Housekeeping Tips Part 6: Laundry

by Judith C. Bettinger

As a friend of mine says, "Everyone needs a hobby - mine's laundry." Personally, I don't enjoy doing laundry, but since I have a small child, it's a major part of the housework. So, here are some of the things I do to make the task a little less tedious.

1. Scheduling

Here it is again! If you haven't noticed by now, I'm big on scheduling chores. I do laundry twice a week; once on Wednesday, which ends up being mostly clothing and once on Saturday, which is when I wash bath towels and change sheets. I fold and put things away the following day. As with my other chores, sticking to the schedule keeps the laundry from piling up. At worst, I usually only have to do two or three loads each time. For sheets and towels, I make sure that I have double sets of everything so that I don't have to wait until the laundry's done to re-make the beds.

2. Stain Removal

By far the biggest problem with my "hobby" is stain removal. Between food, garden soil, grass, and various art supplies, my daughter often ends the day looking like a living advertisement for a major national brand of laundry detergent. Add to this my husband's penchant for putting uncapped roller-ball pens into his shirt pockets, and stains can cause costly damage. Here are some things that help:

  • For general stain removal, I use a large spray bottle into which I put 1/2 cup each of Wisk, ammonia, and vinegar. I then fill the bottle to the top with water. Bottles of this concoction live in the laundry room and under the upstairs bathroom sink, which is next to the clothes chute. After I undress my daughter every night, I go over her clothes with the stain remover before I toss them down the chute.
  • If I catch the stain right away, "Goop" hand cleaner does a good job of removing roller-ball ink, which does NOT come out with rubbing alcohol or hair spray the way ballpoint ink will. I rub it into the stain with an old toothbrush, and then let it sit for several hours/days, and wash as usual. If it doesn't come out, I re-treat it until the stain is unnoticeable.
  • For ground-in garden dirt, 1/2 cup of sudsy ammonia added to the wash water is effective. It also removes greasy stains well. Of course, never do this with a load if you add bleach!
  • I try not to use a lot of bleach, because it's so hard on the clothes. But when the whites get to looking dingy, I'll wash them by themselves in hot water, and add 1/2 - 1/3 cup bleach to the wash. Bleach works better if you allow the machine to agitate for a few minutes with the plain detergent before adding the bleach. I dilute it with water before pouring it into the tub.

3. General Washing

To save money, I've tried every cut-rate detergent I could find. What I've found is that a lot of the really cheap ones just don't clean light-colored clothing very well. So, I compromise. For dark clothing, towels, and sheets, none of which really get that dirty-looking, I use the cheapest stuff I can find, which is generally Costco's house brand. For light-colored clothing, including my daughter's shirts and the like, I find that the Costco house brand with all-fabric bleach does a noticeably better job.

We live in a very dry climate, and static electricity is a real problem. During the winter, I add liquid fabric softener to the rinse. In the summer, a cup of vinegar in the rinse provides plenty of softening.

We have a large drying rack in our basement, and one outside. I use the indoor one during bad weather, and for small items that are bothersome to clip with clothespins. I always line-dry small items, and I try to hang sheets and towels outside whenever I can, rather than using the dryer; even if the weather is cold, they'll still dry on a sunny day.

4. Washing Diapers

To save money, I use cloth diapers for my daughter. Right at first, we had a diaper service, but I dropped it fairly early on because washing diapers really isn't a lot of trouble. My daughter is mostly toilet-trained now, so I only have to deal with one wet diaper per day now and the process is even simpler. The method I describe here is the one I used when she was in diapers full-time.

Bleach is a problem with diapers because it will cause them to fall apart if you use it consistently. But, in order to prevent diaper rash, you do need to kill the bacteria that can live in the diaper. My method follows.

  • I dumped the diapers into a pail with a lid. If there was a lot of poop on the diaper, I'd rinse it out in the toilet. Otherwise, I didn't bother. We used enough diapers that they didn't tend to stay around for long, and as long as the lid was on the pail, odor wasn't a problem.
  • I pre-rinsed the diapers and waterproof pants in the washer in warm water with 1/2 cup of borax.
  • I washed them in HOT water with regular detergent. The "baby" detergents are very expensive, and my daughter rarely had a problem with diaper rash, so I saw no reason to spend the extra money.
  • I added 1 c. vinegar to the rinse water. I just put it in the fabric softener dispenser. It helps to remove residue, and I was told that it would balance the pH properly.
  • When she was really really teeny, I'd do a second rinse, just to make sure all the detergent was gone. This became unnecessary as she got a bit older.
  • I dried the diapers in a hot dryer, or in the sun. I hung the waterproof pants on the line. (Incidentally, the nylon taffeta ones last 10 times longer than the plastic kind.)
  • Occasionally, if the diapers got to looking dingy or stained, I'd add about 1/3 cup bleach to the wash water. When I bleached, I'd always double rinse.

5. Time-savers

Finally, here's a little tip that has saved me some time: I found several packages of "sock locks" at a garage sale. I keep these in little bins in our bedroom and in the bathroom by the clothes chute. When we take our socks off at the end of the day, we put them in the locks before we toss them down the chute. Now I don't have to go through the tedious process of sorting socks. It's also easier on the top elastic than rolling them into balls. I've since seen sock clips or locks in several mail order catalogs and at variety stores like K-Mart.

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