It's been a while since we met about laundry. It was so long I had to look back to remind myself what I was even calling these posts. We had quite a bout of influenza go around, and though we're not 100 percent, even one of us (except those who had a flu shot), we're almost there.
So, where were we? I think last time we chatted (or I chatted, you listened) it was about detergents. Oh yes, I remember -- that post I stressed about because "my way" is probably not also "your way." Well, the same goes for this post. We can chat about the possibilities, but you have to do the experimentation for yourself.
This post is about additives -- those chemicals you can add to your wash load to work with your detergent. Some boost the action of the detergent, some act on their own separate from the detergent.
VinegarPlain old, white, kitchen vinegar is a great laundry additive -- simple, inexpensive and ecological safe and sound. In the wash cycle, it boosts the whitening power of the detergent. In the rinse cycle it acts like fabric softener -- it helps rinse away residual soap and leaves clothes smelling very clean, and not a bit like vinegar. You can use 1/2 to one cup of plain white vinegar in either the wash or rinse cycle, but never add it to a load with bleach.
Chlorine BleachChlorine bleach is the strongest household bleach, but certainly not the only one. Chlorine bleach, when added to chlorine-safe clothes helps whiten and brighten, remove stains, and sanitizes. It has a very distinct scent, which I have found no amount of perfuming covers, and if you don't like it, there is not much you can do to completely remove it. Some people appreciate the "clean" smell, however, and I, for one, really don't mind it. It is strong smelling while wet, but I find by the time the clothes are dry, the smell is almost gone. Chlorine bleach, if used on chlorine-safe clothes in the proper concentrations should do very little harm to clothes. Some people claim chlorine bleach wears their clothes out quick, but I find that those clothes are usually the dirtiest clothes, and I blame the little knives of dirt embedded in the fabrics for wearing them out quicker. It could be, though, that an overuse of chlorine bleach is doing a number on the fabric as well, as I have certainly seen an intense accidental bleach spot on an item wear a hole right through it.
If you use chlorine bleach on your clothes, make certain it is adequately diluted before it touches the fabrics. Most newer washers have a separate dispensing cup for bleach which dispenses the bleach late in the wash cycle, for limited contact, and it runs into the machine with water to dilute it. Never dump undiluted bleach directly onto clothing even if they are sitting in a tub of still water. And never use chlorine bleach on clothes that are not known to be bleach safe. There have been some instances when I have bleached a brightly-color item, but only when the item is otherwise ruined by a stain and I have nothing to lose by bleaching it. I am often amazed that chlorine does not affect even the brightest article of clothing, but I wouldn't want to take a chance on an item that was perfectly good.
If you use chlorine bleach, definitely use it on your whites (undies and socks), and kitchen linens (take care if you use cloth napkins as many are not chlorine bleach safe, though I usually bleach them anyway and end up with faded napkins). Combined with hot or very warm water it does a great job whitening and sanitizing, though it can also be used effectively in a cold wash. I also use bleach on my towels every once in a while. Especially in the summer, when damp towels sometimes get sour, chlorine bleach freshens them right up.
Do not use chlorine bleach on delicate or aged fabrics.
Do not use chlorine bleach with any other additives, as chlorine bleach mixed with some other chemicals can cause toxic fumes. Only use chlorine bleach with plain laundry detergent -- detergents with whiteners and oxygen bleaches should be saved for wash loads without chlorine bleach.
Over bleaching can often cause yellowing. If your whites get yellow after a while there is not much you can do but replace them. That is why it is important to use only the recommended amount of bleach. If your machine does not have a dispenser, dilute the recommended amount of bleach in a container with water -- a designated measuring pitcher is good -- and add it after the clothes have been washing for about five minutes. Use about four cups of water for every half cup or so of bleach.
Just in case you are not a Latin scholar ;-), this t-shirt says "I love my mom."
I have never used ammonia in laundry but I know that in my mother's and grandmother's generations it was used often. It is an inexpensive detergent booster, but should never, ever be used with chlorine bleach because the combination will create toxic fumes.
Hydrogen peroxideThat brown bottle up in the medicine cabinet -- yes, it's a laundry additive. Hydrogen peroxide is one form of oxygen bleach and used with detergent (it's already diluted in the brown bottle) it can brighten delicate clothes and help remove stains. It's a very gentle laundry additive, so use it when other additives are too strong or not appropriate. It's a good idea to test it on an inconspicuous spot before you add it to a load of clothes. I keep an eye dropper in a drawer in the laundry room and one tiny drop of liquid can be placed on an inside hem and then rinsed off to see if it leaves a stain.
Oxygen bleachesOxygen bleaches, also called all-fabric bleaches, use hydrogen peroxide for the bleaching action. They also contain other additives, like surfactants and enzymes (we discussed them last time) to make the bleaching action more effective. I find that most oxygen bleaches (I personally use Chlorox 2) are good if you use them all the time, but if clothes have gotten past the clean point and crossed into dingy, oxygen bleaches don't help much. Thus, I use oxygen bleaches, in combination with borax and laundry detergent, in every load in which I have not used chlorine bleach.
Oxygen bleaches, unlike chlorine bleach, have limited effect under certain circumstances -- one of which is cold water. You are wasting your money adding oxygen bleach to a cold load because it needs very warm water to be really effective. Oxygen bleach also needs a longer contact with clothes than chlorine bleach, so it should be added to the load at the beginning of the wash cycle.
BoraxBorax is my favorite laundry booster for several reasons. First, it's cheap -- you get a long of bang for your buck from borax. Second, it allows me to use less detergent, thus saving money on a costly item. Third, it's gentle -- you don't have to worry about splashing it on an item and ruining it. That said, it should not be used on delicates and aged items because it really does boost the power of the detergent, making it harsher on dirt. It makes clothes more absorbent, allowing the detergent to penetrate and remove stains, and it acts as a sanitizer as well.
Borax is a great additive is you wash cloth diapers. It can be used in combination with bleach, though I don't think it's necessary unless you have really dirty clothes, like cloth diapers. Add some to your diaper soak cycle so it has extended contact with the diapers.
To make things easier "washer-side" I mix -- one to one -- borax with oxygen bleach (usually Clorox 2) in a container. When I throw a load in the washer, I use about a 1/2 cup scoop of my oxygen bleach/borax mixture with my laundry detergent -- about half of what the manufacturer recommends. This is where the science comes in and you should experiment yourself to see what quantities get you the maximum cleaning for with the least amount of product.
Washing SodaWashing soda is another "lots of bang for your buck" laundry additive. Unfortunately you don't find it in most grocery stores any more. I can find it in one local grocery store when I need to make homemade laundry soap, and it can be purchased online (it's not baking soda, even though Arm & Hammer produces it). Just make sure you're not spending a lot for it, because it is not an expensive product. If you have a farm supply store nearby, you might find it there. Washing soda, like borax, is a detergent booster and is great at cutting grease. You can use it directly on grease stains by making up a paste with a little bit of water and rubbing it directly on the clothing (use rubber gloves or a brush to apply the paste so you don't get your hands in it). Throw the item in the wash and add a little more washing soda to the wash cycle. Like borax, this additive makes the detergent work better, so it also makes the detergent more harsh -- don't use it on delicates.
BluingI bring up this detergent additive only to say that I have had limited success with it. I have tried to renew yellowed items with bluing, but end up with something in a yucky green tint instead. As I said before, when whites go yellow they really can only be replaced (or, of course, used in their yellowed state). If you do try bluing, make sure you add it diluted as recommend, otherwise you'll end up with blue spots on your clothes.
Pre-stain treatmentsThere are loads and loads of stain pre-treatment products on the market. This is one of those areas where you really have to find what works for your family's dirt. What my family has -- primarily food stains and outdoor dirt -- might not be what your family gets. You might need to keep more than one kind of pre-treatment product on-hand. I keep Oxy-Clean by the washer and only use it on really dirty spots (only because I don't examine every single item -- and we'll talk about this later when we talk about dryer usage). The thing to know about pre-treating spots is to use the right treatment for the right stain -- some need detergent-based treatment and some need solvent-based treatment -- it's a real chemistry experiment. It's a good idea to keep a chart near the washer for your most common stains.
On searching around on the internet, I found this great stain guide. While it's too long to keep by the washer, you might copy and paste onto a word document just the stain treatments which apply best to your family.
This guide offers the top ten stain removers and what stains they are best at -- good to know.
And this guide, provided by the Ohio Extension service, offers some great tips -- maybe something you can keep washer-side.
One thing to note when dealing with pre-treatment products: unless your product tells you specifically that you can apply it (like a stain stick) and then let it sit, your pre-treatment should be used just before you throw the item in the wash, otherwise you risk setting the stain or inviting a mildew stain on top of the stain already there.
"Lamps make oil-spots and candles need snuffing; it is only the light of heaven that shines pure and leaves no stain."-- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
To be continued...