Many of us have just been getting on with the laundry for years – but are we always doing it in the best possible way?
For example, new research shows clothes last longer and shed fewer microfibres in quicker, cooler washing cycles.
"Consumers claim their clothes can lose their fit, softness and colour after fewer than five washes – this means it’s more likely they will ditch them long before they are worn out. Using shorter, cooler washes is a simple way everyone can make their clothes last longer and keep them out of landfill," says Lucy Cotton, who led the joint Leeds University/Procter & Gamble.
A cooler wash is better for the planet too – separate research by the Energy Saving Trust found washing at 30°C rather than 40°C reduces energy consumption by 57% per cycle.
But, as well as doing cooler washes, what else should we know about the best ways to wash and dry fabrics? Here are some tips…
1. Check the washing symbols
When you first wash clothes or bedding, check the washing symbols on the label – it could stop you from ruining your new items in the wash. The symbols tell you what temperature to wash fabrics at, whether they need dry cleaning or hand-washing, and how they can be dried and ironed. Which? has a guide to washing symbols on their website to help explain what they all mean.
2. Sort your colours
Sort your fabrics into whites, lights, deeper colours and darks, and delicates. This is necessary, explain the experts who make Ariel detergents, because some dyes can ‘bleed’ during the wash, especially if washed at a higher temperature, so white fabrics can get unintentionally dyed during a mixed colour wash.
This can even happen in very cold water, depending on the garment. In addition, deeper colours may fade if washed in a detergent containing bleach, and wools and silks can be damaged if washed on the wrong cycle or in the wrong detergent.
3. Dirt alert
You can also sort fabrics into piles of extra-dirty clothes, if you really want to get the best results from your wash. Very dirty items can be pre-treated with a stain remover before being washed, advise the Ariel experts.
4. Hand-wash certain items
Silks, delicate woollens, and party clothes with embellishments can be damaged in a washing machine and may need to be hand-washed, warns Persil. Use cold water – hot water could damage some fabrics – and a detergent designed for delicate fabrics (liquid detergent will help avoid residue). Let garments soak in the detergent water for around 10 minutes before giving them a little massage to clean, and rinse in clean water.
5. Use the right detergent
For whites, use detergents containing bleach, and use one without bleach for colours. As for choosing either biological or non-biological detergent, the makers of Persil explain that biological washing liquids and powders contain enzymes that help break down some fatty or protein-based stains, making them smaller and easier to wash out.
Biological detergents work best at lower temperatures, as their enzymes can become ineffective above 40°C. Non-biological detergents don’t contain enzymes and rely instead on powerful cleaning agents to remove stains. The enzymes that make biological detergents effective can sometimes irritate sensitive skin, so non-bio can be a good choice for those worried about the effect of washing powder enzymes on delicate or sensitive skin.
6. Correct detergent dosage
The amount of detergent needed will be stated on the packaging and is related to how dirty clothes are, the size of the load, and the hardness of the water in your area (you can usually find out online), explain the experts at Ariel.
7. Turn some clothes inside out
Turning clothes inside out protects them during the wash, say the Ariel experts. It’s also a good idea to turn clothes with embellishments like glitter inside out, as this will help stop it sticking to other garments.
8. Be careful with delicates
Pop delicate items, like underwear, tights, silks and lingerie, in a laundry bag to protect them, suggest Persil. Just use a pillowcase if you don’t have a laundry bag.
9. Use the correct wash cycle
Refer to the garment label for the required wash cycle, and to your washing machine manual to properly understand the different settings. Persil say generally, the ‘Normal’ cycle uses warm water (30-40°C) to wash, followed by a cold water rinse, with moderate machine spin speeds. It can be used for cottons and coloured, mixed fabrics.
The ‘Whites’ cycle uses the hottest water (60 or 90°C) and fastest spin speeds to get dirt out of white fabrics. ‘Delicates’ is a gentle cycle using cold water and slow spin speeds, for delicate fabrics that could get damaged by a vigorous wash. ‘Pre-wash’ can be used for very dirty loads.
10. Don’t overload
Never overload your washing machine, as it could mean your clothes don’t get cleaned as well because they won’t be able to move around enough. If your palm fits between the clothes and the machine, there should be enough space.
11. Leave the washing machine door open after use
This will allow the machine to air out and help prevent mould and mildew from growing, advises Persil. (Remember though- always be extra careful about this if you have curious pets or toddlers in the house, who could climb into the machine.)