Soap and Detergent Basics
Pick up detergent at the store. It’s a simple sounding task – until you hit the detergent aisle, where endless rows of options await your decision. How will you ever choose the right one for you and your family? Ask yourself these questions:
Do you wash a lot of clothes in cold water? Consider getting a cold water detergent that you use just for these loads. Keep in mind that except for sheets and towels, most clothes get clean in cold water.
Do you have a high-efficiency (HE), front-load washer? If so, you’ll want to select an HE detergent. Low-water, HE washers do best with low-sudsing, HE detergent. Regular detergent is too sudsy and isn’t recommended.
Do you want to go natural? There are many environmentally friendly detergents on the market now. They’re good for the earth and can be good for you, especially if you have sensitive skin, since they’re made with natural ingredients and contain few chemicals or additives. For good quality make sure the green detergent you select has the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) seal.
Do you have a newborn in the house? Look for a mild detergent that is safe for babies. This is especially important during the first six months after your infant’s arrival.
Do you want to keep whites white? Pick up a “detergent with bleach” and use only for loads of whites that you want to brighten. To go white the green way, add a small amount of oxygen bleach in your white load.
Do you want no-frills? Any stain-fighting detergent you select will get the job done.
To use detergent:
Pour soap sparingly. Don’t even go a smidge over the recommended line on your detergent cap. Washing machines are made to use far less water now than older models, and detergents have also become increasingly concentrated. (If you just can’t stand to be such a rule-follower, then go a bit below the recommended line.) Want to know if you’ve been using too much soap? Fill your washer with water and start the spin cycle. Open it up a few minutes later. Is the water sudsy? If so, that’s leftover soap coming out – a sign you need to ease up on your pour.
Add soap first. Dump your soap in when you turn the water on but wait to add your clothes until the detergent has first mixed well with the water – when the washer is about a fourth of the way full. This way none of your clothes will come into too much contact with the detergent, thus preventing any discoloration or spotting.
Bleach: If you are using a detergent with bleach for whites, then you don’t need to add any extra bleach. If you want to whiten naturally, add a small amount of non-chlorine oxygen bleach to your white load. Got really tough stains? You may want to use heavy-duty chlorine beach. It’s too strong for regular use because it can harm fabric, but for a tough stain, you may want to try it. Dilute bleach by following the directions on the product label. Next, add regular soap to your washer and fill with water. About five minutes later, add your diluted bleach solution to your washer and launder as usual.
Additional uses for bleach:
- Get mildew out of fabric: First, wet the mildewed portion and then rub it with some powdered detergent. Next, wash the fabric with the hottest water recommended by the clothing manufacturer and add in about Â½ cup of bleach. Have a garment that won’t survive hot water? Soak it in a solution of 1 gallon water and Â¼ cup oxygen bleach for about 30 minutes, then wash.
- Get mold and mildew out of shower curtains: Load your shower curtain and a few towels into the washer (the towels will keep your curtain from crinkling). Wash in warm water and Â¼ cup bleach. Pop in your dryer for 10 minutes, then hang to dry.
- Get mildew out of your rubber shower mat: Combine 1.8 cup chlorine bleach with 1 gallon water and submerge your bathmat. Soak for 3-4 hours, then rinse well and hang to dry.
Getting clothes soft: Most people today tend to skip the extra step of adding liquid fabric softeners to the wash, preferring instead to use dryer sheets for static-free, soft clothes. If you use dryer sheets, consider cutting them in half. Not only will you get more for your money, you’ll also reduce the risk of getting any softener spots – oily-like stains – on your clothes. Want to soften the green way? Throw two clean tennis balls into the dryer for an effective, chemical-free way to soften.
Other environmentally friendly cleaning alternatives: Besides newly formulated green detergents, many products have been around for ages that clean clothes naturally. A rundown:
Baking soda. It’s a no-brainer stain-fighter. Mix a small amount of baking soda with water to make a paste. Apply paste to the stain and scrub with a toothbrush. Rinse with water. Repeat if necessary, then wash as usual. You can also add baking soda to your rinse cycle to help get rid of odors in clothes.
White vinegar. Brightens and soften fabrics all at once – and naturally. Simply add 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the final rinse of your wash cycle. Or pour it in a spray bottle and spritz underarm stains of white t-shirts to help brighten.
Borax. This all-natural product is known to be a stain-fighter and overall laundry booster. Try adding one-half cup of Borax in with your regular detergent to deodorize, freshen, and dissolve stains in your clothes.