In this season of spring cleaning — when neglected, dreaded household chores are finally tackled — the everyday chores suddenly seem less tedious in comparison. Enjoyable, even.
And so what better time to look at laundry — the "clean" we wear, dry off with and sleep in, yet the task experts say most haven’t mastered?
"I think caring for garments is really a lost art," said Monica Nassif, author of "Laundry: The Spirit of Coming Home."
Nassif, founder of The Caldrea Co., which produces high-end cleaning products, wrote the book in response to the high number of people calling her company with basic questions about laundry: How do I sort? When do I need to use bleach? What’s the deal with water temperatures?
"What’s fueling this is you have more people in the laundry room than ever before, and there’s a lot more incredible toys for the laundry room than ever before," Nassif said.
Linda Cobb, aka "the Queen of Clean," who appears Monday mornings on KTVK-TV (Channel 3), finds similar confusion among her viewers. Both women discussed the basics of laundry and shared some of their own clothes-cleaning secrets, which they said could ultimately extend the life of your garments, towels and sheets.
Environment. "The more you can make the environment pleasing, the more laundry gets done," Nassif said. In her book, she urges homeowners to invest in good lighting if natural light isn’t available, install an ample workspace for sorting and folding, add storage for cleaning products, buy something to hang items too delicate for the dryer and bring a radio or CD player in the laundry room to help make the chore more enjoyable.
Scheduling. Nassif recommends coming up with a laundry system to avoid what she calls "the brink of doom laundry system," which often results in heaps of dirty clothes and nothing in the closet. The system should be suited to lifestyle. For example, if you entertain and cook often, dish towels should be cleaned every day. If kids play sports, set aside time to launder socks and other essentials at least every other day. That way, everything is clean when it is needed and no one is stuck wearing dirty clothes.
Sorting. Separating items for laundering should go far beyond "lights" and "darks." Cobb said it is important to read labels first and sort according to care instructions. Then, make piles for the following categories: Delicates, whites, towels and sheets (separating by color as well), darks, jeans (which can wear on more delicate clothing), brights, mediums (gray, khaki, light blue) and new items. Though this sorting system may result in more loads, it will help cut down on laundry casualties.
Preparation. Cobb and Nassif said the biggest mistake people make when doing laundry is not prepping stained items. All stains should be pretreated with either products made specifically to remove stains or homemade solutions (see "stain treatments" sidebar). To make it easier to spot stains once it’s time to sort laundry, put a clothespin on the stained item before you throw it into the laundry basket so it’s easy to identify which pieces need to be pretreated.
Bleach. "I don’t really see the need for bleach very often," said Cobb, whose new show, "Talking Dirty With the Queen of Clean," premieres 2 p.m. March 29 on the DIY Network. But if you like its effects (manufacturers claim bleach makes whites whiter and brights brighter), use chlorine bleach only with white cotton items and colorsafe bleach on everything else. Check clothing labels first to ensure bleach is OK to use.
Detergent. "Designer" detergents, like those The Caldrea Co. produces, are a good option for those who don’t mind spending extra money for exotic smells and pretty bottles. But Cobb said products available at supermarkets and drugstores are just as effective. She uses Purex liquid laundry detergent, which typically costs about $3 for a 64-ounce bottle, and Zout for stains.
Softener. Liquid fabric softener, added during the final rinse, imparts a "general softness to your clothes," Cobb said. Follow package instructions, don’t pour it directly on the clothes, and avoid using it with towels because it coats the fibers and makes them less absorbent. For a homemade softener, use 1 /3 cup white vinegar.
Water temperature. Reading care labels is the most foolproof way to determine what water temperature an item should be washed in. But as a rule of thumb, hot water, which helps removes stains and kill germs, should be used only on white and colorfast items; warm water is good for laundering bright and medium-colored items and will help remove light to moderate stains. Cold water is best for cleaning deep and bright-colored items and delicate fabrics but will not do much for removing stains, so make sure to inspect items carefully and pretreat any stains.
Stain treatments Warning: The following methods are not guaranteed; use your own judgment when treating delicate and unusual fabrics with tough stains that require harsh treatment. Some solutions, especially those with lemon juice, may fade or bleach colored fabrics. When in doubt, consult an expert.
Blood: Rinse well in cold water or soak in cold salt water. Wash in cold water.
Chocolate: Wet the stain and sprinkle with dry borax. Scrub gently with a toothbrush. Use an enzyme presoak. Soak in the stain in club soda. Follow all remedies with a cold-water wash.
Coffee: Apply vinegar.
Egg: Soak in cold salt water. Follow with a cold-water wash.
Fruit and vegetable juices: Wet fabric and sprinkle with salt. Then rinse and apply dish soap. Apply isopropyl alcohol, then rinse and apply white vinegar.
Grass: Apply isopropyl alcohol. Rinse and apply dish soap.
Gum: Put item in the freezer and apply ice until gum is brittle enough to scrape off. Soak any remaining residue in vinegar.
Ink: Apply glycerin and rub well. Let stand at least 15 minutes then apply dish soap and water. For felt-tip ink, apply isopropyl alcohol.
Makeup: Spritz with hair spray. Flush with vinegar.
Mud: Scrape off as much as possible. Soak in warm water and laundry detergent, then launder as usual.
Mustard: Apply dish soap.
Oily sauces and salad dressings: Rub stain with dry talcum or cornstarch to absorb as much grease as possible. Work powder into the fabric with a toothbrush. Then apply laundry detergent generously and wash in the warmest water the care label allows.
Rust: Apply lemon juice.
Sauces and condiments: Apply vinegar.
Soy sauce: Wet fabric and apply dish soap.
Tea: Apply lemon juice, then rinse and launder as usual.
Wine (red): Apply isopropyl alcohol. Apply vinegar. Apply salt to absorb as much as possible, then flush the stain with vodka and wash immediately.
Wine (white): Rinse well with water, then launder as usual.
Source: "Laundry: The Spirit of Keeping Home" by Monica Nassif ($16.95, Chronicle Books)