Although it’s tempting just to pop all your dirty clothes in the washing machine, turn the thing on, and call it a day, there are certain rules you must follow to avoid damaging your clothes (or your washing machine). Some, you probably know and follow, like hand-washing things like hosiery and bathing suits which are prone to pilling and snags. But there are lesser known items that shouldn't go into the wash, either. Read on to find out what they are, plus, alternative ways to clean each one.
The movement of a washing machine can cause memory foam to weaken or even break into pieces, so it’s best to avoid machine-washing solid foam pillows. (Certain shredded memory foam pillows can be machine-washed, but only if it says so on the care label.)
Do this instead: Because memory foam is naturally hypoallergenic and dust-mite resistant, these pillows stay clean longer than traditional down-filled ones. Carolyn Forte from the Good Housekeeping Institute recommends cleaning foam pillows once or twice a year in a large sink or bathtub filled with water and a hypoallergenic, perfume-free detergent. After cleaning and rinsing the pillow thoroughly, gently squeeze it to remove excess water (but avoid wringing to maintain its shape), and air-dry it in a well-ventilated area.
Anything covered in pet hair
Pet hair can be a real doozy to remove from clothing—but placing pants covered in Fido’s fur in the washing machine will only make matters worse. Wet pet hair can clump and adhere to clothing, stick to the sides of a washing-machine drum, or even clog the machine’s drain pipes, making it less efficient over time.
Do this instead: Remove pet hair before popping it in the washer. First, use a lint roller or masking tape to pull off loose hairs. (Don’t have either of those on hand? Put on a rubber glove, dampen it with water, and run your hand over the item.) If pet hair remains, try running the clothing through a short, low- or no-heat dryer cycle, along with a dryer sheet. Hairs loosened from the motion of the dryer will wind up in the lint trap. After that, clean the item as directed on its care label.
Haphazardly dropping bras in the washing machine is the quickest way to turn them from cute and supportive to pilled, misshapen, and stretched-out. Not to mention, unfassened bra hooks can snag other clothing or get caught in your machine’s cylinder or agitator (the rotating pole running down the center of some machines).
Do this instead: Hand-washing is the gold standard here. Use cold water and a small amount of a mild liquid detergent designed for use with delicates. After cleaning and rinsing thoroughly, gently squeeze out excess water to avoid damaging the fabric. If you’re tight on time, there are ways to machine-wash bras—but only if you take special precautions. Be sure to clasp bras so that the hooks are less likely to catch on other items, and choose cold water to reduce the chance of shrinkage. “If you have a front-loader or a top-loader without an agitator, you can place bras in a garment bag and select the gentlest cycle,” Forte says. “Whether you machine-wash or hand-wash, though, you should always air-dry to avoid destroying your bras’ elastic in the heat of your dryer.”
Anything with a flammable stain
Keep anything with a flammable stain (think: petrol, motor or cooking oil, paint thinner, alcohol) away from your washing machine, and especially your dryer. “The high heat of the laundering process could cause the clothing to combust, which could spark an explosion,” says Forte. Not to mention the potential for flammable residue to buildup in your machine.
Do this instead: Spot-treat the stain with a solvent-based stain remover, and it let sit for at least ten minutes. If the odour from the stain subsides, it’s okay to machine-wash the item at this point, so long as you wash it alone (to avoid the risk of the stain transferring) and hang dry afterward. Otherwise, it’s always a safe bet to hand-wash the item in hot water—the heat will help pull out the stain—with liquid detergent, and then hang dry.
Anything lace or embroidered
Delicate items with beading or embroidery shouldn’t be washed in the machine because the movement can destroy the detailing. This is particularly the case for items with embellishments glued, rather than sewn, on (check for stitches), as those pieces are all the more likely to fall off in the wash. Another item that needs extra TLC: items made with lace. The material can be ripped or torn should it come into contact with clothing that has buttons, snaps, hooks or zippers.
Do this instead: Your best bet here is hand-washing—with one exception. If the item’s care label says “Dry Clean” or “Dry Clean Only,” bring it to a reputable cleaner and ask them to cover the embellishments with foil or cloth. This way they won’t be damaged by the chemical solvents used in the dry cleaning process.
Extra large items
“If it doesn’t fit with room to move, don’t put it in,” Forte says. “Without space for the item to move around and for detergent to circulate throughout the drum, the item isn’t going to clean well.” Overloading your washing machine with a queen- or king-sized comforter or duvet, for example, could cause the item to get tangled. This could break the agitator in a top-loader or throw a front-loader’s rotating drum out of alignment.
Do this instead: If you find yourself pushing and shoving to fit an item in your machine, you’re better off bringing it to a laundromat and using one of the triple- or mega-load washers. Another option: Head to a dry cleaner, and ask if they can wash the item in a commercial-sized machine, which most cleaners have on-site. While you could also get the item dry-cleaned, it’s best to avoid that route if your comforter is made of down or other natural fibres, which can be degraded by harsh dry-cleaning solvents.
Anything made from wool, velvet, or cashmere
These delicate, all-natural fabrics are no match for the abrasive motion of your washing machine—which can cause them to appear pilled, matted, or misshapen after just a single wash. Or even worse, shrink them. (Yes, that’s right! Not all shrinking happens in the dryer.)
Do this instead: If the dirty item is colourfast—meaning, it will hold its colour in water—you should hand wash it. (Tip: Check for colourfastness by dampening a part of the fabric near a seam and dabbing with a white cloth. If the cloth shows colour, the item is not colourfast, and you should have it dry cleaned instead.) After dissolving a gentle detergent in a sink filled with warm water, immerse the item fully, Forte instructs. Move it around so it becomes covered by suds. After 10 to 15 minutes of soaking, drain the soapy water and remove the item. (Forte suggests putting it in a colander temporarily so it doesn't drip on the floor.) “Then, fill the sink with cold, clear water and submerge the clothing to rinse,” she says, “as opposed to holding it under the tap while water runs over it,” which won’t effectively remove soap residue. Afterward, squeeze to remove excess water, but avoid wringing, which could misshape the item. Roll in a towel to dry, and then lay on a drying rack or another dry towel, Forte suggests.
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