Laundry is the most mundane of household chores, but it is an essential one to get right to save damaging your clothes and prized household linens.
Although doing laundry is relatively simple, going into autopilot can result in us making some laundry mistakes we might regret.
These are the seven most common mistakes you could be making, and what to do to avoid them.
1. Using laundry products incorrectly
With so many laundry products on the market, it can be hard to know what each one does exactly. As a result, it is incredibly common to use them incorrectly – with common questions such as where to put liquid laundry detergent in a washing machine, says Jennifer Ahoni, P&G fabric care principal scientist:
‘We know that many consumers do not put Tide PODs into their machine correctly (whether they use them in a dispenser that isn’t designed for liquid laundry packets or put them in after the clothes). For the best results, put your Tide PODS liquid laundry pac directly into the drum, before loading your clothes.
‘We also see a surprising number of consumers who think fabric softener is detergent. Fabric softener does not have any soil-removing properties; when used correctly, it is released during the rinse cycle of your washing machine to deposit technology that lubricates fibers, softening them and helping to protect them from damage.
‘Always make sure to read usage instructions for guidance on the way to properly use laundry products,’ she concludes.
Jennifer Ahoni is P&Gs NA Fabric Care Scientific Communications Director. For 12 years she has contributed to products like Tide Laundry Power PODS and Tide Infinity, and overseen P&G’s laundry partnership with NASA. She also has a B.S. In biomedical engineering.
2. Not using the right settings
Washing machines and clothes dryers come with so many settings that it is common to get comfortable using one and stick with it for everything. This is hindering your machine's capabilities and possibly even damaging your clothes too, warns Christen Jeziorski, homecare expert and founder of The Cultivation of Cozy.
There are three main settings to understand, she explains:
‘Normal is the most commonly used setting and is best suited for everyday clothing items such as cotton or poly blends. This is not a good setting for delicate items as the higher speed washing and spin of this cycle can be tough on delicate fabric. Delicate is the cycle you want to use for delicate fabrics such as satin, silk, wool, or lace. This is also the cycle you will want for anything that has embroidery or hand embellishments. The delicate cycle utilizes a gentler agitation during washing and a slower spin cycle.
‘Rinse and Spin is the best cycle for any item that is not heavily soiled but just needs a good rinse. This often-overlooked cycle setting is great for anything from bathing suits to shoes, to even low-traffic rugs. Detergent is not used with this cycle, so you will want to avoid using this setting for soiled items
‘The easiest way to counteract using the wrong setting on your washer is to understand what the settings are used for. Even a chart hanging in your laundry room of each setting and its purpose could be a great way to remember each cycle type.’
3. Always assuming you need to run a hot or warm wash
Whether or not you should wash clothes in cold water is a common debate when it comes to laundry, but modern products and machines mean that always washing on hot and warm settings is a mistake that might be raising your energy bills unnecessarily, suggests Jennifer Ahoni, P&G fabric care principal scientist.
‘From a scientific point of view, yes, using warmer wash temperatures can help with the removal of most stains – however, hot water can be damaging to garments and uses a lot more energy which can cost your household more money and have an impact on the environment.
‘By using a high-quality detergent like Tide, available at Target, which is formulated with surfactants, enzymes, and polymers to deliver a powerful clean, even in cold, you can get great results washing in cold water.’
4. Using vinegar too often
Using white vinegar in laundry has its benefits, but it is important to not rely on the trick too heavily, warns fabric care scientist, Jennifer Ahoni.
‘Vinegar has a low pH (typically three to five) so it can help remove pH-sensitive stains or built-up body soils, residues, and odors. It can also help remove hard water buildup that can leave fabrics stiff and crunchy. However, the vinegar you can buy at the store is not very concentrated, so adding it to the water in your washing machine won’t lower the pH enough to get full benefits unless you use five cups or more. Vinegar’s low pH gets neutralized almost immediately when it comes into contact with water, meaning it loses its cleaning power almost as soon as you use it.
‘Additionally, using vinegar with your laundry detergent in the washing machine can decrease your laundry detergent’s ability to clean away food stains by impacting stain-fighting ingredients called enzymes, so you may need to rewash the item.’
When using vinegar for washing clothes, always check the concentration and where to put vinegar in a washing machine first so the process isn't redundant.
5. Leaving your washing in the machine
‘One of the most common mistakes I see is forgetting the wash in the washer,’ says Christen Jeziorski, homecare expert. ‘This is so easy to do but can be costly in a variety of ways.
‘Washing machines, especially the front loading types, tend to create a musty smell in damp fabric that sits too long. This results in typically washing the item again which costs you time, detergent, water, and electricity. Not to mention unnecessary damage to clothing because the fibers of the fabric break down a little every time you wash them. Taking your laundry out right away is the best laundry hack to save time in the long run.
‘A great solution is to set a timer on your phone or any other device for the timing of the wash cycle you are using. So even if you are busy and don't hear the washing machine stop, you have a reminder to switch over the laundry.’
6. Not separating laundry correctly
Sorting clothes for laundry is time-consuming but essential – even if you have washed items time and time again. This is because washing clothes of varying fabric types or colors together can cause damage, says Shayne Jeramos, cleaning specialist at Bright Cleaners.
‘Sort laundry by color and fabric type to prevent color bleeding or fabric damage. Use separate loads for delicates, darks, whites, and heavy fabrics to maintain the quality of your clothes.’
7. Ignoring or misinterpreting laundry labels
Laundry symbols can sometimes feel like another language, but they are relatively simple once you familiarize yourself with the most common ones, says Jennifer Ahoni of P&G.
‘You should always check and follow care labels for the best guidance to wash and dry. Not following care label instructions or mistaking them for something else can result in damage such as shrinking, loss of shape, or fading – there is a reason they are there, after all.’
Is it bad to do back-to-back loads of laundry?
Even when you have laundry piling up, it is best to avoid doing back-to-back loads of laundry to save your machine. Using your machine constantly without a break can cause it to wear out more quickly over time and make clothes musty in the immediate future. Leaving the washing machine empty and open to air out for at least an hour between loads is essential if you want your clothes to come out clean and smelling fresh.
Can you wash your clothes too much?
It is entirely possible to wash your clothes too often, causing them to wear out and shorten their lifespan. Certain items such as t-shirts and blouses can often withstand washing whenever they are dirty or start to smell musty, but other more delicate fabrics such as denim or wool benefit from less frequent washing to help maintain their integrity. Often, you can steam these garments between wears to freshen them up.
To avoid making laundry mistakes you can put some organizing ideas in place to make the process easier without having to go into autopilot. Organizing tricks to make laundry easier such as using a pre-sorted laundry hamper or organizing your laundry room to keep your products organized and distinct will save you some time that you can then dedicate to ensuring everything is washed correctly.
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Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for a year, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.
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