Ask a Clean Person: Laundry School Commencement Exercises

Get out your notebooks, sharpen your pencils, hone your note-passing skills: Laundry School is in session! We’re devoting the entire month of May to the subject of laundry. And what fun would Laundry School be if you couldn’t backtalk the teacher, right? So! The Twitter hashtag for this is #LAUNDRYSCHOOL. If you follow me on Twitter (@joliekerr) you can holler at me when you do your laundry! Or lemme see those beautiful piles of folded clothes! Or ask questions! Or tweet at me in emergency situations! Or maybe you just really, really, really need to talk to me about how folding a fitted sheet sends you into fits of rage. This is me, being here for you. And because I try to be here for you in as many ways as possible, I’ve started a pinboard devoted entirely to laundry to serve as a reference source. Most importantly: got questions? Ask away!

Here we are, coming up on the end of laundry school and oh my, aren’t you all impressive looking in your caps and (perfectly pressed!) gowns. Ach! Just lovely. I’m so proud.

As we did with #LAMOB, for the final installment I’ll recap what we’ve learned — not just this month, but an entire round-up of all the laundry-related questions that we’ve tackled during the lifespan of this column, then I’ll do quick answers to a few more questions and then we’ll throw ourselves a wicked rippah to celebrate our graduation! But before I do that, I feel like I owe you a wee apology: I had every intention of making #LAUNDRYSCHOOL into as well planned out and steady a project as #LAMOB. Then things got, ummm, a li’l busy, and I don’t feel that I’ve brought my A-game to this series. So! To make it up to you, come the Fall we’re going to pack up our extra-long twin sheets and head off to #LAUNDRYCOLLEGE. Which is to say this — all of you who asked about getting cat hair off your blankies and sweaters and dear God on your underpants too?? What all are you doing with your cats? Nevermind, I don’t want to know (unless you’re getting rid of them, in which case OH GOD YES I WANT TO KNOW, I WANT TO KNOW): I will get back to you, promiseies. Also, gosh there were loads (HEH) of other fantastic questions but I’m only one Clean Person, ya know?! So! Please don’t fret if there’s a laundry topic we’ve not yet covered, we’ll get there. Also maybe we’ve already got you covered and you didn’t even know it? Aaand with that lead-in, let’s go to the highlight reel!

The basics of how to do laundry
Tips for laundering items in hard water
Stain removal for the bustier among us
Doing battle with ‘pit stains
Keeping air-dried clothes smelling fresh
Hand washing bras
Setting the color in dark denim
What to do about dingy whites
Removing Laffy Taffy from clothes
Getting bicycle grease stains off clothing
Hand washing cashmere
What to do when you accidentally use fabric softener instead of detergent
Barf stains on corduroy
Blood stains on underthings
Mildew smells in laundry
 …And in washers
Machine washing down parkas
More dye setting tips
Cleaning faux fur trim
What to do about cum stains on sheets
Prewashing cleaning rags to cut down on loads of laundry
Keeping summer whites and brights looking that way
How to get a stinky comforter smelling fresh again
Deodorant stains on bras
Getting yellowed linens white again
Treating mysterious grease spots on laundry
Caring for silk sheeting
Solutions for excessively lint-y towels
Lint removal for bedding and other large surfaces
Handwashing wool and other “dry clean only” items
Washing oversized comforters and mattress pads
Static cling
Washing greasy sheets
Mascara stains on pillowcases
Ironing basics
What to do when colors bleed

Woof! That was exhausting. And yet? THERE’S STILL MORE. But let’s make this fast so we can get onto the important work of signing one another’s Laundry School Class of 2012 yearbooks.

With the weather heating up, I thought this was a timely Laundry Month question: my boyfriend dutifully sprays himself down with sunscreen, but it always leaves a gross orange/pink ring around the collar of his white v-necks. I’ve tried Zout on the stains and OxiClean in the laundry, but neither worked. He suggested bleach — I noticed that when the bleach splashed onto the shirts in the washing machine, there was a momentary chemical reaction where the entire shirt (the white part of the body, there are no stains on the shirt itself, primarily just the v-neck ribbing) turned the same orange/pink. So what’s going on? And, how do I get this stuff off? We live in sunny New Orleans and at this rate he’s going to go broke buying new white v-necks all summer.

There’s an ingredient that is commonly found in sunscreens called avobenzone that reacts with iron particles found in water, particularly hard water. (Remember hard water?? This is how I figure out if you’re paying attention in class, btw.) When the avobenzone gets all funky up with iron it oxidizes and causes what are essentially rust stains. So that’s what we need to treat.

There are a bunch of commercially available products out there that treat rust stains on laundry; Rust Stain Magic (it’s magic!) is one, and while it may seem strange to use the same product on your clothes that you use on your toilet I promise it’s fine. And actually? I guess it’s not that strange. I dunno, that narsty looking toilet on the front of the bottle is throwing me for a loop.

If you want to go the all-natural route, you can use a combination of lemon juice and salt to pull the stains out. Rinse the item in cool water to flush out as much of the stain as possible, squeeze lemon juice on the discolored areas, and sprinkle liberally with salt before allowing it to sit for 24 hours before laundering as usual. The same thing will work with vinegar and salt too.

What you don’t want to use is bleach or, more devastatingly, OxiClean. They won’t work and, particularly in the case of bleach, will make the staining more pronounced. Poor Bleachie, he means well but just can’t seem to get it right.

I’ve got lots of sailor-stripey type tops. I collect and wear them, and I love them so much. I’ve got black on white, white on black, blue on white, and equally spaced red (or blue or black) and white stripes. Sometimes mostly white, and sometimes mostly dark background, if you see what I mean. I’m always saving them for a special load because I’m afraid the white stripes will go dingy on me. However, this often means I have to spend a long time not wearing my favorite striped tops. I’m sometimes tempted to toss the black tops with thin white stripes into the dark wash, but then I get scared I’ll end up with dingy white stripes on a black top. Oh, I should say, most of these tops are cotton, or cotton with lycra. Some are cotton/modal.

Am I being needlessly careful? Can I mix my stripes with my colors? I’m a dutiful separator of colors in washer AND dryer (even separating the red spectrum colors from the blue spectrum colors, and mixing heather grays into both when there’s not enough of each for a load). I love doing my laundry right, you can’t imagine how proud I am of my technique. But the stripes have me stumped!

Oh man, you’re speaking my language — I’ve never met a striped-shirt I didn’t love. My friends and I call them “French Vacation Shirts” and I should probably just go ahead and tell you that I organize my shirt drawer in the following way:

Long sleeved tees
Short sleeved tees
Striped tees

Naturally, the striped tees pile is the biggest one, such that it requires a special folding method so that I can fit them in a double row so that they’ll line up with the solids, those assholes. I don’t even know why I bother with the solids. They’re such dullards.

ANYway. This is mostly to explain that I GET YOU. And I mean? Really what do you do with items that are both white and colored?!? It’s so confounding. But happily I’m here to worry and think and worry about these things so you don’t have to. So here are my two recommendations for you, which you can take in an and/or way: when you first get your striped items, give ’em a soak in a vinegar/water solution to set then color and then wash the whiter of the stripies with your whites, confident in the knowledge that the colored parts won’t bleed because of your forethought. The other choice you have is to use or use the Shout Color Catcher in your mixed wash, which is the best bet for your darker stripies. The Shout Color Catcher, savior of stripie-tee lovin’ lads and lasses the world ‘round.

I got a white bathing suit accented with a shiny gray pattern last summer. It actually fits my 32F boobs, which is so nice, but it was super expensive because of that. Anyway, I was at the beach at the time, and in the ocean, and everything was fine. The next time I wore it, it was in a pool and I guess the chlorine or something tinted the white parts yellowish-green. I tried washing it but no luck. It’s been almost a year since I tried to do anything with it, so I guess it is set in pretty badly. I really want to wear the bathing suit this summer … any tips for me?

You betcha! Okay but first let’s talk about what NOT to use: as much as we love it, do not (DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT!!) use bleach on your bathing suits. (Man. Rough week for Bleachie!) It’s absolutely terrible for the fabric.

The best thing to do with any bathing suits you wear into a chlorine pool is to rinse it thoroughly in cold water immediately after wearing. You really don’t want those chemicals hanging out in your suit. You don’t need to wash it straight away or anything nuts — heck, you can just rinse it in the shower when you’re rinsing yourself. (You’re rinsing yourself after swimming, right? Right.)

General bathing suit laundering tips: treat ’em basically like your brawrs. Handwash them in a gentle detergent like Woolite — if they’re dark colored you might choose to use Woolite Dark, which will help to protect the integrity of the color, which takes a real beating what with all that sun and salt and chlorine and rum.

OxiClean is an option, but many people report mixed luck with it on yellowed bathing suits. What does totally work is baking soda, which is convenient since even the barest of refrigerators generally contain a box of baking soda, which means it’s almost always on hand. You’ll want to use a half cup of baking soda dissolved in a sinkful of cold water, and allow the suit to soak in that solution for 1–2 hours. Then drain the sink, rinse the suit and allow it to air dry.

As a last resort, if you really can’t get things as bright as you want them try using a product like White Bright or Rit Whitener & Brightener.

Previously: Laundry School Week 1, Week 2, Week 3 and Week 4.

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 curious to know if she’s answered a question you have? Do check out the archives, listed by topic. More importantly: is anything you own dirty?