Because we all seem to be doing more laundry during the pandemic, it’s a good time for a refresher on how to care for clothes and bedding.
“People are concerned about properly washing the clothes and masks they are wearing out in the world,” Richardson says. “They don’t want to go to the dry cleaner where they used to take their shirts. So they are focusing on taking care of their clothing at home.”
He says that, similar to baking, doing laundry is part of society’s new focus inward on the home and what goes on there. “Before, many people just threw stuff into their washer and turned it on. Now, they want to know the best way to do this so they can do the job better.”
Richardson recently appeared on my weekly live Q&A webchat to discuss doing laundry. Here are edited excerpts with some of his most helpful information.
Q: Could you create a guide for liquid detergent amounts for small, medium, large and extra-large loads for top-loading washers? For some reason, no popular detergent-maker provides this information. The companies imprint meaningless, unintelligible lines on the caps.
A: The lines on the caps are hard to read. If you’re using a commercial detergent, I would recommend about three tablespoons for an extra-large load. That’s far less than the industry recommends, but I’ve tested it, and it’s more than enough to clean. Work your way down from there, and use 2½ tablespoons for large loads, two tablespoons for medium and one for small loads. Don’t forget to use warm water.
Q: My husband works in the emergency room and wears black scrubs to work every day. What's the best way to keep them from fading?
A: First of all, thank you to your husband; that has to be tough these days. Wash them in express wash to minimize the amount of time they are abrading against themselves. Use warm water to get them clean, and if you are concerned about them being sterile, oxygen bleach (sodium percarbonate is the active ingredient you want to look for) is very effective and is color safe.
Q: Can you list some of your favorite laundry products that we should have in our cabinets?
A: My favorite products are soap flakes and oxygen bleach. Then I would list white vinegar, rubbing alcohol and vodka. Spend a little more to get the soap flakes, and then use the vinegar or rubbing alcohol as your stain removers. The vodka will freshen fabrics between wearings. (It even removes cigarette smoke.)
Q: Wool dryer balls: What do you think of these versus dryer sheets?
A: I love wool dryer balls. I love that they soften and that you can add essential oils to them for fragrance. I don’t like dryer sheets, because they soften by leaving a film on clothes. If you want to remove static, take a one-yard piece of aluminum foil and make a ball about the size of a tennis ball and leave it in your dryer. The static and chemicals will both be gone. When it gets about the size of a walnut, recycle and replace it.
Q: Over time, the bottom sheets of my fine white cotton sets become yellowish. What is the best way to handle this? I have heard bleach is not the best way. Is there really a time when a white sheet should be "retired"?
A: I don’t want to retire sheets; they get so soft and cozy. Bleach is not the way, because it makes the yellowing worse. The best option is oxygen bleach. It will cut the oil out of the sheets without wrecking the color. The other trick is warm water and express wash with less detergent. If all of this fails, use the tiniest bit of bluing.
Q: I've been putting our masks in a mesh bag and washing them with our regular laundry. Should I be doing them separately on delicate? Should I use hot water?
A: This is exactly what I do at home. Make sure you’re using a good detergent or soap. You want to ensure that they rinse completely clean, because they’re next to your face, which can be more sensitive. A fun trick: If you want to make sure they’re safe without washing, hold them over a pot of boiling water (with tongs) until they’re damp. It’s steam-cleaning at its finest.
Q: I do all of my laundry with the tap-water setting, and I use liquid laundry detergent. Should I be using hot water for towels and/or sheets?
A: I always use warm. Sometimes the tap isn’t warm enough, but I never use hot, because it can damage the thread that holds the towels and sheets together. The cotton can stand the heat, but the polyester thread that sews them together cannot. This is why your towels sometimes pucker at the seams. Use less detergent, and never use fabric softener or dryer sheets for your towels; this will make them the most absorbent.
Q: I don't love ironing, but I have a few items of clothing that I love and that require ironing. The problem is that my iron (a basic model from Black & Decker that's nearly 15 years old) has brown marks on the bottom and emits tiny grains of grit from the holes from which steam is supposed to come. Is this fixable at home? Or should I just buy a new one?
A: It is scorched starch on the bottom. Use a towel with some vinegar to remove that starch, and while you’re at it, run some vinegar through the iron to stop the spitting. To make the chore easier and more fun, I want to offer one more tip: Donna Summer and a spray bottle. If you use a spray bottle of water to make the fabric damp before you starch, the ironing will be easier, and I find that disco makes everything more fun.
More from Lifestyle: