Laundry Day Is About to Get so Much Better: Back to Basics

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Like washing dishes, laundry is one of those foundational chores that many of us have no idea how to do correctly. There are a lot of potential reasons why we’re clueless about housework, from the lack of home ec in schools to a hope that smart technology will just… do it for us.

Regardless of the reason so many of us have no idea how to maintain a tidy and comfortable home, you’ve still got to have clean underwear. Let me show you how to do your next load of laundry better, cheaper, and more efficiently.

Those Labels Actually Mean Something


The icons on your clothing and linen tags are like magical runes that reveal how to care for the fabrics. Some things can go in the washer, but only at a certain temperature. Some things need to be hung up to dry, while others can go in the dryer at low heat.

If nothing else, make sure that you never throw a “hand wash only” item into a washing machine. Sensitive fabrics like silk or wool can be completely ruined by one careless mistake.

You’re Loading the Washer Wrong

Did you know that with top-loading washers, you should fill the drum with water first? Fill it with water, then add detergent, and finally put in the items that need to be washed. The drum shouldn’t be more than 3/4 full. Obviously, if you’ve got a front-load washer, this does not apply to you.

Before you load, separate your laundry into three piles: darks/colors, whites, and delicates. The delicates include stuff like the very expensive silk pillowcase you bought as a form of self-care as well as lingerie, lightweight blouses or dresses, and pretty much anything else that could be easily snagged or ruined. Use zippered mesh bags to protect your delicates from snagging or twisting.

Depending on your lifestyle, you may have some clothes that are super heavily soiled and others that just need a light wash. Parents, pet owners, and people with messy hobbies like gardening may generate clothes that need heavy-duty washing. Those items should be washed separately from your everyday clothes.

Finally, before you even think about loading the washer, check alllll your pockets. I’ve washed lip balm, pocket change, gum, and even a check before.

Only Use As Much Detergent as Necessary

Most of us use way too much soap or cleaner when we do chores. That’s not totally our fault; the measuring cup that comes on the detergent bottle? Yeah, it’s way bigger than you need for a normal load.

You only need about a tablespoon of liquid detergent. For new HE machines, even less than that will do the job. Too much soap isn’t just wasteful; it can actually prevent your clothes from getting rinsed properly and even cause buildup in the machine that eventually leads to a broken washer.

Pre-treating stains can make a big difference, so don’t neglect this step. Otherwise, you can “set” the stain during the laundry cycle.

Oily stains need a dab of stain remover or liquid detergent fifteen minutes before they go in the washer. Protein stains need a soak time of thirty minutes in cold water. Really stubborn biological stains can benefit from diluted hydrogen peroxide; just make sure to dilute it first and never use it along with chlorine bleach.

Okay, But Do You Really Need to Wash That?

In addition to using too much soap, most of us wash our clothes far more often than necessary. I’m not suggesting we go back to ye olden times and have one set of clothing that we never take off, but you do not need to wash everything after just one wear. As with dishes, one of the ways to make laundry less of a hassle is to do it less often.

Designate a place in your room where “clean enough to wear again” clothes live. I like to hang my clothes with the hanger facing backwards to indicate the item has been worn.

Wash socks and underwear after one wear. Makes sense, right? Bras, however, can go up to four wears before they need to get washed. Your mileage may vary depending on the weather and your activity level.

Moving outward, shirts can be worn twice as long as they aren’t smelly or stained. Pants need to be washed every 2-3 wears, but jeans can go up to 5 times without hitting the washing machine. Sweaters and jackets need to be washed after 5-6 wears. PJs can be worn a couple of times.

One exception to the multiple-wear rule are workout clothes. Because those get hot and sweaty, they can quickly build up bad-smelling bacteria. They need to be washed after every single use.

Sheets should be washed and changed once a week; having two sets that you alternate cuts down on the number of loads you need to do each month. Towels can be used up to three times, but if they start to smell funky at all before then, throw them in the wash.

The One Step We All Forget

Laundry has three steps: wash, dry, PUT AWAY. If you end up leaving your clean clothes in the laundry basket or on a chair in the bedroom, you’re not alone. I mean, you’re wrong and should stop doing it, but you aren’t the only one.

As with many mindless chores, put on some music or a podcast while you sit down and fold your fresh laundry. It doesn’t take nearly as long as you think, and once it’s done you’ll feel like a fully functional adult.

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