“Take good care of your clothes, and they’ll keep you looking good,” says Christina Elsberry, co-founder of men’s styling company Todd Alan. When laundering, she explains, most of your clothes would do well in cold water on the delicate cycle with the right detergent. But isn’t that last part the rub? Which bottle or box do you choose from the three long shelves in the laundry aisle? Elsberry has high standards: The detergent should clean the clothes, yet not destroy fabrics, and the bottle should be easy to use and not take up too much space on the counter. She and other experts have a few good candidates when it comes to detergents — and some laundry tips, too. Once you’ve chosen a detergent, use less than you think you need, says Alexa Hotz, senior editor for Remodelista in Brooklyn: Too much detergent “will leave a film on your clothes and on the inside of your washing machine.” Separate your laundry into different loads: dark, light and workout, and towels and bedding. “Get extra credit by turning your jeans inside out to preserve the color,” Elsberry says. In general, one all-purpose detergent will work for all fabrics, except of course, silk, wool, down and cashmere, which would benefit from delicate detergents or professional treatment. (Hotz likes Tangent Garment Care’s Denim Wash for her jeans; $12.85 for about 10 ounces.) Last, use caution with the dryer, which can wear down fabrics. “Invest in a foldable drying rack or two, and it will make laundry easy-breezy,” Elsberry says.
This past summer, Erin Barbot , an organizer in Silver Spring, Md., did her own test of laundry detergents, looking for products that were low in chemicals but still effective, without spending too much. “Basically, the unicorn of cleaning products,” she says. Barbot says most big brands have free-and-clear options. Her winner was Tide Purclean Unscented Laundry Detergent ($11.99 for 75 fl. oz., target.com). It’s plant-based, works in all machines and cleans well in cold water. When towels get dingy, she also likes Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value Oxygen Whitening Powder. Decant products into containers or store them in baskets to make laundry day even better, Barbot says.
If you are washing sheets, wash them alone, says Missy Tannen, co-founder of bedding company Boll & Branch in New Jersey. To prevent wrinkling, shake them out after machine-washing and pull them out as soon as the dryer cycle is done. Tannen uses Grab Green’s 3-in-1 Laundry Detergent Pods for her bedding ($7.19 for one 24-load package, amazon.com). She prefers the fragrance-free version, but does dry her laundry with wool dryer balls that have a drop of lavender essential oil on them.
Hotz, of Remodelista, starts with what she does not want in her laundry detergent: sulfates, synthetic fragrance or fragrance of any kind. “I just don’t like the idea of fragranced clothing competing with things like perfume and deodorant,” she explains. The Honest Company’s Multi-Enzyme Stain Fighting Laundry Detergent, the free-and-clear unscented version, meets her high standards, as it’s made with natural acids and enzymes ($12.95 for 70 oz., honest.com). Bonus: Designed for sensitive skin, it’s hypoallergenic and dermatologist-tested.
Mrs. Meyer’s Basil Scented Laundry Detergent ($12.49 for 64 oz., target.com) is the go-to detergent for Elsberry of Todd Alan. “It’s all the things I look for in a detergent. It gets clothes clean, yet it’s gentle on fabric. It’s concentrated, so a little goes a long way,” she says. “The bottle doesn’t take up too much space, it has a pretty label design, and there is no gooey mess.” For workout clothes, Elsberry adds Mrs. Meyers Scent Booster in basil ($9.49 for 18 oz., amazon.com) “to get things extra-fresh.”
When washing more delicate yarns such as wool, merino, alpaca and cashmere, be careful. Alberto Bravo, co-founder and creative director of We Are Knitters, a company based in Spain, uses the Laundress’s Wool & Cashmere Shampoo ($19 for 16 oz., thelaundress.com). “It really preserves the yarn’s softness, which is crucial for us,” Bravo says. “Once you’re done rinsing your woolly piece, lay it flat gently to dry. This way, you will preserve its shape and form.”