Heading Out on Your Own — Day 2: How to Do Laundry

by Brett & Kate McKay on August 2, 2012 · 63 comments

in Heading Out On Your Own

One of the first things many young men will be confronted with doing for themselves for the first time when they leave home is their laundry. It’s not exactly rocket science (none of these 31 basic life skills will be, so let’s retire that caveat today), but there is a surprising amount to it — believe or not, whole books have been written on the subject! Today we’ll cover the essential basics in an easy-to-follow question and answer format. It’s an important skill to learn not just because everybody has to do it every single week without fail, but when you know how to do it properly, you won’t ruin your clothes or wear them out too quickly — something a young man on a budget can ill-afford to do.  So let’s get started.

Before You Wash Your Clothes

How Often Do I Need to Wash Things?

You don’t have to wash everything you own after only one use. The less you wash your clothes, the longer they’ll last. While a lot depends on how often you shower/how smelly/sweaty you are/how long you wear the garment/the weather, and you can generally gauge whether something needs washing by how it feels and smells, here’s a breakdown of how often on average to wash what:

  • Undershirts/underwear/socks – 1 wear. So have plenty of pairs. Don’t turn your underwear inside-out for another use! But if you run out, and don’t have time for a wash, wash a pair in the sink at night and let it dry for the morning.
  • T-shirts — 1 wear. They absorb a lot of oil and sweat.
  • Jeans — every 4-6 wears. Yes, it is possible to go many months without washing your denim (a must if it’s selvedge denim), and if they don’t smell, go right ahead; they won’t accumulate any more bacteria after 300 wears than 15. You can spot-clean any stains you get (this goes for other clothing too).
  • Khaki/cargo shorts and pants — every 2-4 wears. Khakis don’t hide dirt as well as jeans and absorb more bodily sweat and oil.
  • Button-down shirts and sweaters — 1-3 wears. Very dependent on how tightly the garment fits to the body, the weather, and how long you wore it. When you take it off, give the armpits a sniff. If they don’t smell, put the shirt back on the hanger or drape the sweater over a chair to air out. If it’s right on the border, try a shot of Febreeze.
  • Pajamas — 2-3 wears. Depending on how much you sweat at night (although everybody sweats more while sleeping than they realize — around a liter a night)
  • Towels — once a week (given daily use).
  • Bed sheets — every two weeks. Experts say to wash bed sheets every week ideally, but I know most young men aren’t going to do that. But at least wash them every couple of weeks (if you can’t even manage that, at least wash your pillowcase–especially if you have acne-prone skin). If you need motivation, think of lying around in skin cells, dust mites and their feces, fungal mold and spores, bodily secretions, and bacteria. Not to mention insect parts, pollen, and soil. Sweet dreams.

How Do I Know How to Wash Something?

READ THE LABEL. If you get anything from this post, let it be this. Read the darn label. It will tell you exactly how to wash, dry, and iron your clothes. Don’t worry. You don’t need to know the meaning of those crazy laundry symbols you may have seen on your dad’s 1980s polo shirt. Clothing manufacturers used to rely on them to tell consumers how to wash a piece of clothing. Today most clothing companies forego the symbols and literally spell out how you’re supposed to wash their clothes. For example, my polo shirt from Criquet Shirts has the following washing instructions: “Machine wash cold. Wash with like colors. Non-chlorine bleach only. Tumble dry low. Warm iron as needed.”  I checked my other shirts, and all the labels were similiar: instructions all spelled out; no symbols.

If a piece of clothing says “Dry Clean Only,” then take it to the cleaners. Yes, there are ways you can launder dry clean-only fabrics at home, but for a beginner it’s not worth the risk, and for a young man, probably not worth the hassle. (If you’re a low-maintenance guy who’s never going to want to get something dry-cleaned, be sure to check the label before you buy something.)

How Do I Sort My Clothing Into Loads?

There are all kinds of elaborate laundry sorting systems out there, but for most young, college-aged men they’re overkill. Here’s the system I used during my bachelor years.

First, sort your dirty laundry by color. Many experts recommend creating three different color piles: whites, lights, and darks. In my experience, you just need two: whites and colors. Sorting by color ensures that your white dress shirts don’t turn pink from the bleeding crimson from your OU Sooners t-shirt (don’t ask).

After sorting by color, sort each pile by fabric heft: lighter fabrics (like dress shirts) in one pile and heavier fabrics (like jeans and sweatshirts) in another pile. I also create a pile that consists of bed linens and towels. Sorting by fabric type becomes important when we dry our laundry. Lighter items, like your t-shirts, dry much more quickly than your heavier items, like towels. When you dry light fabrics with other light fabrics, you can reduce the amount of time the dry cycle takes, which saves you money. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll need to do more loads either; heavier items, like jeans and sweatshirts, don’t need to be washed as often as other stuff, so just “save up” until you have one big heavy item load to do.

What Do I Do About Stains?

While the nitty-gritty of stain removal is not within the purview of this post, many stains will come out in the wash if you simply pre-treat them with something like Shout. So when you sort through your clothes, be on the lookout for stains.

If you have white dress shirts or light-colored t-shirts in your dirty laundry, make sure to pre-treat your collar and your armpits with stain remover. You don’t want that dreaded ring around your collar or yellow armpit stains. If you do get yellow armpit stains, here’s how to get rid of them.

Washing Your Clothes

What Water Temperature Should I Use?

This can get confusing, but keep it simple: Use warm water for whites; cold water for colors. Now admittedly I used to be a hot water for whites guy, but after researching the heck out of this article, I found that most experts agree that with the efficiency of washers and detergents these days, using only warm, or even cold water for all washes is a-okay. You might still want to wash your linens, towels, and gym clothes (regardless of their color) in hot water though, since hot water is best at getting out the grime. But always cold for colors, as it fades the color of clothes less than hot water does.

What Cycle Should I Choose?

Your default cycle should be “regular.” It’s the longest cycle and has the fastest and most vigorous wash and spin cycles (spin cycles are when the machine spins out the water from the clothes). It’s good for all fabric types.

Unless you have the same underclothing tastes as J. Edgar Hoover, you won’t use the delicate cycle very often, except for things like sweaters or a nice dress shirt. Remember: read the label.

What about the ever mysterious permanent press cycle? This cycle is for synthetic fabrics like rayon, polyester, and acetate as well as natural fabrics that have been treated with a chemical to resist wrinkles (like your “no-iron” dress shirts). The permanent press cycle has a fast wash cycle and a slow spin cycle. The slow spin cycle keeps some of the water in the clothes, which helps prevent wrinkling. The only clothing I can imagine a young man having in his wardrobe that would require permanent press would maybe be a rayon vintage bowling shirt. Other than that, I think you’re safe to use the regular cycle for most of your washing needs.

What Load Size Should I Choose?

Sometimes you have a crap load of clothes to clean, and other times you may have just a few items. Different amounts of water are required for each situation. The usual load option sizes are small, medium, large, and extra-large. What constitutes a small, medium, large, or extra-large load?

A typical top-loading machine uses the following scale for judging load size:

  • Small: clothing fills 1/3 of wash drum before adding water
  • Medium: clothing fills 1/3 to 1/2 of wash drum before adding water
  • Large: clothing fills 1/2 to 3/4 of wash drum before adding water
  • Extra-large: clothing fills wash drum 3/4 to completely full before adding water

What Kind of Detergent Should I Use? Powder, Liquid, HE?

Consumerism, for better or for worse, has given us dozens of different kinds of laundry detergents to choose from. So many, in fact, that it can be overwhelming to pick which one to use. While all of them will clean your clothes, each detergent type has pros and cons.

  • Powder detergents — cheaper per load than liquid detergents and better at getting out stains like dirt and clay than their liquid cousins. Unless specially formulated, powder detergents don’t readily dissolve in cold water like liquid ones.
  • Liquid detergents — more expensive, but better at getting out organic stains like blood, grass, and pizza sauce. They also dissolve better in cold water.
  • HE detergents – more expensive than regular detergents because they are specifically designed for High Efficiency washers. They are low-sudsing and quick dispersing for use in low water volume machines. If you’re living in the dorms or in apartments with shared laundry facilities, you won’t likely have HE washing machines. While you can use HE detergent in regular washing machines, it would be a waste of money to do so.

Detergent companies are now marketing small pods that contain both liquid and powder detergent and dissolve in the wash. While certainly convenient, they’re expensive. For a young man on a budget, this probably isn’t a good option. Go with the powder. The ambitious young man on a budget can even try his hand at making his own detergent.

Also here’s another money-saving tip about laundry detergent. Experts say you can get away with using anywhere from 1/2 to 1/8 what the manufacturer recommends and still come away with clean clothes. I aim for about half the recommended fill line myself.

In addition to choosing between liquid, powder, and pods, you can select scented or unscented detergents. If you’re prone to allergies, go with the unscented version.

Finally, fill the washing machine with water and add detergent before you add your clothes. While the machine is filling with water, add your detergent. By filling your washing machine with water and detergent before you add your clothes, you ensure that your detergent is evenly distributed throughout the water. Also, pouring detergent right on your clothing can leave spots; this is especially a concern with powder detergents.

Should I Use Bleach?

Bleaching, if done improperly, will ruin your clothing. But in the hands of a knowledgeable person, bleach can remove stains, make whites whiter, and disinfect the nasty bedsheets you’ve been lying in sick all week.  But if you’re not comfortable with using bleach, you can honestly get away with skipping it. I didn’t use it all that often and my clothes looked fine. Kate’s never used it in her life. But if you decide to use it, here are some guidelines.

There are two types of bleaches: chlorine and non-chlorine bleaches. Chlorine bleach is the strongest, but it’s not safe for all fabrics. It’s the bleach that can leave your classic, green polo looking like a groovy tie-dyed shirt if you get some splashed on it.

Non-chlorine bleach, like OxiClean, is safe for colored clothing made with colorfast dyes and fabrics and will make colored clothing look brighter. Non-chlorine bleach, however, isn’t as effective as chlorine bleach at brightening whites.

If you decide to use chlorine bleach on your whites or bed linens, pour the instructed amount in the bleach dispenser in the washing machine before starting the cycle. If your machine doesn’t have a liquid bleach dispenser, mix the bleach with 1 to 1 1/2 quarts of water and add it after your clothes have been washing for five minutes. Stir it in with a wooden stick or spoon.

Never pour bleach directly on clothing, even whites. I had to learn this from experience. I poured some bleach on a load of white laundry while the machine was still filling with water. After drying, my white clothes had a bunch of brown stains which I later learned were chemical burns from the bleach. Lesson: use bleach with caution.

Washing Tips

Load your clothing a few pieces at a time. With the machine filled with water and your detergent added, you’re now ready to add clothing. Don’t throw giant, wadded up armfuls of laundry into the machine. Add your clothing a few pieces at a time. This will ensure that all parts of the fabric get adequate agitation in the machine.

Don’t cram all your clothing into a single load. In an effort to save time and money, you will be tempted to cram as much of your dirty laundry into a single wash load as possible. Resist that temptation. Your clothes need room in the drum to swish around in order to get clean. If you want clean clothes, don’t overload the washing machine.

Close the lid and set a timer. To get the machine to start washing, simply close the lid. Because it’s easy to forget you have a load of laundry in the wash, set a timer on your smartphone to remind yourself to check the wash when the machine says it should be done. Nobody likes that rank smell that develops from leaving wet clothes in an empty washing machine for too long (although a toss in a hot cycle on the dryer can often zap the smell if that happens to you).

Drying Your Clothes

Not everything goes in the dryer. Remember: read the label. Some garments will say things like “Lay flat to dry.” In that case, spread it out flat on a towel, smoothing out the wrinkles. If it doesn’t go in the dryer, but doesn’t need to be laid flat, you can drape it over a drying rack or a chair. Even if a garment can technically go in the dryer, if you don’t want it to shrink — perhaps it was just the right size when you bought it or the freshman fifteen is making your jeans feel tight — go ahead and put it on the drying rack instead of the dryer. And of course, if you’re living in a house or apartment that allows line-drying, that’s a great option too: no shrinkage, less wear and tear on your clothes, no energy or quarter use, and that fresh air smell.

Clean out the lint screen. Before you put your wet clothes in the dryer, check the lint screen. A clean lint screen ensures that damp air leaves the machine and your clothes get dry. You may have to clean out the screen in the middle of a large load filled with items prone to shedding fuzzy stuff, i.e., towels, denim, etc. Oh, and make sure to save that lint! It’s a fantastic fire-starter.

Place clothing in dryer a few pieces at a time. Clothes tend to get lumped and knotted together in the wash. Throwing your wet clothes into the dryer in a giant ball will result in some clothes getting super dry and others remaining damp. To avoid this, grab a few items at a time from the washing machine, shake ‘em out if they’re tangled up, and then place them in the dryer.

Don’t cram the dryer. Just as you don’t want to cram all your clothes into a single wash cycle, you won’t want to cram all your clothes into a single drying cycle. Clothes need space in the dryer to tumble and get completely dry. You’ll save yourself time and money in the long run by breaking up your drying into smaller loads.

Throw in a fabric softener sheet. To avoid static cling and to give your clothes that soft, comforting feeling, throw in a fabric softener sheet. For smaller loads, you can use just half a sheet.

Select the correct drying temperature. Rule of thumb when it comes to drying temperatures: the hotter the drying temperature, the greater the likelihood of shrinking. If the care label on your garment says “Tumble Dry,” you can use the “regular” temp setting on your dryer. Regular is the hottest temperature and is suitable for sturdy cottons like towels, t-shirts, underwear, jeans, and sheets.

The medium setting is suitable for permanent press clothing — synthetics and fabrics treated with wrinkle-free chems.

Low is for stuff like knits and lingerie. Again, if you’re a man, you’ll likely have very little clothing that requires this setting.

Remove dried clothes immediately. To avoid wrinkles, remove your dry clothes from the dryer and fold and iron them immediately (we’ll be covering these skills later in the month). The longer you let them sit there, the more the wrinkles set.

Laundromat Protocol

Many young men reading this will likely be washing their clothes in public laundromats and dormitory basements. Washing your clothes in shared machines requires pluck, craftiness, and social grace that you don’t need when washing your clothes in the privacy of your home. Below we provide some fast and not so hard rules to help you navigate the often strange world of laundromats:

Go on off days and off times.  “Saturday or Sunday is probably a good day to wash clothes. I’ve got nothing else going on.” You know what? That’s what everybody else in your dorm/apartment is thinking too. I remember attempting my first wash in the college dorm on a Saturday morning only to find it jam-packed. Tuesdays or Wednesdays are good days to go to the laundromat. If your schedule permits, go in the afternoon. If not, become an early-riser and do your laundry first thing in the morning.

Grab plenty of quarters before leaving. Yes, some laundromats and dormitory facilities use credit card or student ID readers these days, but it’s a good way to put your change to use, and the change machines at laundromats that lack credit card machines are often broken.

Check washers and dryers before putting your clothes in. A leftover blue sock can turn your whitey-tighties into baby blue under-roos. Also, make sure to clean out the lint screen, but use a paper towel. You don’t want to touch the discarded pubes of complete strangers.

Use multiple machines when you can. One of the benefits of going to the laundromat on off days is that you’ll likely have access to multiple machines. So instead of washing and drying one load at a time, you can have multiple loads going at once, thus cutting your laundry time down significantly. Of course, you need to be courteous when using this technique. Don’t be the guy who hogs three machines when there’s a line of other people waiting for an open machine.

Be wary about leaving your laundry unattended. People steal laundry. Take that into consideration before leaving your laundry unattended. I know you’d probably prefer to be other places besides a laundromat, but I’d recommend hanging around until your clothes are finished. Get some work done while you’re waiting or read a book. Make use of that downtime. If you do decide to leave your laundry washing/drying unattended, be sure to set a timer on your phone so you come back right when the cycle is done; don’t make someone else take out your laundry and pile it on a table so they can use the machine.

Don’t forget your manners. Ask people to move their own laundry if you need space on the tables; nobody likes a strange man handling their intimates. On the same note, don’t take up too much space. You don’t need to sprawl all your clean clothes out on the table to fold them.

Got any more tips on doing your laundry? Share them with us in the comments!


{ 63 comments… read them below or add one }

1 David August 2, 2012 at 11:50 pm

One recommended (and more environmentally friendly) alternative to bleach is Borax. I don’t know for sure how effective it is, but it certainly isn’t as offensive to the nose.

2 Jatin August 2, 2012 at 11:51 pm

Nice post at perfect time.

3 Ian August 3, 2012 at 12:19 am

I’m going to be a junior in a medium-small institution in the fall, so I’ve done this dance before and here’s my process:
When packing a wardrobe for college, pack enough clothes for a week-week and a half and try to make them as similar in color as possible. makes laundry so much easier.

I had my own sorting process from when I learned to do laundry as a younger kid. The only thing different that I do from many other people I’ve noticed is that I dry all of my shirts (t-shirts, dress shirts, polos, etc) and and dress pants for 5 minutes and then I hang them up right away. I find that my shirts will shrink up if they’re dried bone dry. However if I just hang them up straight from the washer, they are covered in wrinkles. Drying them for five minutes gets rid of the wrinkles but doesn’t shrink the clothes (when you hang your clothes up, be sure your clothes have space between them so that air can circulate and dry faster. The longer they stay damp, the more likely they are to wind up smelling rank).

Other than that, everything else in this article was pretty spot on. Great job!

4 Ian August 3, 2012 at 12:23 am

Oh, and Shout Color Catcher Sheets. For no muss, no fuss laundering, they are a must. If you accidentally put your white sock in a load full of reds, your sock will stay safe

5 Murray Lunn August 3, 2012 at 12:49 am

Gah, it’s so silly but this topic is brilliant.

Girlfriend and I are in a new apartment. I do freelancing so I’m home (besides college classes) so I’m usually the one that does the laundry.

Never really knew the differences in the water temperature of whites and colors.

The big thing is just routine. I’m able to handle my laundry load just fine (having a few shirts and two pair jeans) but hers is a battle (barely able to keep up).

For those that have a SO, I humbly suggest this: Suggest having them parse down on clothes. Wash them up, set them in neat piles (by type) and recommend they do a keep, save, donate purge. You’ll find yourself doing far less laundry and you don’t have to constantly pick up the floor.

6 E August 3, 2012 at 1:05 am

Great post!

7 Harry August 3, 2012 at 2:57 am

Most of those instructions apply to top-loading washers. If you have a front loader, the door locks once you start it, so all the clothes need to go in before you push start. They usually have dispensers for you to put detergent and bleach into. Use only liquid detergent in those dispensers – they don’t get flushed with enough water to work with powder, and it will just make a mess where the powder clumps up and sticks in the system, letting loose bits and pieces over the next 10 washes, and annoying everybody else if it’s a shared washer. Some may try putting powder in on top of the clothes in a front loader, but it’s usually best to just follow the recommended instructions, especially if you don’t own the machine.

Also, if your washer says it’s a HE system, don’t try to cheap out and put regular in there, extra suds can make a huge mess.

8 Jay A2 August 3, 2012 at 4:08 am

I’ve read that dryer sheets weren’t good for the dryer. A cheap alternative is a can of tennis balls.These get rid of static and help create space between clothes as they tumble during a drying cycle to ensure everything gets dry.

9 David August 3, 2012 at 4:24 am

I agree with the use of borax for stain fighting. It is by far the best thing I have used to remove grease and oil stains.

10 Travis August 3, 2012 at 5:37 am

What about hand washing and line drying? when starting out it money is sometimes in tighter supply than time. its part of how we have made things work.

11 Mike August 3, 2012 at 5:51 am

When I first left for the Army I had to do my own laundry for the first time. I checked halfway through the process and when I saw the machine was full of water, I thought I broke the machine, thought I clogged it up. Needless to say I took my wet clothes out and through them away…

12 Aaron August 3, 2012 at 6:27 am

My wife and I have been making our own powdered laundry detergent for years, and we save a bundle.
I’m very sensitive to chemicals, and there are many off-the-shelf soaps I can’t use, but homemade soap made of borax, washing soda, and fels-naptha gives me no problems.
We line-dry as much as we can; the energy ($$) savings are huge. If you have an outdoor line, use that, especially for whites. Sunshine is a very powerful, all-natural bleaching agent, and will take the dinge right out of your socks.
If you don’t have an outdoor line, there are indoor drying racks, like these:
You need one anyway for drying your snazzy knit cardigans, you may as well dry as much of your laundry as possible in the free air!

13 Jim Collins August 3, 2012 at 6:47 am

Esteemed Readers, Kate, and Brett,

Two points:

1) re: David’s post. I’m unconvinced that introducing a salt of boron into the waste stream is more environmentally sound than an oxidant that is reduced to solubilized table salt and water by organics in the environment.

2) The laundromat, provided one exercises good manners, is a fine place to meet women.


Jim Collins

14 asif August 3, 2012 at 7:07 am

Do not use fabric softeners. These only coat the fibers and make them “appear” to be soft. Use one cup of white vinegar in the rinse water to remove any traces of soap and leave fabrics smelling fresh.

The ideal way to dry textiles is air only. A line or rod is perfect, but you can use a railing or shower rod as well. If you must use a dryer, use the lowest setting and never, never dry completely. During the last few minutes of a dryer cycle the fabric overheats and dries out, making it brittle and lifeless over time. Always remove them from the dryer while still damp.

15 Don August 3, 2012 at 7:33 am

Be sure to sip up all zippers before washing. Unzipped zippers are very abrasive to clothing.

16 Don August 3, 2012 at 7:37 am

Be sure to turn your underwear inside out when you wash them. They get much cleaner. I wash my colored boxer shorts inside out on the hot cycle with my whites. No color bleed issue, and, again, they come out much cleaner with hot water.

17 Brian August 3, 2012 at 8:16 am

In a pinch or in a hurry, everything can be washed together with cold water; I did this to save money in college. Sure, it’s not quite as good, but since I primarily wearing jeans and t-shirts at the time, it didn’t really matter as much.

18 Richard August 3, 2012 at 8:47 am

One other reason for checking the lint filter… If people dry their clothes with things like keys or loose change in the pockets, this is where they will most likely wind up.

19 B August 3, 2012 at 8:49 am

Surprised you didn’t mention that most of the dry-fit / coolmax / Under Armour type clothing should use the low dryer setting.
The regular and High dryer settings can melt these clothes.

20 Len August 3, 2012 at 9:09 am

Great article! I have 3 kids now and I swear the washer and dryer are running 24/7….

I started making homemade powder soap about a year ago to save money and have had VERY good luck with it.
1 Bar Fels Naptha, (Chopped with a knife).
1 Cup Washing Soda
1 Cup Borax

I take all the ingredients and put them in a food processor for five minutes so it’s well mixed (don’t try just putting the bar soap in the food processor without the Soda/Borax…won’t mix as nicely). I’ve been using White Vinegar as a Fabric Softner as well….

Big cost savings and very good results.

21 Anna Bazhaw-Hyscher August 3, 2012 at 9:15 am

This was excellent. I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of these (despite being a young woman & already running my own household for some years – great info)
Here are a few extra tips: if you drop food on it, hit it with some dish soap like Dawn or Palmolive (or
generic counterparts). They’re designed to get out grease…. And once a stain is set in the dryer or under your iron, it’s set.
Don’t hang your colors in direct sunlight (at least here in Oklahoma). They will fade very quickly.
To Jay A2 – the tennis balls are great (also use them if you are washing/drying a duvet, quilt or pillow, so they don’t lumpy). The reason dryer sheets are ‘bad’ for the dryer is that they clog the lint filter. It needs to be removed once a month and scrubbed with dish soap, removing the film. A cheap alternative (yes, you still have to clean it, if its your dryer), is to soak an old bandana or large handkerchief that you’re willing to give up with liquid fabric softener. You can use it as long as you can feel the softener on it. :)

22 Sean August 3, 2012 at 9:21 am

in regards to nylon (dry-fit) type clothing, I’d say don’t dry it. just hang dry. I’ve noticed Under Armour tend to burr

and in regards to bead sheets, I own 2 sets of pillowcases. put one in the laundry basket. when you do wash regularly, you will have a clean set of pillowcases. simply change them and you will have another in your basket ready to be washed next week

23 caleb August 3, 2012 at 9:21 am

When I used a laundromat, I would sort out my clothes by color to wash and then weight to dry. Sheets and boxers took ten minutes, t-shirts about twenty, towels and jeans about thirty (this was in Missouri do one had to dry everything or it would mildew). This way I would have everything folded and done only a few minutes after the last load.

24 Kenneth August 3, 2012 at 9:24 am

Turn t-shirts inside out to protect print/ design from cracking/fading

25 Jay August 3, 2012 at 9:39 am

Hey. for the next one, it’d be a great to learn how to press and iron pants and shirts!

26 Nick Healy August 3, 2012 at 9:41 am

Here’s some stuff I’ve leaned.

1. For everyday use, cold water works for everything (modern detergents are amazing) and is cheaper (it takes electricity to heat all that water). I only use warmer water for really sweaty gym clothes (I have found that cold isn’t doing the job).
2. A good drying rack works for everything (and in places where you either pay for electricity or pay for dryers in the laundromat, can save a fortune). Exception being dress shirts. I hang them on the shower rod on hangers to dry and try to iron them before they are completely dry.
3. Powder detergents don’t work very well in hard water. Don’t know if the water is hard? Do the dishes and leave them to drip-dry. If they go white, the water is hard.
4. Dry cleaning your shirts seems like a great thing when you start work because its easy and your shirts look great. But by being a bit organized and learning to iron you can save a fortune by washing them yourself, not to mention that I have found that dry cleaning shortens the life of your shirts as well.

Good point on watching your laundry by the way. I left mine for only a few minutes once in college and some jerk stole four pairs of jeans.

27 PJ August 3, 2012 at 10:07 am

For smelly gym clothes, I’ve been washing with baking soda to remove the body odor that normal detergent doesn’t seem to remove

28 dave August 3, 2012 at 10:27 am

I started doing laundry at about age 12. There is nothing effeminate about doing your own laundry. I think parents should give their sons and daughters this skill when they are teenagers,
One thing I learned in college – the quality of machines, especially dryers can vary – be wary of dryers that run too hot.
PS I also use a lot less detergent than recommened on most lightly soiled loads.

29 Washerman August 3, 2012 at 10:29 am

just DON’T EAT borax!!!!! it’s a poison isn’t it??? be careful with it on your skin.. and don’t get it in your eyes!!!

30 Ian C. August 3, 2012 at 10:39 am

When you’ve got smelly athletic (polyester/plastic) clothes, I find that Borax is an excellent, environmentally safe laundry-booster. Kicks most smells rather well. So does baking soda. If that doesn’t work, get some Odoban.

I love the opening image! Got me to click on the article. Psychology win. If I learned nothing else, I’m going to sling my Browning .308 over my shoulder the next time I scrub muddy five-fingers in the utility tub.

31 Greg August 3, 2012 at 10:55 am

@asif. A co-worker of mine suggested white vinegar instead of fabric softener so I tried it a couple of times. While it certainly does de-odorize, I found it horrible on my clothes. My shirts and towels came out significantly more stiff and uncomfortable than even just skipping fabric softener (and tons more than when I used softener).

32 Moeregaard August 3, 2012 at 11:08 am

Gotta take issue with not washing jeans after each wearing. Mine just feel dirty if I try to get more than one wearing out of them between washes. The same goes for shirts. Obviously, socks and BVDs need washing between wearings. One final thing I learned from experience: Never toss the girlfriend’s “intimate apparel” in with anything of yours. In my youth I trashed a bra when I tossed it in with my jeans. What doesn’t kill us will make us smarter…

33 GDS August 3, 2012 at 11:27 am

While washing does put wear on clothes, it is not necessarily true that less washing makes them last longer. When sweat dries, it leave salt behind, and those salt crystals are abrasive. Wearing clothes with dried sweat in them weakens the fibers as you move around. Of course, washing and drying wears clothes out too. The key is finding the right balance, as with most things.

For stains, I’ve found that equal parts dish detergent and hydrogen peroxide works very well.

34 oliver August 3, 2012 at 11:28 am

Great post, thanks very much gona try that first load of washing right now

35 Dustin August 3, 2012 at 11:52 am

In addition to print t-shirts, I make it a habit to turn my jeans inside out and zip/button up the fasteners. That way, nothing catches onto it and the colors keep from fading (unless you’re going for the faded look).

Silly though this may sound, I’d also recommend getting the same detergent that you use at home. It usually helps stave away the homesickness, or if you’re like me reminds me to call home and check up every once in a while.

36 Chad August 3, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Check your pockets before they get washed. Although I’ve never had an issue with pens that accidentally get washed, gum is a nightmare.

37 Solo August 3, 2012 at 12:53 pm

AoM always teaches us ways to save time with which we may live more fully.

Another simple suggestion: Sort as you go. When you take off the clothing, put it in the appropriately sorted pile or basket. How much is your time worth? Wouldn’t you rather be living excellently rather than sorting a big pile of clothing?

As to sorting by weight of clothing, I differ in that regard. All similar colors enter the dryer at the same time and the lighter items are pulled after a few minutes to finish drying on the hanger. Once you have dealt with all the light items, the heavier are almost done.

38 Native son August 3, 2012 at 4:11 pm

A minor note on line drying. This may not be optimal if you’re living close by a freeway or major arterial roadway. An amazing amount of dust and soot can (and often will) collect on wet or damp clothing hung to line dry outside.

39 RDC August 3, 2012 at 4:50 pm

BUT NOT WITH YOUR TOWELS! Dry sheets keep towels from absorbing water and that is pretty much what they are for! (Throw in a fabric softener sheet. To avoid static cling and to give your clothes that soft, comforting feeling, throw in a fabric softener sheet. For smaller loads, you can use just half a sheet.)

40 Stefn777 August 3, 2012 at 5:18 pm

Another tip:
Grab a clean, dry towel bafore going to the laundromat. Throw it in the dryer with your jeans and denims- they will dry faster.

41 Matthew Wilson August 3, 2012 at 5:21 pm

Every high school boy needs to learn these things!

15 years ago as I headed off to college, I lived with 3 other guys. I was the only one out of our group who knew how to do laundry…and tie a neck tie. I found myself doing a laundry class and tying everyone’s ties. Do you job men, teach your boys!

42 Josh Kamra August 3, 2012 at 11:31 pm

2 Things:

1- MAKE YOUR OWN LAUNDRY SOAP! Mix together some Borax, Washing Soda, and Fels-Naptha (formal recipes online) and you can make a years worth of soap for $20-$40. Way better than $10 for a smallish bottle of Tide.

2- Stain remover gels form companies like Shout and Tide are just their liquid soap in a smaller, more convenient bottle. Buy a 3oz. squirt bottle and a big jug of liquid soap (the one you were going to use for your clothes before you figured out how to make your own) and it becomes much more cost effective.

Hope this helps!!

43 Nick August 4, 2012 at 7:05 am

To the guys using baking soda for sweaty laundry. How much do you add to the load?

44 Daniel H. August 4, 2012 at 10:29 am

Thought I’d throw in a few points:

(1) Reiterating Chad’s comment above, definitely check all pockets (pants pockets but also the breast pockets of shirts). It’s especially easy to miss things like ticket stubs. An orange one of those in a white dress shirt pocket is bad news. I’ve made that mistake.

(2) In a hot, humid environment, I need to wash my towels more often to avoid them getting funky. I’ve used this method to remove the funk: http://www.wikihow.com/Remove-Mildew-Smell-from-Towels

(3) Fold, iron, hang, etc. right after clothes come out of the drier. Dumping a new dryer load of clothes in a pile is a recipe for wrinkles. (I think there’s an AoM article on ironing.)

45 Jason August 4, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Not affiliated in any way except as a happy customer, but Charlie’s Soap is fantastic. Cheap, effective, only small amounts required so you’re not hauling a bunch of detergent with you. In fact, I have to wonder what other laundry soaps are putting in there that you need so much. The downside is, it tends to strip other soap residue out of washers. They recommend running a load of old rags/towels with a double rinse the first time you use it just to get the gunk out of your washer. So perhaps not the best for public laundromats, unless you can make a point to use the same washer(s) from week to week.

46 Caleb Avery August 5, 2012 at 7:55 am

Im just currious as to when the last time was you went to a laundromat? I’ve not seen one that takes quarters in over a decade. They all use a plastic card you have to put money on now. Been that way for some time…..

47 Elaine August 5, 2012 at 4:04 pm

A tip I learned from my grandmother is to put a cup of white vinegar through a cycle to clean the washer. She lived in the mountains and the water had a lot of minerals but her washer lasted for decades.

48 Nick August 5, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Caleb. My girlfriend and I were talking about this (the vanishing of self-serve laundromats). I assumed it was a cultural thing (I’m in a foreign country) but she assured me that they had plenty about 15-20 yrs ago here as well. We think it has to do with the availability of washing machines. When I was in college, no apartment had a washing machine because it was too big and/or expensive. The only one I knew was my grandmothers (a weird little contraption that looked more like a small deep freeze than a washer; never did figure out how it worked). Anyway, every apartment I have rented since 2000 has had a washer/dryer machine installed. Maybe losing all these apartment customers killed the laundromat?

49 WIll August 6, 2012 at 4:49 am

Thanks Brett & Kate for this wonderful website. I’ve been reading since early 2011 and certainly appreciate the articles I’ve come across. Last year I moved to Africa soon after high-school, choosing to take a different path than my peers. For whatever reason laundry machines don’t seem to be popular, so I am solely responsible for my clothing and have become a hand-washing expert of sorts. These guidelines couldn’t have come at a better time!

Thanks from Kenya

50 Jeff August 6, 2012 at 11:27 am

I’ve found that using hydrogen peroxide to spot treat stains works very well. Though, I’ve only tried it with jeans so I’m not sure about other fabrics.

51 Kaarin August 6, 2012 at 4:30 pm

I’m so loving this series. This post is especially helpful. I’m a fashion consultant and starting to send people to this link when they have questions on how to care for clothes! Thank you!

52 Clothes Wearer August 8, 2012 at 6:50 pm

Readers! Remember these simple tips to make your clothes last longer:
1. You know what laundry lint is? It’s fabric that comes off your clothes because it was drying too long. Do not dry your clothes bone dry! half an hour to get them mostly dry, then hang them up to dry. No wrinkles, and they will last much longer.
2. Nice denim jeans you can go without washing. If you put them in the dryer at all, the dye will wash off your jeans and they won’t look new. Spot clean stains and throw them in the freezer if they start to smell – this kills bacteria.
3. Wash your clothes in groups- colors, darks, denin, towels, sheets – are all groups to wash them in.

53 Stengel99 August 17, 2012 at 9:27 pm

Thanks for this post.

Thanks for giving us permission not to wash every garment after one wearing. I wear shirts twice if I’m also wearing undershirts, and I’ve often felt like I was cheating by not washing them every time, it sounds like that’s a fairly normal habit.

I would add that washing a pillowcase would be a good idea after 2-3 nights, especially if you’re, well, a drooler. Pretty gross to lay your face in that stuff again the next night. I usually have 2-3 clean pillowcases ready to rotate in, and wash at least one pillowcase almost every time I do laundry, whether it’s a color load or a bleach white load.

Great mini-series! Thanks.

54 Duke August 20, 2012 at 8:58 pm

You can save money on detergent at
a laundry mat:

Just go to the garbage and grab a discarded plastic bottle of detergent.
Fill wit water and dump into the
People throw the bottle out and there is always at least one loads worth of soap in them..

Free soap!

55 Jameel Brenneman August 22, 2012 at 8:57 am

How does bleaching whites work if it is a predominately white shirt but it does have some dark blue lettering or sleeves? Are those susceptible to bleach stains?

56 CJ August 26, 2012 at 4:12 pm

I am a runner and i never dry the Hi-tech fabric/ Under Armour type clothing on any machines. I line dry them at home.

57 Louise October 9, 2012 at 5:11 am

Hello Gentlemen
Loved reading this piece about how to do laundry. Some great tips and images :) Our website will be live soon so please feel free to check out the Distinctive mans approach to designer smelling, designer label-safe laundry. We’re not a student budget label I’m afraid. This is premium priced designer smelling laundry for men that don’t want to spray their clothes from top to toe but let their own body heat activate the fragrance molecules that are in your clothes as they leave the wash.
PS Happy to answer your washing Q&A’s Guys too. Distinctive Powder aims to take the hard work out of the wash – but unfortunately doesn’t iron for you.

58 Tyler G. December 12, 2012 at 1:55 pm

I’ve been doing my laundry for as long as I can remember. I go through the same process every time, and I’ve never had an issue with bleeding colors or shrinking:

1) Once the hamper in my room is full, go to the machines.
2) Separate the clothes into three groups: whites, lights, and darks.
3) Put the whites in the washer. If there’s still a lot of room, like there usually is when I do it, add some or all of the lights. The goal is to get down to 2 loads to save time and money.
4) Put the detergent in and start the washer on cold.
5) If there is another washer handy, put the rest of the clothes in there and repeat step 4. If not, wait for the first load to finish.
6) Once a load is done, move it to the dryer. Throw in a fabric softener sheet, and set the dryer for maximum drying time on medium.
7) Fold/hang/whatever once the dryer is done.

I know this system is a little counter-intuitive to some of the things said above, but it has worked for me for 10+ years, and I’ve never had a problem.

59 Joe December 20, 2012 at 4:50 am

Somebody mentioned the energy savings of outside line washing & they’re absolutely correct!
However, ensure that you hang your clothes inside-out or the sun might bleach them which is NOT cool!
Also, when line drying shirts put them on a hanger immediately to let the weight of the water pull creases out for you! Just remember to pinch the hook part tight so that if the wind picks up your clothes won’t fall to the ground…
Why iron clothes if you don’t have to?

60 Jimmy December 24, 2012 at 12:36 am

Read this at 1:30 am due to insomnia. I haven’t washed my sheets in a good few months. DAMN YOU AND YOUR IMAGRY BRETT!

61 Lương July 16, 2013 at 1:55 am

Great article and very helpful comments!

I am currently living in Bulgaria and I tend to do my laundry late in the evening dice the electricity price is the cheapest during that period. Just mentioning this for the guys who want to be more economical!

62 Joshua March 4, 2014 at 10:48 am

Just a few tips from a guy that does laundry for a living(dry cleaner).
I have heard alot of about using Borax in the wash… not a bad idea. Borax is very similar to detergent (not soap) in that it helps thin out the water so that it will penetrate deaper into the fabric. Good for general soil.
Oxiclean: a color safe bleach as mentioned. Very similar to hydrogen Peroxide. Will help to brighten colors, as mentioned will not do as well on whites as chlorine bleach. Great for beer and wine stains though.
Peroxide: use in combination with cold water. Great for blood stains. dag a little on and wash in cold water. Windex will also help in a pinch.
White Vineagar: will work on wine and other stains that as we say “come from the ground” So mustard, coffee, beer.. etc. Oxiclean gets these stains out also but vineagar is an alternative.
Those are some ideas on stain removal.
One note, if you are using chlorine bleach… for best results you need hot water. Bleach doesnt activate and start working in cold and warm water. Non-Chlorine bleach will active in warm water.
I strongly recommend reading care labels!! and always pull your pockets out. Don’t forget to clean the lint catch. If you use a dish soap to remove grease stains you also need atleast warm water. and use sparingly, dish soap will create 10X the suds that laundry soap will.

63 Jarek March 31, 2014 at 10:38 pm

i got this really soft cotton v-neck and i really dont want it to srink. The first time i was anything new, i wash it by its self. considering i wash it solo for the first time and the shirt is really soft and the perfect fit, should i follow the drying instructions and put it on the regular drying setting, or should i put it on the coolest drying setting, since its all by its self. i fear if i put it on the regular drying setting by its self, it will shrink due to an over dry since the setting is meant for numerous clothes and not just one v-neck.

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