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How to Wash Clothes - Make Whites, White and Colors Bright!

Updated on January 08, 2017

Oh, My, it's So Clean!

Don't assume you're the only person that can't seem to figure out how to get your clothes really clean. Nobody has a corner on the clean clothes market. Just a few tips and you'll be a proud clothes washer too! I had the same thoughts many years ago. Back, when I first started doing my laundry, there was no internet to rely on for help. We learned by word of mouth, or trial and error (too much bleach will actually dissolve clothing :( ).

After years of being a housewife, and mother, I finally mastered clothes washing. Nothing can get by me now! I have laundered clothes for busy friends and they tell me they feel like they're straight out of a television commercial. They suddenly notice how white or clean smelling their clothes are and they stop their work and take a closer look in amazement just like on the old television commercials.

I always enjoy hearing that. Now you can too. I'm going to share my tried and true methods here with you today! Your whites will actually be white (no dull grey's here) and your colors will be nice and bright. You'll be producing the cleanest laundry around!

Place Winner
Product Name
Place Winner
Product Name
1st
ALL
6th
Purex
2nd
Arm & Hammer
7th
SA8
3rd
Cheer
8th
Seventh Generation
4th
Gain
9th
Tide
5th
Method
10th
Win

Laundry Detergent

Laundry detergent, this is the one and only part of laundering I won't scrimp on. Your detergent has to be a good one or forget getting clothes clean as they can be.

I know the choices are staggering; Gain, Tide, Cheer, Purex, Arm & Hammer, All, etc... You only need one, so which one? Consumer Reports conducted testing on the different types and brands of detergent. You can find the report here and how they placed in the box to the right.

I was surprised to see Tide came in at ninth place! It's not my detergent of choice, and I guess not anyone else's either, but I thought they would rank higher than ninth place in a test. I have been an ALL launderer for years and I am pleased to see they took first.

Besides all the brand names to choose from, you have liquid or powder, high efficiency or standard, concentrated or double concentrated, scented or non-scented. I would recommend alternating weekly between the first five choices given above: All, Arm & Hammer, Cheer, Gain and Method and their various alternatives IE: liquid, concentrate, etc... Be sure to do a load of colors and a load of whites with each detergent.

  • What you want is a detergent that dissolves easily and completely.
  • Upon pulling a load from the washing machine the colors should appear bright still.
  • Socks pulled from the washer should NOT have footprints on the bottom still (unless they are heavily soiled. More on that later).
  • After handling the clothes from the washing machine, your hands should not have a residue on them that you feel you need to rinse off.

After several loads of laundry you will find one that you prefer. Just make sure it is one of the top brands, it DOES make a difference.

I find that I switch between two branks: ALL and Arm & Hammer. Arm & Hammer usually runs a little bit cheaper than ALL, but I like to change brands every other box to avoid build up of the one type.

Know Your Washer

Let's take a look at the washing machine and the options available to you on it. The photo is a standard washing machine. Washing machines may have the buttons and knobs lined up different than in the picture, but it's all relatively the same. You'll have options for:

  • Water temperature
  • Size of the load (how much clothing you will be putting into that wash cycle)
  • And what kind of clothing is being washed

Washing Machine Knobs and Dials

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Typical washing machine.The main dial. This is where you tell the machine what is being washed: A normal load of jeans and such or a load of delicate items such as silk shirts and dresses.How large is the load you're washing? A small load might be socks and undergarments. A large load would be several pairs of jeans, several shirts and maybe a jacket or heavy sweaters.Cycle Signal alerts you when a cycle is complete so you can add a liquid softener like Downey.This dial set's the temperature of the water for the wash and then the rinse cycle.
Typical washing machine.
Typical washing machine. | Source
The main dial. This is where you tell the machine what is being washed: A normal load of jeans and such or a load of delicate items such as silk shirts and dresses.
The main dial. This is where you tell the machine what is being washed: A normal load of jeans and such or a load of delicate items such as silk shirts and dresses.
How large is the load you're washing? A small load might be socks and undergarments. A large load would be several pairs of jeans, several shirts and maybe a jacket or heavy sweaters.
How large is the load you're washing? A small load might be socks and undergarments. A large load would be several pairs of jeans, several shirts and maybe a jacket or heavy sweaters.
Cycle Signal alerts you when a cycle is complete so you can add a liquid softener like Downey.
Cycle Signal alerts you when a cycle is complete so you can add a liquid softener like Downey.
This dial set's the temperature of the water for the wash and then the rinse cycle.
This dial set's the temperature of the water for the wash and then the rinse cycle.

Washing Machine Cycles - See it Work

Blood

When you have blood on clothing rinse it under cold water immediately! If it is dried blood, soak in cold water. Then, use an old tooth brush and toothpaste and scrub the spot. Flip the garment and scrub the other side of the spot. Run cold water on it, and scrub some more. If it's a silk or soft material I will use my fingernail to scrape the material until the stain comes out. Be patient and keep working the spot. It will eventually come out. Cold water is the key here. If it's been through the wash already you may not be able to completely remove it, so make sure you check your clothes before putting them in the wash.

Separate the Clothes

Separate white and colored clothes
Separate white and colored clothes

So Many Detergents, So Little Time!

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Separate Whites from Darks

Before loading the washing machine, separate the whites from the dark clothing. If you want whites to be white do not put them in with the dark clothing. If your socks are particularly dirty put them in a load of their own. Or, better yet, run them through a wash cycle alone. More on filthy socks below.

At one time I would separate white, light colors and dark colors, but not anymore. The light colors and the dark colors were so small it really didn't make a difference if they were washed together, so I've been washing them together for years now.

I wash the colors first merely because if I wash the whites first, bleach will be introduced into the washing machine and when I put the colored items in, they may be affected by the bleach from the previous load of whites, so I don't take a chance, I wash colors first.

The table below will give you a good idea of the different settings that work well together.

Washing Machine Settings

Option
Set On
Explanation
Load Size
According to how full you stuff the washer with clothes.
Too many clothes with too little water will leave them dirty with soap residue. Too much water is a waste.
Water Temperature
Whites = Warm or Hot, Colors = Cold
Hot breaks down the oils that make whites off white. Cold for color because clothes don't care if the water is warm.
Wash Cycle
Durable = Jeans, shirts, jackets, Delicate = undergarments
Durable wash cycle agitates aggressively and faster than the delicate cycle. Undergarments need a gentle cycle otherwise they may be stretched or torn.

Cycles of a Clothes Washing Machine

Cycle
Action
 
Wash Cycle
This is the first cycle when the tub is filled with water and agitation begins.
 
Rinse
The rinse cycle is just that. The tub drains the dirty water out and disperses water over the clothes with a gentle spin or agitation.
 
Spin
After the clothes have rinsed this is when the machine begins spinning the tub at a high rate of speed. Most washers shut off the spin cycle automatically when you open the lid.
 
2nd Rinse and Spin
This is when you want to add a liquid softener if you so choose.
 
Your particular washer may use different terminology, but the sequence of actions run the same.

Second Rinse Softener

If you like to use Downey, or a similar second rinse softener, then you will need to turn the cycle signal knob to the on position or check back with the washer in 15-20 minutes to see if the dial has turned to second rinse.

When it does go to second rinse, while the washer is filling with water again, pour the second rinse softener into the tub at that time, close the lid and let the machine finish the wash.

Softener Dispensor

There's a gadget that is just for second rinse softeners. It's a ball that you fill with softener and place it in the wash with your clothes. The ball releases the softener during the wash cycles so you don't have to add it later!

Start Your Load

You have your detergent, your clothes are separated, now it's time to start a load.

  1. Scoop the recommended amount of soap for the size of your load. The recommendations table is on the clothes detergent box usually or on the underside of the top of the box.
  2. Set the dials on the machine for the load size, temperature and wash cycle as described above. Remember to set the cycle alert if you want to put a second rinse softener in.
  3. The on off switch for the washing machine is the Cycle Settings knob: push to start, pull to stop. Push it in so the water begins filling the tub.
  4. Fill the washing machine with the clothes and close the lid.
  5. When the washer alerts you that a cycle is complete check to make sure it's going into the second rinse cycle, fill the cap of the second rinse softener and pour it in. Some machines have a softener dispenser you can use.
  6. Close the lid and allow the machine to continue it's cycles.

You've just washed your first load of colors! Congratulations!

Washing White Clothes

White's are just a little different from colors just because you need to add bleach. Most machines have a bowl to pour the bleach into and the washer will disperse it in the water, and some don't. Either way I prefer to:

  1. Set the dials for load size and regular wash cycle and start the hot water (warm if the clothes aren't very dirty) in the tub before I put anything in.
  2. Then I pour the recommended amount of detergent into the tub.
  3. Next I add the recommended bleach through the bleach bowl in the washer or (if not equipped with one) pour it directly into the tub while it's filling with water. This way the bleach isn't going directly on clothes, which would leave serious white spots all over them. And the other reason is the detergent has a chance to mix with the bleach before your whites are introduced.
  4. Close the lid and let the machine wash the clothes.
  5. If you are using a second rinse softener add it when the machine signals its cycle for the second rinse.

If you have particularly dirty socks, or rags, follow the procedure below (assuming a small load of whites):

  1. Set dials to small load, and hot water.
  2. Pour in detergent and bleach as recommended for a small load (Sometimes a scoop of baking soda helps to get the filth out).
  3. Put the filthy's in the washtub after it's almost full.
  4. When the water stops filling, allow to agitate the filthy's for a minute or so.
  5. Pull the Cycle Settings knob to turn the washer off.
  6. Leave the filthy's to soak fifteen to twenty minutes.
  7. After they have soaked, push the Cycle Settings knob to start wash again, but leave the lid open.

When the machine is done agitating and draining, it will not go into the spin cycle with the lid open, that's what you want. Agitating and draining takes about 10-15 minutes. When the machine stops because the lid is open:

  1. Pull the Cycle Settings knob out to turn the machine off.
  2. Turn the dial back to the start position.
  3. Load the rest of the whites into the washer.
  4. Add just a half of what is recommended for a small load and no bleach (there's enough left in the fabric of the filthy's).
  5. Turn the Cycle Setting knob back to start and push it in to restart the wash which now has all the whites in it, but the filthy's have been pre-washed.

Now you've done a load of whites! Now let's put them in the dryer.

Drying Clothes

This is the easy part.

Load the clothes from the washing machine into the dryer. Avoid putting anything really delicate in the dryer such as: laced undergarments, slips, bras, athletic supports, delicate sweaters, etc. Even on the gentle settings a dryer can ruin these items. The clip on bra's will catch and tangle with other items. When it tangles everything becomes a huge, stretched, mess. The heat can be hotter than you expect in the dryer. Elastic doesn't hold up well in the heat. It will quickly break down. You can reduce the life of a good bra from 3 years to 6 months just by tossing it in the dryer weekly. Delicate's like those mentioned above air dry very quickly, so don't take a chance by putting them into the dryer.

Most driers have heat settings that range from air to high heat, it depends on what you're drying. Jeans, shirts and jackets can all go under High Heat, Tumble Dry. Lace, delicate blouses and such should be set on Low Heat. Some dryers have a timed dry as well. You set the amount of time you think it will take to dry the clothes. For example, if the drier is filled with heavy fabric items, then forty (40) minutes is a good amount of time to dry them. If there's just a few blouses then fifteen (15) minutes, on medium heat, would do fine.

Colors and whites can go into the dryer at the same time. Throw in some softener sheets and push the ON button to start the dryer.

Now you've dried your laundry too! Congratulations again!

Clothes Dryer Settings

Dryer Settings Dial
Dryer Settings Dial
Choose the temperature and set the Stop Alert for when laundry is done.
Choose the temperature and set the Stop Alert for when laundry is done.

Pull Them Out!

When the dryer turns off immediately pull the clothes out and either fold them if you have time, or at least, lay them out flat so they won't wrinkle.

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