How to wash clothes, so they get clean the first time?
It's not as easy as it seems, as anyone who's ever pulled a pink shirt out of the washing machine when a white one went in knows.
By following the basic sorting techniques, matching the right water temperature to each load, and putting stain-busting strategies into play, you can make such spotty moments disappear.
You'll be rewarded with clothes that last longer, and they'll look better, too. Here's how to wash clothes, step by step.
The secret behind getting everything cleaned safely is to sort your laundry into loads of similar colors, wash cycles, and water temperature needs, and to set aside stained garments for prewash TLC.
Look to the clothing care labels on your garments for guidance. They make selecting the right machine settings simple.
Start sorting by reading each garment's label and separating into six piles:
Of course, six piles could translate into six loads; if you've got the time during the evening, this is the safest way to keep your clothes looking good.
However, if time is short and your needs are immediate, combine and wash the cold-water pastels and light colors with the cold-water brights and darks; do the same for your warm-water loads.
But resist the temptation to mix any colors with white loads.
As you sort, be on the lookout for items that have spills and stains, really grungy jeans and kids' clothes (filthy garments can transfer dirt in the wash to lightly soiled clothes), and those that require a gentle wash cycle.
Create three separate stacks for these: hot water, gentle cycle, and pretreat.
Once again, you can mix things up in a pinch: If you have only a few light-colored cold- or warm-wash items that require the gentle cycle, throw in similarly colored items that need the same temperature.
The ad-ins won't get as clean with the gentle cycle's agitation, but it's OK to simplify your laundry life. Still, always go with the gentlest cycle and coldest temperature when you mix fabrics and colors.
It's time to select a wash cycle and temperature.
How important is the right laundry temperature? It directly affects the performance of the laundry detergent, the wrinkling of fabrics, and the life span of your clothes - so follow the care labels.
Clothing labels are your best guide to choosing the right wash water temperature.
If a label is not legible, remember that hot water works well on ground-in and hard-to-remove dirt on sturdy fabrics.
Still, few labels recommend regular hot-water washing. Use it to clean seriously soiled garments (gardening or children's clothing), and to disinfect dish towels, bedding, and pillowcases regularly.
Warm water minimizes color fading and wrinkling. Choose it for washing synthetic fibers, natural and synthetic blends, and moderately soiled fabrics.
Cold water will protect most dark or bright-colored clothing from running and minimizes shrinkage of washable woolens.
Use it for lightly soiled clothes and those with blood, wine, or coffee stains (which may set if washed in warm or hot water), regardless of the fabric.
But for the rinse cycle, cold water is excellent for all types of loads. Another benefit: A cold-water rinse can reduce the energy used per load by up to one-third and minimize wrinkling in synthetic and permanent-press fabrics.
Adjust your machine's water level to correspond to your load, and make your cycle selection. Add detergent and fill the tub before you load your clothes.
If your load is average (5 to 7 pounds [2-3kg]), with moderate soil, and you use warm water, follow the product's directions. Use more if the clothes are really grungy, if the load is full, or if you're using cold water.
Place clothes loosely in the washer, taking care not to wrap items around the agitator, where they could become tangled during the cycle.
Know when to say when: Clothes should move freely through the water for optimal cleaning. If you're not sure, lift the lid during the cycle. Properly loaded clothes should sink and then reappear on the surface.
Overloading causes clothes to rub together - breaking down the fibers - and reduces the effectiveness of your laundry detergent; it also allows dirt to be redeposited on clothes instead of heading down the drain with the rinse water.
If you have several small loads, dry them together to protect your clothes from heat damage and to hasten the drying process.
Drying small loads reduces the tumbling effect produced by a pile of clothes rotating all together, and therefore actually prolongs the amount of time it can take to dry the clothes.
Set the dryer cycle to Regular or High if your load is all cotton (and preshrunk) fabrics; choose Permanent Press if the load consists of polyester or other synthetic fabrics; select the Low, Gentle, Delicate, or Air-Dry setting for fragile or sheer fabrics.
How long should you dry a load? If you have a full load of towels, choose the longest time - very dry.
For most clothes, a normal setting will get clothes dry without overheating them. A few thick towels or blue jeans may still come out slightly damp, but it's safer to line-dry those the rest of the way than to risk overdrying the remaining items in the load.
If your load is a mix of fabrics, use the cycle and temperature (or the shortest drying time) that's recommended for the most delicate fabrics.
When the dryer stops, remove the dry items; then restart the dryer to finish the load.