When it comes to laundry, practice does not make perfect. Most adults have done hundreds upon hundreds of loads. But many of us are doing it wrong, and we're doing it too often. Clothes wear out faster as a result.
That's right – we're working too hard, and it's costing us money.
Excluding socks, underwear and garments that need attention because of stains, clothes don't need to be laundered after every wearing, said Norma Keyes, director of product standards for Cotton Inc., a Cary, N.C.-based organization funded by U.S. growers and importers of cotton and cotton textile products.
"Let's be honest. Most people take a shower, use deodorant and don't work outdoors," Keyes said. "Many of us can re-wear our clothes, reduce wash load size, use less water and energy and save some money."
Even Tide detergent's consumer website, Tide.com, said not to wash garments every time they're worn.
Besides over-laundering, most Americans don't sort and wash clothing properly, subjecting it to further abuse.
Six out of 10 consumers have changed the way they wash their clothes in the past year or so in order to save money, according to Cotton Inc.'s Lifestyle Monitor survey. But some of these changes are for the worse: 53 percent report washing larger loads and 63 percent use less laundry detergent.
Newer washing machines have huge capacities, tempting people to mix whites in with colored garments in order to have large loads. A lot of fabrics aren't colorfast, though, so their dye gets into the wash water and gloms onto other clothing. This is what makes whites and lighter-colored garments turn dingy over time.
Skimping on detergent may save some pennies in the short run, but unless you use enough detergent to bind to soils and carry them away with the rinse water, the grime will end up back on your clothing, Keyes said.
Separating whites from colored clothing is just the beginning. White outerwear shouldn't be washed with white socks, underwear or active wear, Keyes said, because washing heavily soiled garments with lightly soiled ones also can cause dinginess.
To prevent dark- and bright-colored clothing from fading or bleeding onto lighter clothes, sort them by color intensity and wash them in cold water unless otherwise instructed on the care label. Warm or hot water can hasten dye loss. Use a shorter cycle because friction between garments and the washer's interior also causes fading. Durable fabrics can abrade delicate ones, so sort accordingly. Turn dark garments inside out before washing or drying.
Washable sweaters also should be turned inside out to reduce pilling. Other pre-laundering steps include undoing collar buttons to reduce wear along folds and closing zippers to protect other articles in the same load, said Jack English, principal scientist for Tide.
Line-drying is best because dryers cause further abrasion.
Between washings, hang or fold clothes you intend to re-wear as soon as you take them off.
"Hanging clothes in the bathroom to pick up some moisture will help refresh them and give wrinkles a chance to relax," Keyes said. "Another way to freshen a garment is to put it in the dryer on an air setting either with or without a light water spray."