Photo by Johnny Miller
The washer lowdown
This is how long the machine cleans your clothes, and it follows common sense—smaller, minimally soiled loads need less time. Rule of thumb: Choose the shortest possible cycle, as the less time clothing spins around, the longer it’ll last.
A normal/regular cycle is best for bulky items because it’s the least gentle. Permanent press is almost always the go-to, since it’s gentler but also effective at keeping wrinkles at bay. The delicate cycle should be reserved for, well, delicates. It’s great for embellished clothing as well as fine fabrics.
When in doubt, go cold—it’s more energy-efficient and less taxing on fabric. Separating lights from darks for fear of hot-water bleeding is an outmoded extra step, since most washing machines and detergents have been developed to perform well in cold water.
Now for the dryer
The highest heat setting, which is likely too hot for most clothing. It does work well, though, on heavy items like towels, denim and sweatshirts.
Speaks for itself, because it’s designed to reduce wrinkling with medium heat and a cool-down period at the end of the cycle. Pretty much all your clothes will thank you when you opt for this setting.
Is for delicates, since the low heat is gentle on clothing made of stretch and shrink-prone fabrics. This setting is also good for clothes that tend to retain smell (ahem, your kids’ gym clothes) because heat traps all that nasty in.
While this isn’t technically a dryer category, it is definitely worth using whenever possible. Air-drying is a fool-proof way to make sure clothes don’t shrink, trap in stink or become faded.
OxiClean Max Force spray is an oldie but goodie because it seriously works—on grass, wine, blood, dirt or virtually any other stain. Like any stain remover, though, it works best when applied right away.
Tide. The name is synonymous with laundry for a reason: It gets stains and odors out with ease, and comes in liquid for the purists, powder for the old-school laundry-doers and pods for the college kids.
Downy is another name that goes hand in hand with laundry. It’s powerfully soft and is iconic for being noticeably pleasant-smelling.
Favorite Natural Brands
If you’re looking for a good, green clean, go for Method, The Honest Company and Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day.
Set up a schedule and stick with it. Whether it’s every other day or every Tuesday, following a system will help you avoid a pileup.
A foolproof pitch-in plan
If laundry is still your personal solo project, it’s time to get everyone else to shoulder their own load. Here’s how: If they wore it or used it, it’s their responsibility to sort it. Once the laundry is dried and folded, everyone is obligated to put their share away—simple as that.
Teen tip: Get your teen in on the laundry game from start to finish, ‘cause college is coming, baby!
Clean the washing machine about once a month. Just run the washer empty, at a high temperature, with a cleaning fluid (such as vinegar or a commercial washing machine cleaner) instead of detergent.
Turn clothes inside out before washing just in case they’re prone to color fading or odor retention.
Unbutton your shirt before tossing it in the wash. The other clothes and the spin of the machine might rip buttonholes open if they’re closed.
Pin socks together with a safety pin before washing so you never lose one again.
Need to dry something lightning-fast? Throw a couple of clean dry towels into the dryer with it. The towels will absorb excess moisture, speeding up the process.
Hand-washing can be such a pain that you avoid buying items specifying this kind of care on their label. Life hack: Hand-wash in the shower with mild or baby shampoo, since you’re already going to get soapy. You can drape the cleaned clothes right over the curtain rod after wringing them out.