Ask a Clean Person: Laundry School —  Lint and Static and Ironing, Oh My!

Ask a Clean Person: Laundry School — Lint and Static and Ironing, Oh My!

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!

I’ve got a fluff situation I cannot get under control.

I received a set of gloriously fluffy dark purple towels for Christmas and they leave a trail of fuzz everywhere. Every time I pull them off the shelf, it’s like a purple lint bomb exploded in my bedroom. Is there any way I can get them to stay fluffy, stop shedding, and remain a vibrant color?

You’re going to think I’m crazy. Which? Can someone start keeping track of how many As to your Qs I begin with, “you’re going to think I’m crazy”??? I really gotta stop doing that. But seriously, this sounds nutty, even to me: you might need to vacuum your towels.

Before you do so, you’ll want to clean off the brush attachment of your vacuum so that any debris that might be clinging to it doesn’t get on your towels; I mean, we’re gonna wash the towels afterward anyway, but still. Give ’em a good going over with the vacuum’s brush attachment and then launder as usual. You can also do the same sort of thing with a lint roller — be prepared to use allllll the sheets — and/or a slicker brush.

Oh but sorry … I jumped right into that answer without giving you any sense of why this might be happening. And there are a couple of reasons! Many towels, including and (oddly) especially super high-quality ones, need between 6 and 10 washings before they’re fully de-linted. In which case, you can skip the vacuuming and just wash them much more frequently at the beginning of their life than you normally would to see if that solves the problem. The other reason why they might be shedding is that you bought a faulty product; if the fibers weren’t properly stitched in they will fall out like a cut-rate weave.

Other things that might work are (1) using white vinegar in the wash, because the acid will help neutralize those rogue fibers. By the way, I absolutely don’t know that “neutralize” is the right term there, but you kind of get what I mean, right? Right! You all are my people, and you understand me completely. (2) Soaking the towels in a salt water solution. Same thing as with the vinegar — there’s some chemical thing that salt does but honestly guys? I’m exhausted from vacuuming the towels and can’t be bothered to research the science of it all.

Also whenever you get an item that doesn’t act the way you want it to, you should feel absolutely free to call up the manufacturer to ask if there are any particular products or techniques that they recommend for a better result. You might find that the problem you’re having is one that’s common to the product, and that there’s a solution or solutions they can suggest, or you might learn that you’ve got a lemon on your hands and that they’re willing to send you a replacement. So! Pick up that phone (or, let’s be honest, email customer service because eew gross who wants to talk on the phone).

Long-time reader, first-time question-asker. I was wondering if you had any suggestions for how to deal with static cling in clothing that can’t go in the dryer and receive the waxy goodness of fabric softener. I have some sweaters and a couple of rayon dresses that are especially prone to clinginess, presumably because they are lay-flat-to-dry items. Is there a spray or some other product I can use on them?

There is indeed a spray you can use on them! There are also a whole bunch of other things you can do to cut down on static cling — including a number of options that I think will be helpful to know about in the event that static cling creeps up on you in the middle of the work day or some such and you don’t have your full stash of products on hand.

But first let’s back up to something you can do to prevent static cling in items you don’t put in the dryer: use a ½–1 cup of white vinegar in your wash, which serves as a fabric softener and will also help to reduce static cling. Liquid fabric softener serves the same purpose, but I hate that garbage and don’t even like talking about it, so.

With that out of the way, let’s get into the various products and tricks that exist for waging war against static cling. First and foremost, there’s Static Guard. It is a lovely product! You just spray it on the item that’s clinging to you, and just like magic everything falls into its proper place. ❤ it! Hairspray — the narsty aerosol kind, ya know, like Aqua Net (which is actually seriously what I use on my hair because I secretly think I’m a Poison groupie) — also works to eliminate static electricity. You can spray it directly on your clothes, just make sure to keep the can a good distance away from the garment so you don’t end up with a sticky coating and/or stains. You just want to mist it. You can also mist yourself with the hairspray. Either way. Similarly, body lotion — rubbed on yourself or very sparingly on clothes — will work. The direct application, garment-wise, is best reserved for use on socks and hosiery, since you probably aren’t too psyched about the notion of smearing cream all over your clean sweater. If you dig on the notion of rubbing yourself with things, you can also rub the garments down with a dryer sheet.

And lastly, in a pinch you can fasten a safety pin in the seam of the clingy garment; the metal will counteract the electricity, leaving the fabric to lie flat.

I’m ironing! Hooray! But some of my shirts say cool iron/no iron — what the??? Honestly, they could look a little crisper, can I do anything? They also look a lot less wrinkled than when I hung them after drying them a few days ago … dunno, I just want to look pretty, pretty handsome.

It sounds like what you’ve got on your hands are no-iron shirts. Which are great in that they don’t wrinkle in the same way that other dress shirts do, but they also don’t come out of the wash perfectly pressed either. So if that’s what you’re going for — and truly, I applaud you for that goal — you’re going to have to do a wee bit of post-laundering work.

In general, unless the shirt is made of some super high tech material, ironing will be just fine. If you’re worried or just want to test things out, turn the shirt inside out before pressing — that way, if the fabric does react badly to the heat (usually it will get a bit shiny if it’s truly not designed to tolerate heat) then you’ve found out without ruining the exterior of the shirt. You can also use a pressing cloth, which is placed over the item you’re ironing to protect it from the direct heat of the iron. Would you like to know a little bit more about pressing cloths from a woman who says things like, “I use a press cloth every time the iron touches the fabric’s right side. I wouldn’t go out in the hot sun without sunscreen, and I wouldn’t put a hot iron on fabric’s face without a press cloth”?? SURE YOU WOULD!

But back to your iron: start with a low-heat setting to see how things go and then gradually ratchet the heat up if the shirt seems to be doing A-OK under the iron. Another thing that will help immensely with items that call for a cool iron is starch.

Oh man. I’d talk about my feelings for starch, but I’d just embarrass myself. I … love it more than Bleachie. Seriously.

You know that nice shirt I have with the pink and blue stripes?? It came out of the wash all … weird. Like the collar and cuffs and supports for the buttons are stiffer than the rest of the shirt so they came out not wrinkly, exactly, but kind of, well, the supports for the buttons look like a long strip of bacon down the center of my chest when I put it on.

Do I just have to iron it every time, or did I do something wrong? It said to wash it in warm water, but I put it in with all the other cold stuff, because they were colors that I was trying to protect! I am dumb :-/

If this question reads as a touch familiar, it’s because it’s from Boyfriend of Clean Person. And you all know me well enough to know that the ensuing conversation sounded something like this:

Jolie Cleanperson: I’m howling at the notion of you with a giant strip of bacon running down your pelt. Related — now I am hungry.
BoCP: Joles.
Jolie Cleanperson: I’m going to hang bacon around your neck.
BoCP: Jolie.

Which is to say that he should be sainted for putting up with me.

Anyway! This is actually a really common thing that happens when you machine- or hand-wash dress shirts rather than sending them out, so it’s worth letting folks know NOT TO PANIC. Sometimes they come out looking funny, especially if the collar, cuffs and/or placket has been treated to be stiffer than the fabric of the body of the shirt. The solution is indeed to iron — or steam — the shirt post-laundering. Simple.

Laundry season question: what should I do with my shirts? I have to dress hyper-conservative for work; my solution was to have a bunch of beautiful cotton shirts made for me in the far east. They are like fancy men’s shirts — they have french cuffs, stiff collars and a blind front. The problem is that I have no idea how to take care of them, particularly when it comes to the ironing. So I send them out with my dry cleaning. What I would love to have from you is EITHER instructions on how to wash and iron and hang them OR a Clean Person’s absolution that I can send them out and not be that hoity-toity lawyer who can’t look after herself.

Wait first of all, I want to take a minute to comment on the awesomeness of your collection of custom-made shirts. I absolutely love it! For many, many years I’ve been a professional woman who’s relied on the ease of a “uniform” to make the process of getting dressed in the morning, while ensuring that I look fashionable and appropriate, as easy as possible. I just think it’s great, and you know what? So does our President, who made a point of telling of telling the Barnard College class of 2012 that “you can be stylish and powerful too.” Which? AHHHHHH. (Also: clean and powerful. You can be clean and powerful too!)

With that bit of gushing out of the way, I am officially ABSOLVING YOU. *dips fingers in the font of Holy Bleach, makes the sign of the Clorox* Send ’em out! There is absolutely nothing about sending fancy shirts out — especially ones with French cuffs and such, which require a tremendous amount of skill and patience to iron properly — that’s “hoity toity” or suggests that you don’t know how to take care of yourself. You’re a lawyer, girl! Do you think a single one of your male counterparts worries himself with sending his shirts out? The answer is NO. So don’t you do it too. /feminist cheerleading.

But! If you want to do your own shirts, here is a kind of hilariously bad — but honestly informative — YouTube Series on how to iron shirts for you to take a peek at.

Previously: Laundry School, Week 1; Laundry School, Week 2.

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?

Image by Tribalium, via Shutterstock/coloring by The Hairpin