Everything we know about doing laundry we learned in childhood.
"Most people will cook the way their mothers cooked. We learn laundry basics the same way - from our parents," says Jenifir Provateare, who has been developing products for the laundry industry for 20 years.
But it might be time to dump some of Mum or Dad's outdated laundry habits.
"Technology has come a long way since our mothers started doing laundry," says Provateare, a product development manager at Nehemiah Manufacturing, a Cincinnati-based consumer goods company.
That means most of us need to upgrade our laundry smarts to keep our black T-shirts from fading and our soccer uniforms free of grass stains. We have to read the fine print of our washing machine manuals and finally learn how to sort.
There is constant innovation in laundry products. But some new products don't measure up, Provateare says. She is not a fan of pricey single-dose laundry detergent packs because they don't let you control the amount of detergent. For a larger load when one pack isn't enough, you have no choice but to add two. When you use too much detergent, the rinse cycle may not get it all out, leaving a sticky residue on fabrics.
We asked Provateare to identify six common mistakes consumers make when operating washing machines. How many are you guilty of?
1. Never mastering the art of sorting
Many people just sort by color, especially if they plan to wash everything in cold water. Uh-uh. Sort clothes by wash temperature as indicated on the care label.
Make cold, warm and hot piles (very few things should be washed in hot; it's brutal on fabrics). Then sort those piles by color before washing. You may end up with a bunch of small loads, but clothes will look better and last longer.
2. Being skimpy with detergent
Detergents are quite concentrated and can be expensive, whether you have a standard or high-efficiency machine. The majority of people use liquids and many believe they can get away with less than the suggested amount. Not true. If you are stingy, the dirt on clothes just redistributes itself in the wash instead of going out with the rinse. The dirt ends up on the rest of your clothes, making them dingy.
Confirm you are buying the type of detergent your washer is designed to handle for optimal use. Study the detergent box, bottle or cap to make sure you are adding the recommended amount.
3. Stuck on cold
Consumers often select cold water since it's a less risky choice: It won't shrink your skinny jeans or cause your striped shirt to bleed. But cold water is not always best and may not be getting clothes clean or odors out.
Read the care label instructions; they may say to use warm. A good rule is to use the warmest temperature your garment can handle, because, in general, you are going to get clothes cleaner in warmer water.
4. The bleach effect
Do you use bleach on white socks and underwear that contain elastic? Cease and desist. Bleach actually eats elastic. Switch to a detergent with pre-added bleach alternative or whitener.
5. Not treating stains as fashion emergencies
Waiting until the last minute to deal with stains has consequences. Once a smudge or spot goes through a warm water wash and heated dry, it probably won't ever come out.
Carry a stain pen in your car, tote or diaper bag. If you spill ketchup on your shirt, immediately put a cloth or paper towel behind the stain and rub with your pen. Most of the stain will disappear. When you get home, spritz with stain remover spray and wash right away in the warmest water the clothing can tolerate. The one major exception: blood stains, which you should wash only in cold water.
Being too lazy to wash new clothes or linens before use
If you get a new polo shirt or sheet set, you should wash it by itself before you wear or use it. (Provateare says she does; I have to admit, my mother never washed anything before using it. I survived and I boldly continue that dangerous practice.) Washing first should remove any residual chemicals left over from the manufacturing process.
If you fail to do this, chemicals could come in contact with your skin and cause irritation or contact dermatitis. Provateare advises tossing new items into your washer set on cold. This also helps set colors so they won't bleed when you wash items later with other laundry.