Laundry 101: Why Cheap Detergent is Good and How to Decode Clothes Care Symbols | Fashion

DDespite the fact that most of us have to do laundry at least once a week, the right way to wash clothes sometimes seems shrouded in mystery. From the cryptic symbols on care labels to the long list of detergent ingredients, doing laundry can be quite confusing. This week, experts share their information on how we should wash our clothes.

What do these symbols mean

To begin, let’s decode the images on clothing care labels. Anything that looks like a bucket filled with water explains how to wash something; a square tells you how to dry something; an iron is good… ironing.

The dots inside the laundry symbols refer to heat, while the triangle symbol refers to the use of bleach and chlorine. Photography: Kinga Krzeminska/Getty Images

Some things are uniform across all these symbols: a cross means do not wash, dry or iron. The dots inside the symbol refer to heat: one dot is cold, two is hot, three is hot. For washing and drying, two lines under the symbol means to use a delicate cycle.

Often buckets have a numeric temperature instead of dots, which is pretty self-explanatory. Like some of the other symbols; for example, a bucket with one hand means hand wash. The meaning of the others is more opaque: a circle refers to dry cleaning while the letters inside tell dry cleaners what chemicals to use; two lines with a cross under an iron mean that there is no steam and finally, the triangles refer to bleach and chlorine.

Machine drying is symbolized by a circle inside the square. For natural drying, the squares have lines to illustrate how a garment should be positioned. Hang dry (a half circle from the top), drip dry (three vertical lines), dry flat (horizontal lines) and dry in the shade (three lines in the corner). A symbol that looks like a propeller means don’t twist.

Sort your clothes

Laundry guru and author Shannon Lush says she separates her laundry into five baskets: white, colorfast, red, black, and hand wash. Such sorting is important to prevent dyes from mixing during the wash and helps determine the cycle and water temperature to use.

Choose a detergent

According to Lush, “it doesn’t matter which washing powder or liquid detergent you use” because the difference between them is relatively superficial and often comes down to smell. She says you might as well buy “the cheapest detergent”.

Choose powder or liquid detergent depending on whether your machine is top-loading or front-loading. Consumer advocacy group Choice says powdered detergent is better for top loaders, while liquids work best in front loaders. If you are interested, they also have tested and graded the best laundry detergents on the market.

Do eco-detergents work?

The bad news is that eco-friendly detergents aren’t as effective as regular detergents. In fact, sometimes they’re only marginally better than plain water washing. Lush says that’s because eco-detergents “don’t break the surface tension of water either, which means water can’t get in to get stained and clogged.”

If you’re environmentally conscious, Choice says liquid detergents are generally more environmentally friendly. When it comes to packaging, there are more and more refillable liquid detergents available, both from some Coles and Woolworths branchesand online from Zero CO, Dirt, unwrapped, cove and more.

How much detergent should you use?

Another way to save the environment (and money) is to use less detergent in every wash. Through testing, Choice has found that most laundry detergents work just as well at half the recommended dose.

A glass bottle of white vinegar next to a glass jar of baking soda, with a wooden spoon filled with baking soda next to it.
Cleaning expert Shannon Lush recommends using less detergent, but adding baking soda and white vinegar to each wash. Photography: Gonzalo Calle Asprilla/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Due to a societal obsession with cleanliness and a misunderstanding of how soap works, Lush says almost everyone uses too much detergent. “It’s actually better to be sparing on soap because it cleans better,” she says, and it won’t leave powder or detergent residue on your clothes and towels.

Lush also has its own formula to improve your wash. If you have a top loader, she recommends using a quarter of what the laundry detergent instructions say, and if you have a front loader, use an eighth. Then add two tablespoons of baking soda to your washing powder or liquid and in the fabric softener slot put two tablespoons of white vinegar. “This formula means your clothes come out cleaner, stay clean longer, and dry a third faster,” she says. Another good tip is to skip the fabric softener because “it will damage your clothes, it’s basically oil.”

water temperature

Generally speaking, using lukewarm water in your laundry will clean your clothes better, but it requires more energy. Lush says that as a general rule, blood-heat water temperature (about 37°C) “is best because most fats and proteins will emulsify” at that temperature and, when is combined with the agitation of a washing machine, stains will come out easily. “If you use cold water, some things come out fine and some things don’t,” she says.

Other points to note: be careful not to wash blood stains with hot water as the stain will harden and become very difficult to remove. Use the same water temperature for washing and rinsing to prevent clothes from shrinking.

Hand washing

When washing things by hand, Lush says she uses the sink and cheap shampoo instead of laundry detergent. She dilutes “a very small amount of shampoo, just a teaspoon, in a sink of blood-heated water.” Immerse delicate garments, such as silk, “rub them and rinse them in water at the same temperature”. If you’re using this technique to wash woolen knits, make sure there’s no eucalyptus oil in the shampoo, as it will damage the fibers.

Clothes drying

It is always better to dry your clothes on a clothesline rather than using a dryer, as the heat and tumbling will cause your clothes to age. If you’re going to use a dryer, Lush says, “put a dry dish towel with what you’re drying.” This will speed up the drying process as it will distribute the water over a larger area. She also says it’s important not to overfill or underfill the dryer: underfilling puts pressure on your clothes, and overfilling means your clothes will take longer to dry.

Keep your machines clean

To keep your washing machine and dryer running smoothly, be sure to empty the filters after each wash. Dirty filters impede the operation of the machine and risk damaging your clothes or even starting a fire.

Finally, according to Lush, “you should have your washer and dryer serviced every 15 months” and your washer hoses changed every two years.

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