Patric Richardson, laundry expert and founder of the blog Laundry Evangelist, joined staff writer Jura Koncius last week for The Washington Post’s Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.
Q: Is it better to use washer liquid, powder or pods in the washing machine? Do you recommend diluting detergents?
A: I prefer soap flakes, but use liquid if you don’t have them. I would never use laundry pods because they have way too much detergent for one load. I would use less product instead of diluting; use maybe three tablespoons for a very full load. I never use softeners because I don’t like what they do to clothes. When you use less detergent, you will find your clothes are naturally soft.
Q: How can I keep my white clothes looking bright without using bleach?
A: Use warm water and less detergent. Never use [chlorine] bleach, because it actually yellows white fabric. I like to pretreat the stains with a horsehair brush and some soap, so the soap has a little less to do.
Q: How do I wash my cashmere throw? Once washed, how do I create a flat drying surface?
A: It should be easy to wash; use natural soap, so you get a good rinse. If you want to put it in the washing machine, pack it tightly in a mesh bag and toss it in express wash on warm. The spin cycle should get it fairly dry, but if it’s in the sink, let it rest for a while and continue to drain on its own. If you wash it by hand, press it against the wall of the sink to get the extra water out, but don’t wring it. Lay it out to dry on a couple of towels.
Q: I don’t love ironing, but I have a few items of clothing that I love and that require ironing. The problem is that my iron (a basic model from Black & Decker that’s nearly 15 years old) has brown marks on the bottom and emits tiny grains of grit from the holes from which steam is supposed to come. Is this fixable at home? Or should I just buy a new one?
A: It is scorched starch on the bottom. Use a towel with some vinegar to remove that starch, and while you’re at it, run some vinegar through the iron to stop the spitting. To make the chore easier and more fun, I want to offer one more tip: Donna Summer and a spray bottle. If you use a spray bottle of water to make the fabric damp before you starch, the ironing will be easier, and I find that disco makes everything more fun.
Q: My towels often have a locker-room smell as I’m drying myself. They smell fine as I fold them from the dryer, but as soon as they’re exposed to water, they smell musty and fuggy. I have good-quality well water with no added chemicals.
A: Oil and bacteria from your skin are trapped in the towels. Try using less detergent, and use oxygen bleach and warm water. This is a common problem, and the moisture is what activates that musty odor. That’s why you don’t notice the smell when they’re dry.
Q: Is there a way to refresh my black clothes that are now closer to gray than black? Is there a way to wash them to prevent this to begin with?
A: The best way to prevent this is to use a shorter cycle. Warm water, express wash, cold rinse. If they have already faded to gray, the best trick I know is to use Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing. Use double the amount suggested.
Q: How would you launder and dry a dentist’s cotton scrubs, underwear and socks?
A: Wash them in a warm express cycle with soap and oxygen bleach. The soap will get them very clean, and the oxygen bleach will make them sterile.
Q: I have always added a healthy glug glug (very precise measurement) of white vinegar into my washer before every load. I believe it helps with colorfastness for dark loads and odor control for exercise clothes. I recently read that using vinegar can corrode the rubber flanges and gaskets on front-loaders. I have a non-agitator top-loader. What’s been your experience?
A: I love glug glug as a measurement. I am not concerned about the flanges, but I am concerned about when you’re using the vinegar. Vinegar cuts through soap and detergent, so when you’re adding it to the wash cycle, it’s canceling out the effectiveness of your soap and detergent. Use a short cycle with warm water to help with colorfastness. Add oxygen bleach to deal with the odor. If you live and die by vinegar, add it where you’d put fabric softener, so it comes out in the rinse cycle and doesn’t wreck your other products.
Q: We left our dog at home for a few hours for the first time in months, and she peed all over the area rug. We are having a hard time getting the odor out. What do you suggest?
A: Fortunately, this is super easy. Mix up a solution of sodium percarbonate (I use the Laundress Bleach Alternative) and warm water. Blot the stain until it’s saturated, and then blot with clear water until it’s rinsed. If you can take it outside, rinse with the hose. This won’t work on wool or silk. If the rug is wool or silk, douse with a serious amount of vodka, then rinse. It isn’t as great as the bleach alternative, but it will work, and it’s safe for the rug. When you’re done, pet the dog, because dogs are awesome.
Q: What is the best detergent to use when doing regular laundry that can’t be soaked but has the stains of life? Everyone seems to think Tide. Is that true?
A: I prefer soap flakes to detergent. I think that because they rinse completely clean, you get out more stains. If you want to use a commercial detergent, just use less. It seems counterintuitive, but less detergent will get you cleaner clothes because all the detergent will rinse out.
Q: What product do you recommend for washing cashmere sweaters and lingerie on the delicate cycle?
A: I love soap flakes for everything, including cashmere sweaters. I wash them in a mesh bag on the express cycle in the washing machine. If you don’t have access to soap flakes, use something very gentle, such as hosiery wash.
Q: What do you think of wool dryer balls and dryer sheets?
A: I love wool dryer balls. I love that they soften and that you can add essential oils to them for fragrance. I don’t like dryer sheets, because they soften by leaving a film on clothes. If you want to remove static, take a one-yard piece of aluminum foil and make a ball about the size of a tennis ball and leave it in your dryer. The static and chemicals will both be gone. When it gets about the size of a walnut, recycle and replace it.
Q: What’s the best way to clean a front-loading washer, and how often should I do that?
A: The best way is to use one gallon of cheap white vinegar and one pound of Borax. Dump them in the drum and run them on the longest, hottest cycle you have. As far as how often to clean, the more detergent you use, the more often you should do it. Anywhere from once every six months to once a year works. The other trick is to let your washer dry out when you’re not using it.
Q: How much detergent should I use for small, medium, large and extra-large loads for top-loading washers? For some reason, no popular detergent-maker provides this information; I can’t read the unintelligible lines on the caps.
A: The lines on the caps are hard to read. If you’re using a commercial detergent, I would recommend about three tablespoons for an extra-large load. That’s far less than the industry recommends, but I’ve tested it, and it’s more than enough to clean. Work your way down from there, and use 2 1/2 tablespoons for large loads, two tablespoons for medium and one for small loads. Don’t forget to use warm water.
Q: How do I clean the dirty cuffs of my husband’s silk down coat?
A: I would scrub the cuffs with vinegar and water to get any oils out, then wash the coat in soap. Never use detergent for down and silk. Hang it to dry.
Q: What’s the secret to washing smelly stuff?
A: Oxygen bleach is the secret. It lifts out all the oils and sweat without lifting out color. Use it with the tiniest amount of soap or detergent. Extra detergent can stay in your clothes, along with odor.
Q: Sometimes my clothes, especially T-shirts, come out of the dryer with dark stains on them. I set the dryer on delicate and use a Bounce dryer sheet. If I spray the stains and run the shirts back through the dryer, the stains disappear. What might be causing the stains?
A: Usually they’re sugar or oil stains that caramelize in the dryer; I call them phantom stains. To avoid this, I give clothes a spritz of vinegar and water before I put them in the washer.
Q: How can I wash and dry a wool mattress topper? I want it to come out looking fluffy and not like popcorn.
A: I would put it in a mesh bag. I always use mesh bags for wool to help hold the item’s shape.