clothes by type (underpants, gym clothes, tees, etc.) before I begin my folding process. This means that all like-things are folded together, and also that those like-things are stacked together in the laundry bag, making it a lot easier come putting-away time.

Which brings me to putting-away time. THIS IS PART OF DOING YOUR LAUNDRY. Remember your chore routine? When we all agreed to put our clothes away? Right! That’s the last step of your laundry routine, BOOM, look at you with your stuff so totally together!

Now finally I need to give some of you a stern talking to. Aww, look at you quaking. OK here goes: Every now and again I notice a bit of ganging up going on when someone asks a very basic question. “I can’t believe you don’t know how to mop! You are a failure at life!”-type stuff.

Ladies. Ladies. Come now. Am I to assume you know how to do everything ever? Right then. No more of this shaming. There are plenty of “obvious” things each and every one of us doesn’t know how to do (for example, I do not know how to drive a car or make scrambled eggs or sustain any sort of meaningful relationship with another human being) so let’s leave the judgment of one another at the door of our tiny house.

How do you remove the Parisian odor from your favorite t-shirts? You know, the ones that smell fine when you put them on, but then you find yourself getting into a hot car, riding the subway or drinking too much coffee and at the most inopportune time, the moisture begins and *smack* you lift your arm to reach an item on the top shelf and there it is. It reminds me of a cartoon with teenage skater boy smell wafting from the underarms. I’d like to keep some of the shirts and not just incinerate them (although some I should, I know).

Ah yes, the lingering smell issue. Vexing, isn’t it? If you find yourself with a beloved item of clothing that’s taken on a ‘pitty or crotchy stank, there are a couple of things you might want to try.

First, there’s the old Q: “How do I wash the used bike shorts I just bought?” (A: “Clean them with fire”) method of soaking and/or washing in baking soda. You can also run a cup of white vinegar through with your wash. Just don’t use them together unless you want a volcano to erupt in your washing machine.

There are also several brands of laundry detergents designed specifically for activewear that might be the ticket for you. Unfortunately, the one brand that virtually everyone swore by, Win High Performance Sport Detergent, has been discontinued. Which is sad. But! There’s a well-reviewed product called Penguin Sports Wash and who doesn’t love a penguin? (Well. These people don’t.)

There’s also something called Sports Suds and isn’t that jaunty?

I wear white undershirts most days and, about a year after I bought most of them, more than half have started developing bizarre yellowy-orange splotches. I’ve owned lots of white t-shirts before and never seen anything like it, nor have similar stains developed on any other light-colored clothing I’ve washed in the same loads. Each time I wash them the stains seem to get worse. They’re not sweat stains, as far as I can tell, since they occur on seemingly random locations on my shirts and not where you’d expect sweat. I haven’t spilled anything on them that I know of. Bleach didn’t do anything last time I tried it. I’ve since seen your advice on bleach and protein stains so I’m thinking its some kind of protein stain?

There is great debate in the Clean Person community about the origin of the dreaded Orange Laundry Stains and if you all huddle ‘round and promise not to drop a dime on me I’ll tell you the God’s honest truth: No one seems to actually know what these fucking things are.

There are two main strains of thought on what causes the orange staining: (1) iron deposits in the washer; (2) residue from liquid fabric softener.

Right then, things to try:

Give the washing machine a good cleaning using the vinegar method we talked about upcolumn. That will help to eliminate any residue that might be causing staining.

To treat the stains themselves, try making an OxiClean paste by mixing the powder with a li’l bit of water and then apply that to the stains. Let the Oxi work its magic for 20 or 30 minutes before putting the washables in your machine. Add a little more Oxi to the wash for good measure. Say a prayer to Billy Mays. If you don’t have Oxi around the house (and seriously, at this point? How do you not have Oxi around the house??), go on and use your favorite stain treatment (Shout, Spray’n’Wash, which I guess is now called Resolve?, Zout, etc.) Even a dab of regular old laundry detergent on the spot will help matters. Now just wash as usual.

Incidentally, it’s scientifically proven — and you knew this was coming — that declaring “Out, damn’d spot! out, I say!” while applying the Oxi will make this method 40 times more effective.

Previously: Bras, Sex Toys, DivaCups, and Leg Waxidents.

Jolie Kerr is not paid to endorse any of the products mentioned in this column, but she sure would be very happy to accept any free samples the manufacturers care to send her way! Are you looking for a green alternative to the suggestions found here? Because we’ve got some! More importantly: Is anything you own dirty?

Image by Tatiana Popova, via Shutterstock