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Rich Handel, a Consumer Reports test engineer and clothes-washing aficionado, explains why he’d never use fabric softener or strip his laundry
By Angela Lashbrook
My parents made me do laundry from an early age, but that doesn’t mean I did it well. I regularly washed stained clothes without removing the stain, left my clothes in the washer for hours (a recipe for mold), and filled detergent cups to the brim. Suffice to say, my clothes did not get properly clean, and I can’t believe my parents’ machine lasted as long as it did. After testing hundreds of washing machines, Rich Handel, a test engineer at Consumer Reports, is now a laundry virtuoso, so I asked him about the mistakes he never makes when doing laundry. To keep your linens bright and your washer and dryer chugging along happily into old age, following Rich’s lead is a good place to start.
1. Use Fabric Softener
“I’d never use fabric softener—it’s a waste of money. Not only can it irritate sensitive skin, but it can also leave a layer of residue on your clothes and reduce the absorption of your towels.”—Rich Handel
Who doesn’t want soft clothes? A warm T-shirt pulled from the dryer after tumbling through the washer with liquid fabric softener looks and feels great—soft, wrinkle-free, and cozy. But it’s not worth it. Fabric softener can create residue in your washing machine and contribute to mold growth (yuck), and over time can even make bedding and clothing more flammable. Dryer sheets may be somewhat better than liquid softener, but they can still add a residue that reduces the effectiveness of your dryer’s moisture sensor, so you’re better off ditching those, too.
2. Strip Laundry in the Bathtub
“I wouldn’t strip my laundry in the bathtub. You can get the same results with your washing machine with a lot less work and mess. Just use the extra rinse, or rinse-and-spin cycle, without detergent to help remove any extra debris from your clothing.”—R.H.
During the early days of the pandemic, when even the local laundromat portended potential doom, I washed all my laundry in the bathtub. It’s not an experience I ever hope to replicate. With the exception of the occasional dress or sweater that can’t go in the machine, I’ll happily follow Rich’s advice and never bother with laundry stripping, which involves soaking your laundry in the tub before throwing it in the wash.
The process can damage some fabrics and remove dye but, most importantly, is a big waste of time. Avoiding debris buildup on your clothes in the first place will keep your clothes from needing an extra rinse. If your clothes are especially dirty or have residue on them anyway, do a rinse-and-spin or soak-and-spin cycle before your regular wash, instead.
3. Use Too Much Laundry Detergent
“I’d never use more than the minimum amount of laundry detergent for most medium loads. Now that detergent is concentrated, using too much can leave residue on your clothes. Save your money and use the minimum amount."—R.H.
Most people use twice the amount of laundry detergent than necessary. Using too much detergent not only drains your pocket book—it can build up in your machine (and, as noted previously, lead to mold), prolong your machine’s rinse cycle, and even cause rashes and itchy skin. Picking the right kind of detergent for your machine and following the instructions on the back of the bottle, instead of relying on the markers on the bottle’s measuring cup, can help you avoid this issue.
4. Put Stained Clothing in the Dryer Until The Stain Is Removed
“I’d never put stained clothes into the dryer until I’m 100 percent sure the stain is out. The heat from the dryer sets the stain and you lose your chance to get that stain out.”—R.H.
As someone who seems chronically incapable of cooking without splattering myself with olive oil, soy sauce, or wine, this tip from Rich is one that has saved several items in my closet. Heat is not your friend if your clothes are stained, so always treat the stain first. Different types of stains require different treatments, so check out CR’s ultimate stain removal guide for more thorough instructions. (I’ve bookmarked it.)
5. Overstuff the Washing Machine
“I’d never overstuff my washing machine. It doesn’t allow the clothes and the detergent to circulate. Same for the dryer—overstuffing it doesn’t allow the air to circulate among the load.”—R.H.
You’re in a rush, you have to wash the duvet cover and all your sweatshirts, and after an incident in the kitchen, you’re all out of dish towels. Been there! But patience is a virtue if you want all your clothes and linens to get truly clean. Overloading your machine can knock it around and even break it in severe instances. The increased friction from all those clothes in close quarters can also wear on the fabrics and shorten their life span. If you have to force the door on your machine shut, you know you’ve gone too far—so save the duvet cover for another load.
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