12 Laundry Mistakes You’re Probably Making

Are you using too much detergent? Overloading the washer? Overdoing the bleach? Find out the answers to these questions and more, and pick up some smart laundry tips in the bargain.

Mistake 1: Rubbing stains furiously

This can make the stain worse and possibly wear away the fabric. Instead, be gentle and methodical. Treat the stain as soon as you can; the less time that elapses, the more success you’ll have. And always use a white cloth so that colors can’t transfer. Dab, rather than rub, working from the outside in to keep the stain contained.

Mistake 2: Using too much detergent

Excess suds can hold dirt pulled from clothes and get caught in areas that won’t always rinse clean, like under a collar, leading to bacteria buildup. The remedy: Use only half the amount of detergent that you normally do, then gradually increase that amount if your clothes are not coming out as clean as you would like. An exception: If you have hard water, you may actually need more soap than you are using. Check the recommendation for hard water on your detergent bottle.

Mistake 3: Filling the washing machine incorrectly

When washing in a top-loader with liquid detergent, you should first fill with water, then add soap, then add clothes, right? Well, no. This protocol from the past was meant to prevent residue on the fabric and the machine. But modern detergents are phosphate-free and not harmful to clothes the way old formulas were. As long as you’re not using bleach, don’t add clothing after the water (a pain, because clothes can float). Instead, use this order to distribute detergent best: clothes, then water, then soap.

Mistake 4: Washing an item that has a “dry-clean” label

This isn’t necessarily a blunder. Most items that say “dry-clean” can be hand-washed and air-dried. This includes natural fibers, such as linen and most silks. First check for colorfastness; moisten a cotton swab with mild detergent and dab it on a hidden seam to see if any dye comes off. If not, go ahead and dunk the garment in soapy water just once or twice, then rinse and immediately roll it in a towel to extract moisture. However, you should stick with dry-cleaning for certain categories: leather, suede, silk dupioni, anything with embellishments and structured pieces (like blazers).

Mistake 5: Not zipping zippers all the way to the top

Metal teeth can snag delicate and woven clothing that’s being washed in the same load.

Mistake 6: Washing shirts all buttoned up

This seems like a good idea, but it can stress buttons and buttonholes and lead to premature poppage. Take the time to unbutton before tossing clothes in the washer (or the hamper).

Mistake 7: Overusing bleach

Think twice before you reach for the bleach: You actually don’t need it to get rid of protein stains, like blood, sweat and tears. (Okay, maybe tears are not a big laundry issue.) One natural option: Toss stained socks, tees and undies into a big pot of water with a few lemon slices and bring to a boil for a few minutes.

Mistake 8: Not leveling your washing machine

If your washer is not level, vibrations can damage your floor and prematurely wear out key components, like the shock absorbers and the tub bearings. (Plus, there’s that terrible noise.) Place a level on top of the machine and adjust the feet, which typically screw up and down, accordingly. If this doesn’t help, beef up the floor with a 3/4-inch-thick piece of plywood that’s a little larger than the machine’s base. It will help absorb vibrations.

Mistake 9: Letting the dryer “rest” between loads

Some folks like to wait an hour after one cycle concludes before putting in a new load. But in fact, running back-to-back dryer loads is smart and efficient. It lets you take advantage of retained heat from the previous cycle, cutting down on energy usage.

Mistake 10: Ignoring the permanent press setting on your dryer

This medium-heat cycle with a cool-down period at the end is a proven crease curber. More tips: Don’t pack clothes in; they need to float freely or they’ll wrinkle. (Note: Ditto for the washer. Stuffing it can create wrinkles and prevent your clothes from getting clean. On top of that, it can put pressure on the machine’s bearings and shock absorbers, causing them to wear down prematurely.) And procrastinators, take note: It really does eliminate creases if you fold clothes when they’re still hot, right out of the dryer (or, if you prefer, right out of the pile that you dumped onto your bed). Give each item a quick shake so wrinkles don’t set in. If you don’t have time to fold a load immediately, shake out the pieces and lay them flat in the laundry basket, one on top of another, while they await further attention.

Mistake 11: Tossing socks in willy-nilly

Here’s a sock-saving tip: Place socks in the washer tub first, so they’re less likely to attach themselves to other garments and then go missing.

Mistake 12: Not cleaning your dryer

Even though you empty the lint filter after each use (right?), lint buildup can clog the duct over time and become a fire hazard. A sure sign that your dryer is clogged? It takes more than an hour to dry a load. Once a year, detach the hose from the back of the dryer and snake a long brush through to push out lint. Also scrub the lint filter once a year with a small toothbrush and a bit of detergent. Rinse, then air-dry completely.

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