It seems so basic, but doing laundry is a complicated science, and one that very few of us understand. "No one ever teaches us how to do laundry properly," says Joey Green, author of the new book Joey Green's Cleaning Magic (Rodale, 2010). "When you're sent out into the world, you go to a Laundromat and you put the quarters in, pour in the little box of soap, and then wonder why your clothes aren't clean. But there's a lot more to it than that." Over our laundry-washing lifetimes, he adds, we pick up a lot of bad habits like overdosing with soap, overstuffing machines, ignoring stains, and not taking the time to sufficiently separate fabrics. That not only leads to loads of dingy clothes, it also wastes soap and can require extra wash or rinse cycles, which waste water, energy, and money.
Green offered us some of his best clothes-, water-, and energy-saving laundry tips so your clothes will actually get clean the next time you wash:
#1: Soak stains immediately. "When you get a stain on something, you have to deal with it immediately," says Green. "If you let it dry, it's permanent. That's something a lot of people don't realize." When spills happen, Green recommends leaving the soiled article of clothing in a bucket full of water with a little detergent added until you have time to treat the stain. In his book, he lists a hundred different ways to treat various stains. Our Nickel Pincher Jean Nick also has a few tips for handling common summer stains like grass and berry juice. The key, Green says, is to let the item soak and then treat the stain, not the other way around.
#2: Learn how to sort. You thought it was just about whites, darks, and delicates, but your clothes will wind up much cleaner if you separate them not just by color, but also by fabric type and water temperature. Green recommends you make five separate piles for colors: whites (entirely white), light colors that include striped whites, darks (blacks, blues, and browns), brights (reds, yellows, and oranges), and delicates. Then, to prevent lint from spreading, separate linty fabrics like towels, flannels, and sweatshirts from corduroys, permanent press, and other smooth fabrics that can pill.
#3: Don't overstuff. You want to wash full loads only so you save on water use and energy consumption, but you don't want to fill your machine so much that your clothes can't get clean. High-efficiency front loaders can hold up to 20 pounds of clothes, but top loaders max out at about 16. If you aren't weighing your laundry, Green notes that you should fill your washer about three-quarters of the way to the top of the drum.
#4: Add soap, then stuff. Before you add your clothes, add your detergent, allowing it to dissolve in the water fully before adding your clothes. Your soap will work more effectively and, if you're using powdered laundry detergent, there's less of a chance for powdery residue on your favorite black jeans.
Want a weird way to keep those black jeans from turning gray? Try this cool trick.