By Kristen
Updated November 24, 2007

For some odd reason, people talk about laundry as though it's a huge, daunting task, but it's actually one of the easiest chores to do. The machine does 99% of the work for you. Just think back to the days before the washing machine. You had to soak, scrub, rinse, wring, and dry each article of clothing, each blanket, each towel, and each pillow case all by hand. (Try doing this with just one article of clothing, and you'll appreciate how much work it is.) You couldn't just go to the laundry mat. You couldn't drop it off at the dry cleaners. If you were lucky, you could get someone else to do it for you or convince your family members to only wear one outfit per week. So quit complaining about your laundry. It's really not that difficult, but it isn't quite fool proof yet. We've yet to invent the washing machine that will sort, pre-treat, wash according to each article's instructions, dry, fold, iron, and hang things up.

  • Pre-Treat Stains
    This should actually be done the moment you get the stain, but if you can't do it immediately, at least do it before you put the article of clothing in the dirty laundry pile in case it sits there for awhile. One of the easiest and cheapest ways is to just mix a bit of dye-free laundry detergent designed to get out stains in a spray bottle with water. (Use dye free detergent because sometimes the dyes in the detergent can stain your clothes worse than the stain that's already there.) Then just spray the stain until it is soaked and throw it in the dirty laundry pile. You can also buy pre-treaters in a spray bottle if you're not worried about the cost. I don't recommend using stain removers in the rub on stick form because they don't really get into the stain. Pre-treated stains should be allowed to rest for at least five minutes before washing to make sure that the detergent has time to break apart the stain. This should work for most stains, but some stains need a little extra attention, so here's what you can do for those: Soak these stains in vinegar (a spray bottle filled with vinegar works well):

    • Coffee

    • Tea

    • Chocolate

    • Mustard

    • Fruit

    • Perspiration

    Make a paste from baking soda, detergent, and water and rub in on these stains:

    • Coffee

    • Tea

    • Chocolate

    • Rust

    • Gravy

    • Urine

    • Stool

    • Vomit / Spit-up

    • Baby formula

    • Make-up

    • Mud

    • Mildew

    Pour hydrogen peroxide on these stains and rinse or use an oxygenating stain remover:

    • Blood

    • Grass

    Pour on rubbing alcohol on these stains and blot with a rag or paper towel:

    • Ink

    Rub salt into these stains:

    • Wine

    Rub a bar of soap (the kind you use in the shower) on these stains:

    • Fabric softener stains

  • Sort Your Clothes By Color and Owner
    You should sort your clothes by color to reduce the chances of any bleeding. You need to have one pile for whites, one pile for light colors, and one pile for dark colors. I suggest keeping everybody's clothes separate and having each family member wash his/her own laundry, so you don't have to figure out what shirt belongs to which kid when you're done, and you won't have one person doing all the work for everyone else. Make everyone responsible for their own dirt. (Even kids as young as 5 or 6 can be taught how to sort their laundry and fold or hang up their clothes. They can also help you put clothes into the machine, add the soap, and turn the washer on, but make sure you supervise any use of the washing machine. The kids think it's fun, and it teaches them responsibility.) To cut down on the amount of time it takes to sort your clothes into different colors, I suggest getting buying three laundry baskets for each person. Keep the laundry baskets in the closet. When you take your clothes off, just throw your whites into the white pile, the lights into the light pile, and the dark into the darks pile. (If you have kids, you can help them sort their clothes by color if you use a white laundry basket for whites, a light colored laundry basket for lights, and a dark colored laundry basket for darks.) I prefer using laundry baskets instead of a divided hamper because it's so much easier to carry a laundry basket to and from the washing machine while hampers need to be emptied into a laundry basket. You also recommend washing bedding and towels separately. Towels tend to leave lint on everything, and you don't want that on your clothes. Bedding is just bulky, so you usually can't fit much else in the washing machine with it. To reduce the need to sort these things by color, only have all dark towels or all light towels and the same for bedding.

  • Read Those Labels
    The easiest way to avoid this step is to only buy things that can be thrown into a washer, washed at any temperature, and thrown into a low heat dryer or hung up. I refuse to buy anything that requires hand washing or dry cleaning unless it's absolutely necessary. Permanent press is my best friend. If you do happen to have a variety of different washing requirements, you'll need to sort your color-sorted piles into wash requirement piles. One for delicates. One for cold water only. Etc. You also need to be aware of laundry that has special drying requirements.

  • Prepare The Clothing for Washing
    Make sure those pockets are empty. To get the lint out of them, wash your clothes with the pockets turned inside out. Zip up all zippers. Hook all hooks. You don't want these things snagging on anything. Some people insist on buttoning up every button on every piece of clothing. I don't have time for that. I only have a button pop off maybe 1 out of every 100 washes, and I would rather spend the two minutes sewing on one button once every few months than five minutes a day buttoning and unbuttoning every piece of clothing I own. Remove decorative items like pins and clips. You don't want them to get destroyed, nor do you want them to snag on anything. You should just take these off before you take off your clothes in the first place.

  • In the Machine It Goes
    Don't overload your machine. Everything needs room to swish around. Make sure everything is spread evenly around. An unbalanced washer is a scary sight.

    If you use a detergent with dyes, the dyes could stain your clothes. (Weird but true.) If you use powder detergent, the detergent could cake up on your clothes leaving you with a nice white crust on everything. In such situations, you should let the machine fill with a bit of water first. Then add your detergent, and let it dissolve in the water. Then you can add your clothes. I avoid this by using dye-free detergents or detergents that I have found don't dye my clothes, and I don't use powder detergent unless absolutely necessary. (Powder detergent doesn't rinse out well anyhow.) I just throw my clothes in, start filling up the washer, and pour in the detergent. It's much easier. You don't need to put in the full recommended amount of detergent unless your clothes are extremely dirty. You usually can get away with half the recommended amount for normal washing. If you want to boost the cleaning power of your detergent, you can always add a 1/2 cup of baking soda to the wash, which will also neutralize odors.

    If you are washing whites, you'll need to ask the question, "to bleach or not to bleach?" If you bleach your whites too often, they'll eventually turn gray and the fabric will rot. To make your clothes last longer, bleach only once or twice per month. If your whites are starting to gray, try buying some "bluing" to brighten them up.

    I love the Downey Ball. Everyone should have one of these. Fill it up to the line with fabric softener, close it up, and throw it in your wash. Now you won't have to wait for the rinse cycle to add fabric softener. You can also use these to add vinegar to the final rinse to brighten colors, soften clothes, remove detergent residues, and reduce lint if you don't use fabric softener. Lemon juice in the rinse cycle will also brighten your laundry.

  • Now Dry!
    If you use a dryer you need to do a few things first. Clean your lint filter fist before every drying cycle. Add your dryer sheet if you want to reduce static. They're supposed to make your laundry softer, but liquid softener works better. Inspect any stains before you dry them. If they're still there, you need to do more pre-treating. If you dry stains, the heat will set it permanently. Don't overload your dryer or nothing will get dry. Try to use the low heat setting unless you're trying to kill lice or germs. Things shrink more in high heat settings. Things also shrink if you leave your laundry in the dryer too long, so when it's dry, turn it off.