Save Loads of Clothes and Cash With Our Grown-up’s Guide to Doing Laundry

Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder
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There are two kinds of people: those who have ruined entire loads of laundry and reacted with cries of anguish, and those who have ruined entire loads of laundry but will deny it ever happened.

But damaging your clothing due to neglectful laundry practices costs more than just your dignity. No matter how good of a deal you got, the cost of replacing a damaged garment you loved just stings.

Want to avoid future embarrassment, agony and general strife? It’s time to re-learn how to do your laundry.

1. Learn What Those Laundry Tags Mean

The symbols on your clothing tags may look like hieroglyphics from space, but they’re actually meant to help you care for your clothing. The trouble is that some garments have so many, you need a guide to decipher them all.

My favorite source to decode laundry symbols is The Laundry Quandary magnet from now-shuttered Canadian fashion magazine Worn. I’ve shrunk enough sweaters to know to give the chart a quick check before I pop a new item into the wash for the first time.

But true Penny Hoarders check clothing tags before they even buy a garment, since specialized care instructions may mean additional costs.

2. Sort by Color and Weight

Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder

You’ve probably heard you should separate light- and dark-colored garments in the washer, to prevent dye from bleeding onto your whites. But separating types of garments can help, too. For example, if you have a load of laundry with two pairs of jeans and a bunch of bath towels, don’t add your delicate work blouse.

Don’t panic over whether you’re washing enough like garments together, but if you have a majority, don’t try to fit in extra items just to get them clean in a hurry.

Likewise, if you have a washer full of muddy, grass-stained football uniforms, don’t slip in a few whites to save time. Hashtag #regrets.

Always remember to turn denim inside out, and make sure all zippers are zipped up to prevent snags.

3. Use Cold Water

It’s a simple matter of energy: If you pay utility bills, using hot water in the washer will cost you the most per load. And the only time you need to wash a load on hot is if the items are really, really dirty — or to disinfect linens.

4. Use the Right Amount of Detergent

Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder

Unless you’re using one of those premeasured packets of detergent that dissolves in the washer, we can confidently say you’re using too much detergent.

It’s not your fault. The measurement lines on detergent caps are notoriously hard to read. Many newer detergent formulas are more concentrated, meaning you need less soap to get your clothing clean. But unless you enjoy reading the back of your detergent bottle, you probably missed that memo.

Using too much detergent week after week means you’re basically washing money down the drain.

If you use the same brand of detergent consistently, check your ideal measurement and mark it clearly on the cap. If you bounce around to get sales, consider keeping a measuring cup wherever you do laundry so you can use real numbers, not an ever-changing goal line.

5. Avoid Fabric Softener

Fabric softener doesn’t just magically make your clothing and towels soft and fluffy. It weakens the top surface of the fibers, essentially wearing down your clothing one wash at a time.

Still, no one wants to fold a stack of staticky laundry fresh out of the dryer.

To reduce soap residue buildup on your clothing and prevent dryer static, try adding one-quarter cup of ordinary white vinegar to the fabric softener dispenser on your washing machine.

Forgot that step? Try using wool dryer balls to keep garments static-free and soft. They only need to be replaced occasionally; if you’re feeling really cheap, you can throw a (clean) tennis ball in the dryer to shake things up.

6. Don’t Put Everything in the Dryer

How to do laundry
Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder

Air-drying clothing not only saves you money, but it also helps your clothes maintain their shape and avoid shrinkage. You don’t have to have a clothesline in your backyard to air-dry laundry — a collapsible drying rack you can pull out on laundry day will do just fine.

Lay sweaters flat to help them retain their shape as they dry. Never put bras in the dryer, as repeated tumbling is the main culprit of escaped underwires (ouch!).

If you want to use the dryer but also want to reduce the time it’s on (back to that electric bill!), toss a clean, dry towel into the dryer. The towel will absorb moisture from the clean, wet laundry and speed the drying process.

7. Take Care of Your Athletic Gear

Athletic and athleisure clothing has become such a huge part of our daily lives it deserves its own section.

Don’t worry if you can’t wash your sweaty gym clothing items immediately. In the meantime, hang them up to dry. If you throw them into your laundry basket or leave them in a pile, they can grow smelly bacteria.

Wash your workout clothes separately from your everyday clothes. Turn them inside out to wash them. If they really smell, soak them in some water and vinegar before washing them, or toss some vinegar into the wash with them. Always wash your workout gear in cold water to reduce the risk of shrinkage.

Never wash your athletic gear with fabric softener. It weakens the stretch and damages the moisture-wicking power (which were probably both reasons you bought those running pants or shirts in the first place, right?).

8. Know When to Go to the Dry Cleaner and When to Skip It

Manufacturers sometimes use dry-clean-only tags as a precaution to cover their butts. Those garments do not always need to be dry-cleaned, but you still must be careful to wash them correctly.

You can wash most natural and synthetic fibers at home by hand. But before you do any washing by hand, check to see if the garment bleeds with a spot test.  Drip a little bit of water on a hidden part of the clothing, then running a cotton swab over the same area. If dye stains the cotton, get it dry-cleaned.

If the garment doesn’t bleed, you can move on with washing by hand using cold water and a mild detergent.

Always dry-clean silk, velvet, wool and leather. And if a garment has sentimental value, trust it to the pros.

9. Learn How to Conquer Stains

Even though your first reaction to a stain might be to throw it in the washing machine — don’t. First, let it sit in cold water. Hot water causes the stain to “set,” making it harder, if not impossible, to remove.

Most of the time, detergent should be effective at removing stains, but your specific tactic may depend on the culprit. The University of Illinois Extension has a comprehensive guide for removing pretty much any stain known to man. Bookmark it. Embrace it. Appreciate it.

Lisa Rowan is a former staff at The Penny Hoarder.