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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Choosing the Tools and Finishing the Job

By Dr. Laundry June 5, 2006

Step 2: Products

You wouldn’t try to bake a cake or fix a car without the proper tools – laundry should be seen in the same way. A lot of us just use the products our mom or last roommate used for doing our laundry. However, there are many options out there for detergents and additives – do you know what you’re putting in that washer?  

Detergent – Two types; liquid and powder. 


  • Liquids are easier to use, cost slightly more and can be used to pretreat problems.

  • Powders clean soils/dirt better but you need to make sure the powder gets dissolved.  If not, you will find the leftovers stuck to the dried clothes, usually most visible on the darker colors. 

  • Make sure the detergent contains enzymes which help get out stains.  If you’re sensitive to fragrances, try the Free (no dyes or fragrance) version.


Bleach – Oh boy, there are several options here. I’ll get more into the other kinds of bleach in detail on another post – it could take awhile to get all the information out. Of course I am partial to the old reliable – Clorox Regular-Bleach. 

  • Clorox Regular-Bleach for white and bleachable items only.  The easiest way to use bleach is to add it to the bleach dispenser that adds the bleach at the bottom of your washer.  Always add the bleach and detergent as the washer is filling and BEFORE you add the clothes. 

  • Consider the Clorox Bleach Pen Gel for treating mostly whites (stripes or prints).  With the Bleach Pen you control where you want the bleach to go.  Use the scrubber tip to jump-start stain removal then toss in the washer with your white or mostly-white load. 

  • For colors, there are color-safe bleaches that are available in liquid or powder forms. Use these products, like Clorox 2 Bleach for Colors, to help remove stains/soils and brighten colors.


Fabric Softener – Two options (liquid or sheets) are available to leave clothes feeling softer, help eliminate static cling and leave a lingering scent in your clothes.  Add the liquid to the fabric softener dispenser.  It will be added in the final rinse after the cleaning has been completed.  The dryer sheets will give less softening than the rinse-added version.

Step 3: Deal with problem stains & soils ASAP

Tackle stains with a pretreater or stain remover before laundering. This allows you to use concentrated product and jumpstart the removal.  Pretreat problems with liquid detergent (apply, rub in, let set 3-5 minutes) or special pretreater products.  If unsure whether product is safe to use on item, do a quick pretest (check label) or apply drop in hidden spot (like inside seam), wait 1-2 minutes, then blot with damp cloth/towel.  Air dry and check for discoloration. If none, then product should be safe to use on item.

Step 4: Ahh…to wash with hot or not to wash with hot

Choosing the right setting is key.  Check care labels on clothes before putting them into the washing machine. Use the warmest water recommended for the fabric to wash. Always use HOT for whites; light and dark colors should be warm or Permanent Press; delicates if not hand washed should only be done on DELICATE.  Add the proper amount of detergent to the dispenser or to bottom of washer as the water is filling and BEFORE you add the clothes. If using bleach, it’s best to pour it into the machine’s bleach dispenser, which adds it at the bottom of the machine, while water is filling, and helps to dilute it and disperse it more thoroughly. If you don’t have a bleach dispenser, let the water fill ¼ to 1/3 in the machine; add the detergent and bleach; swish the agitator to help mix and disperse then drop in your clothes.

An Ick Tip:

Do you know who used that washer before you at the Laundromat?  I know, gross, right? Always do the white load with disinfecting bleach first.  It will disinfect your white laundry, take care of anything the last person left behind, and keep from adding germs to the rest of your loads.

Step 5: DryCheck all stained fabrics as you transfer them into the dryer for successful removal. Once a garment has been dried, the stain may be permanent, because a dryer can “cook” stains into fabric. 

Want to save some energy and improve the way your fabrics look when dried?

For best results try and keep similar weight materials in the same load and do not overload the dryer. 

And don’t forget the hangers!  To get the most from those wrinkle-free and permanent press finishes, items should be removed while slightly damp and place on hangers to dry. 

Step 6: Fold and Put AwayStart folding IMMEDIATELY.  You will get fewer wrinkles and things are ready to be put away when you’re finished. Do I sound like your mom yet?

I’ll get into more details on bleach insights in my future postings! Stay tuned for more information and in the meantime, I look forward to hearing your questions and thoughts.