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How to Wash Clothes Properly: Ten Tips for Beginners

Updated on March 27, 2018
Jayne Lancer profile image

Jayne has pursued a successful career in the beauty business for almost 20 years, where grooming and immaculate dress are paramount.

Laundering clothes is easy, but results can be disastrous if you don’t know how to do it properly. Ten tips to help beginners wash clothes without ruining them.

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My first visit to the laundromat after leaving home was a disaster. My white shirts turned a sort of marbled pink, my sweaters came out felted and out of shape, and the coffee stain on my new beige skirt was still as prominent as it had been before I squeezed it into the washing machine.

Despairing and in tears, I phoned my mother to ask what I’d done wrong. She told me I should have sorted my washing according to color and fabric, and that I’d overloaded the machine, which I'd done to save money. Of course, the amount I saved was negligible compared to the cost of replacing my ruined clothes.

I’ve learned a lot since then. In fact, I’ve become something of a laundry expert. So, let me share my knowledge in order that you don't make the mistakes I did.

Ten Tips on How to Wash Clothes Properly

Ten tips to help beginners wash clothes without ruining them.

1. Sort Your Washing

Sort your washing into four categories—light, colored, delicate fabrics, and heavily soiled.

Light (which includes white, pale, and pastel) and colored laundry need different detergents. To help prevent fading, washing powders formulated for colored textiles don't contain bleaching agents.

Delicate fabrics like silk and wool need a gentler wash cycle and lower temperature. Heavily soiled fabrics may require a higher temperature and additional cleaning agents, like bleach.

If using bleach, note that chlorine based products are only suitable for white textiles. So-called "all fabric bleach" is for all textiles and all colors.

The "care tab" in garments is there to help you sort your washing. Among other things, it tells you at which temperature a garment may be washed and what sort of cycle it needs. For example, most delicate fabrics shouldn't be spun.

Always wash dark and brightly colored clothes separately if they are new in case the color "bleeds." This is always the case with denim garments.

Fabric softener is never necessary, but don't add it if you've got micro-fibers in the machine. It will cause them to lose their absorbency, rendering them useless. However, if you replace fabric softener with white spirit vinegar, the functionality of toweling fabrics and micro-fibers will increase. Don't worry about the smell; it dissipates during drying.

2. Roll Down Sleeves

Cuffs are particularly prone to soiling and won't become clean unless sleeves are rolled down.

If shirt cuffs and collars are very soiled, you need to scrub them with a brush and old-fashioned laundry soap before putting them in the machine. This is an effective pretreatment for all stains and heavy soiling.

Alternatively, use a special laundry stick, which you'll find at most drugstores. Cadie and Magic Wand are popular brands in the United States.

If shirt cuffs and collars are very soiled, you need to scrub them with a brush and old-fashioned laundry soap before putting them in the machine.
If shirt cuffs and collars are very soiled, you need to scrub them with a brush and old-fashioned laundry soap before putting them in the machine. | Source

3. Use Laundry Nets (also Called Mesh Laundry Bags)

Prevent damage by placing delicate textiles and fragile items like wired bras and beaded garments into laundry nets before throwing them in the washing machine.

Laundry nets are also recommended for cuddly toys and sneakers, and will keep socks from going astray, as so often happens in the washing machine.

If you don't own a laundry net, use a pillow case instead.

4. Prevent Tearing

Always fasten buttons, hooks, and zips before washing. This prevents them being torn off during the wash cycle, or other items being damaged by them.

5. Check Pockets

Check that all pockets are empty. A forgotten tissue will shred during the wash cycle and leave a confounded mess. Even worse, a pen left in a shirt pocket could change the color of your clothes.

A laundry net or pillow case will keep your socks from going astray, as so often happens in the washing machine.
A laundry net or pillow case will keep your socks from going astray, as so often happens in the washing machine. | Source

6. Make Sure the Washing Machine Is Properly Loaded

After putting your laundry in the machine, the drum should be full but not overloaded. You've overloaded if there isn't enough space to fit your fist between the laundry and the washing machine door.

Why You Shouldn't Overload

During rotation, your laundry needs to rub together to aid cleaning. Overloading not only prevents the clothes from rubbing properly, it also disables washing powder from dissolving, which then sticks to your laundry even after several rinses.

As a result, your clothes come out of the machine smelling fresh but still soiled and full of undissolved washing powder.

Why You Shouldn't Underload

Underloading is similarly a bad idea: too few clothes in the drum also means too little rubbing action to get them clean.

7. Turn Clothes Inside Out

To prevent fading, turn colored clothes and printed t-shirts inside out before throwing them in the machine.

Do this, too, when washing beaded items and similar if you haven't got a laundry net.

8. How Much Washing Powder?

Find out how hard or soft the water in your area is.

You'll need more washing powder for hard water, and less for soft. Consider a water conditioner if you're in a hard water area—it may prove more economical than using more powder.

You'll need to use more washing powder for hard water.
You'll need to use more washing powder for hard water. | Source

9. Save Energy

Today's detergents are designed to wash efficiently at lower temperatures.

If you wash at 60 C instead of 95 C, you'll save 30 percent energy. Washing at 40 C or less instead of 60 C will save 50 percent.

10. Keep Your Washing Machine Clean and Fresh

If you don’t keep your machine smelling fresh, your clothes won’t smell good, either.

To prevent mildew and mustiness, let the machine dry after use by leaving the powder compartment and door or lid open.

Rinse the powder compartment regularly with hot water. Use a toothbrush to remove detergent and fabric conditioner residue from hard to reach places.

© 2010 Jayne Lancer

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    • Jayne Lancer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jayne Lancer 

      8 years ago from West London, UK

      @rose56 and DjBryle: Thank you both for commenting.

      Yes, this is the sort of helpful advice I would have appreciated many moons ago rather than learning by trial and error ... And an extra thanks for the two 'thumbs up', DjBryle!

    • DjBryle profile image

      DjBryle 

      8 years ago from Somewhere in the LINES of your MIND, and HOPEFULLY at the RIPPLES of your HEART. =)

      Thanks for sharing this very helpful hub! Two thumbs up =)

    • rose56 profile image

      rose56 

      8 years ago

      Very helpful thanks.

    • Jayne Lancer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jayne Lancer 

      8 years ago from West London, UK

      What a nice thing to say, Epigramman. Thank you so much.

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 

      8 years ago

      you even make something as banal and mudane as washing laundry dazzling and beautiful darling!!!

    • Jayne Lancer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jayne Lancer 

      8 years ago from West London, UK

      Yes, I was most surprised when I found out how much energy could be saved by washing at a lower temparature. Such things are certainly good to know.

      Thank you for coming by, Elissaurban, and for the comment.

    • elissaurban profile image

      elissaurban 

      8 years ago from Provo, Utah

      I especially appreciate tips 8-10, very helpful. thanks!

    • Jayne Lancer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jayne Lancer 

      8 years ago from West London, UK

      Thank you very much for the great compliment, Epigramman. And thank you for letting me know what 'hymns to hubs' means :)

      So glad you came by!

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 

      8 years ago

      I am 'dazzled' by your hymns to hubs so much that I need a good pair of sunglasses!

    • Jayne Lancer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jayne Lancer 

      8 years ago from West London, UK

      Know what you mean, Shelby22. Some of us have to learn the hard way :)

      Thank you for coming by!

    • shelby22 profile image

      shelby22 

      8 years ago from Houston

      Now those are some right proper laundry tips. Took me forever to learn the trick with fastening the buttons. Guess it was just me and being hard-headed but I really got tired of sewing those back on.

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