Learning to do your own laundry is a rite of passage. But let’s face it: almost everyone has faced a common laundry woe. Ever mixed your brights and whites and ended up with pink socks? Experienced a honey-I-shrunk-the-shorts? Forgot that your wallet was still in the pocket of your jeans? We’ve all been there.
There are a lot of do’s and don’ts to doing laundry but luckily, there is a laundry list (pun intended) of things you should never put in the washing machine. Like, ever. I spoke to Leanne Stapf, vice president of operations at cleaning franchise The Cleaning Authority (and expert in stain removal, fabric content, and cleaning), and with Jon Chan, Reviewed’s senior lab technician, washer and dryer tester, and general laundry expert, to get the low-down on the things that should never, ever enter your laundry room.
“Many suits are made of high-quality fabrics that can either shrink or tear, even in a delicate cycle,” says Stapf. If you want to stay looking dapper like Suits' Rachel Zane and Mike Ross, bring it to the dry cleaner. In between dry cleaner drop-offs, use a steamer to de-wrinkle your suit.
All that glitters...shouldn’t go in the washing machine. “Embellishments that are sewn on can easily tear in the washer and, if they are glued, the intensity of the hot water can break down the adhesive,” says Stapf. “Hand-washing is the safest choice and will keep you sparkling.”
Okay, don’t worry: you can put your jeans, button-downs, and other clothes with zippers and buttons in the wash...as long as you do it the right way. Zip the zippers all the way to avoid snagging on delicate clothing or scratching the inside of your washing machine, says Stapf. And unbutton all buttons—if you don’t, the buttonholes can tear and the buttons can get damaged.
Hand-wash your swimsuits in warm water to keep them in shape for many beach days to come. “Putting swimsuits in the machine can make them lose elasticity much quicker as the material is usually non-resistant to heat,” says Stapf. After hand-washing your swimsuits, hang them to dry instead of putting them in the dryer.
We might have finally solved the mystery of your missing socks (you’re welcome!): your washing machine could be the guilty party. “Small items like socks, baby clothes, and even small washcloths can get stuck in a washing machines hoses and vents,” says Stapf. Put small items in an enclosed mesh bag so no sock is left behind, or do things the old-fashioned way and hand-wash your small items.
Some people think that more soap equals cleaner clothes—but that's just not true. In fact, adding more detergent could even ruin your clothes. “If you add too much detergent, it won't get washed out, leaving your laundry covered in soapy residue,” says Chan. "Most liquid detergent bottles have recommended dosage levels inside the cap. However, a good rule of thumb is to never use more than a third of a cap full."
Washing your bra in the washer can cause it to twist out of shape quickly. Plus, “if your bra becomes unfastened [in the washer], the hooks can get caught in the cylinder of the machine or may snag other clothing in the wash, resulting in tears and rips,” says Stapf. You are better off hand-washing bras, putting them in a lingerie bag before tossing them into the washer, or using your salad spinner to wash them (yes, really).
Keep your cozy throw blankets in good shape for Netflix marathons. Many throw blankets are, surprisingly, dry clean only, so always check the tag first. “If you put it in the wash, the blanket may lose the soft feel or it could shrink, depending on the material,” says Stapf.
While you can wash some sneakers in the washer, running shoes with leather are never washer-safe. "You shouldn't wash anything with leather accents because it has a tendency to peel off," says Chan." Instead, "try to scrub the stubborn dirt off with a toothbrush and anti-grease soap like Dawn instead,” says Stapf.
If you have an item that’s coated in excessive amounts of pet hair, don’t just toss it into the washer. “Wet fur can clump together and stick to the sides of the machine, get on other clothing items, or even clog the drain pipes,” says Stapf (yuck!). Instead, use a lint roller to rid your clothes of as much pet hair as possible before you put them in the washing machine.
“People do actually add extra water to their washer's cycles because they think they'll get a better clean,” says Chan. But he explains that adding more water can the detergent to get diluted and it can cause top loaders to become unbalanced and tip over. Say no to extra H2O.
Sweaters made of materials like wool, velvet, or cashmere can easily get ruined in the wash. “The delicate fabrics can’t withstand the harsh motions of a washing machine and may turn out matted or smaller. Try using a mesh laundering bag to help reduce the amount of friction the fabric is exposed to, and don’t forget to always air dry,” says Stapf. When in doubt check the care instructions or send them to the dry cleaner.
“Lace is fragile and the net-like patterns are often thin, so it’s no surprise that these garments don't hold up well in the washing machine,” says Stapf. “These intricate clothes are best cleaned by hand. Use cold water and avoid heavy scrubbing because if you wanted a hole, you could have just used the washing machine,” she says. If you are a rebel and put your lacy items in the wash, make sure to put them in a mesh lingerie bag so they don’t snag and tear, and hang dry them instead of putting them in the dryer.
If you accidentally spilled coffee when you were running to a meeting or spilled some wine on your tie during happy hour, don’t fret. “In general, it’s best to spot-treat ties and avoid putting them in the washing machine because of their delicate fabrics and detailed stitching,” says Stapf. “But if your tie needs a deep clean, you can either hand-wash it or have it dry cleaned.”
Keep your memory foam pillow in good shape for countless nights of counting sheep. “Most memory foam pillows have an open-cell structure that will turn them into soggy bricks if soaked in water, and they might fall to pieces after getting subjected to a spin cycle,” says Chan. You can spot clean them if necessary, but never toss them in the washing machine.
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