How to take care of your dirty laundry

Consumer Reports News: June 07, 2011 02:55 PM

Our latest reports on washing machines and dryers are essential if you're in the market for new laundry appliances. But no matter how good your washer and dryer are, they won't perform their best if you don't use them properly. So before you ruin a silk blouse or shrink a wool sweater, read and use the information in this guide—it offers tips for sorting, loading, drying and ironing.

When it's time to throw clothing in the wash, are you ever stumped by the hieroglyphs designed to reveal how you should clean it? The Federal Trade Commission requires that most clothing have a care label with laundering dos and don'ts. But the symbols you see, developed by the American Society for Testing and Materials, aren't always as helpful as they could be.

Sorting, separating and loading. As anyone who has ever turned a load of whites pink can tell you, the important work is done before the machine starts its wash cycle. Washing well is in large part determined by what you put in your washer and the way you put it in.

For best results, wash darks apart from lights and items that can be washed in hot water (generally cottons and whites) separate from items that need cooler temperatures (such as synthetics). Don't wash fabrics that shed lint, such as terry cloth and sweatshirts with fuzzy linings, together with fabrics that attract lint, like corduroy, velour, and permanent press items. Turn lint-attracting pile fabrics, like corduroy or velour, inside out to reduce the chance of linting.

Treat your clothes right. Put delicate items, such as lingerie, in mesh bags or pillow slips. Fasten, turn to the inside, or remove trims, buttons, hooks and eyes, or any other items that could damage other garments. Empty pockets, close zippers, tie straps and strings, and buckle belts. Don't put torn items into the wash before you mend them; the rip is likely to get bigger.
For especially soiled areas, such as collars, cuffs, pocket edges, and seams, apply a paste of powdered detergent and water or a commercial stain treatment and remove with a brush or old toothbrush.

Pay attention to load size. Washers have a maximum load guide. You can weigh the laundry in a bag on the bathroom scale or weigh yourself holding the laundry and subtract your weight. On the low end, top-loading machines hold about 6 to 8 pounds; a large-capacity top-loading machine holds 12 pounds or more; front-loaders can hold as much as 19 pounds. For a better and more efficient wash, mix smaller items with larger items and make sure there's enough room for the load to agitate correctly.

Check care-label advice regarding the correct temperature for machine drying. Your clothes will be less likely to wrinkle if you keep the dryer load to less than half full. (An average washer load will fill about one-third of the dryer space.) Items of similar fabric weight will dry more evenly. Care labels will advise you regarding drying times and temperatures. Do not put rubber-backed bath mats in the machine; their backing can crumble. Remove dry items promptly to avoid wrinkling. Remove items that will be ironed while they are still damp.

Garments will be smoother if you iron them when they are damp, so if possible remove them from the dryer before they are fully dry. Smooth out seams and pleats on garments and pull linens back into shape immediately upon removing them from the dryer or taking them down from the line; even if they still need ironing, the job will be easier.

If you can't get to the ironing immediately, let items dry fully. Dampen them when you're ready to iron, sprinkling them with water and rolling them in a towel to distribute the moisture; or use the spray on your steam iron as you go. You might be able to use tap water in your iron instead of distilled water, depending on the manufacturer's instructions and how hard your water is.

When using starch or sizing, spray each item as you go, but allow a few moments for the starch or sizing to soak in so there's no buildup on the soleplate.

If you have a quantity of clothes to iron, deal with the garments that need ironing at the lowest temperatures first, such as synthetics and silk; as the iron heats up, work on the wools, then the cottons, and finally the linens.

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