After a year in storage, your holiday table linens may be looking a bit dingy. If so, it’s time for a little laundry therapy with a top-performing detergent. And while you’re at it, make sure the towels and the bed linens in your guest rooms are washed and ready. To help, Consumer Reports talked to textile experts—including our own stain maven, Pat Slaven—for their advice on keeping washables in top shape all year round.

Napkins and Tablecloths

Wash it right. If your napkins or tablecloths are stained, be patient and let stain removers sit 3 to 5 minutes, says fabric-care expert Steve Boorstein. After treating linens with a cleaning solvent, such as Shout or Zout, and machine washing, make sure that the stain is completely gone before you put the items into the dryer or iron them. (Otherwise, the heat of the dryer or the iron might permanently bake in the stains.) If traces of the stain linger after washing, soak the item in color-safe bleach before tossing it back into the washer.

No stain removers on hand? Make your own by daubing 3 percent hydrogen peroxide (that’s right, the stuff in your medicine cabinet—just make sure it’s a fresh container) directly onto the stain or try dousing the stain with a solution of 1 teaspoon of clear dishwashing liquid and 1 cup of water. After dinner, if your table linens have greasy stains, such as gravy, scrape off the excess and treat with FelsNaptha soap before washing. If the stain remains, hit it with the detergent cocktail above, followed by a solution of 1 tablespoon of household ammonia and ½ cup of water. And don’t put it in the dryer until the stain is gone.

Towels and Terry Robes

Wash it right. To get your towels really clean, use a sanitizing hot-water wash, Boorstein says. And promptly put them in the dryer after washing. Before you throw in the towel on stained towels or terry robes, wash—and rewash, if necessary—with chlorine bleach (if white) or with color-safe bleach (if colored). Place plush or terry cloth items in the dryer on the high temperature setting until they are completely dry. Add a few tennis balls to help keep them nice and fluffy.
Don’t do it! Never leave towels hanging around in a wet, warm washer, or else bacteria—and bad smells—may start to take hold. And those can be tough to get rid of.
Storage tip. To save on closet space, Jan Caon Barlow, owner of Jan’s Professional Dry Cleaners in Clio, Mich., recommends rolling towels instead of folding them. Or keep rolled towels on display in the bathroom in a basket. Keep folded towels in a neat stack on a closet shelf, with the folded side facing out, and arranged by color.

Table linens.


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Bedsheets

Wash it right. Sheets get pretty dirty, so wash yours every week. Use a powerful hot-water wash on cotton sheets to get them really clean. Dry on a high temperature setting. And don’t let them linger in there too long post-cycle; that allows creases to set in.
Don’t do it! To make sure bed linens get cleaned properly, don’t pack them in. A full load might be simply one queen set: fitted sheet, flat sheet, and pillowcases.
Storage tip. Fold them properly before you put them away to control wrinkles. If you don’t have an extra set of hands to help you fold, use a table to keep edges off the floor. To fold a fitted sheet, Barlow suggests folding in the elasticized pocket, then folding end-to-end like a flat sheet.

Comforters, Quilts, Blankets, and Pillows

Wash it right. Some front-loading washers are large enough to accommodate king-sized comforters—and save you a trip to the laundromat. Because they have relatively little direct contact with your body and its soiling oils, comforters “don’t need a whole lot of agitation or a whole lot of time in the washer,” Boorstein says. If you’re using a top-loader, they do require a high water level because they’re bulky and need room to swish around. And use a powdered detergent—it helps keep the fill from clumping.

For pillows, check the care label. You might be able to machine-wash them. (Hand-wash or professionally clean down and feather pillows.) Nancy Bock, vice president of consumer education for the American Cleaning Institute, recommends doing two at a time, if you can fit them in your machine. That helps balance the load and allows the water and detergent to move more effectively. For top-loaders, agitate only 1 or 2 minutes on a gentle cycle.

To machine-dry down-filled items, use moderate heat and toss in a few tennis balls to keep the filling from clumping. The balls also keep the items from sticking to the walls of the dryer, Boorstein says. Periodically remove pillows during the drying cycle and fluff them. That helps prevent clumping and promotes even drying. Then put them back in until they’re dry.
Don’t do it! If you’re piling a blanket or comforter into a top-loading washer, spread the bulk around evenly—don’t bunch it up. “That tends to put a lot of wear and tear on the mechanics,” Boorstein says.
Storage tip. Loosely fold and stuff out-of-season down comforters in breathable polypropylene bags and keep them in a dry place.