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Laundry Supplies and Tips

by Judy Brown

There are so many laundry aids on the market today. There's liquid soap, powder soap, soap tabs, bleach, pre-wash stain treatments and the list goes on. So what should you have on hand to make sure your clothes get cleaned properly?

Laundry Soaps and Detergents

In all my years of doing laundry I've tried every soap and detergent known to man. I've come to the conclusion that laundry soap is laundry soap - you don't have to buy the most advertised, expensive product to get clothes clean. Most of us have our favorites, but even the cheapest detergents do a good job if used correctly.

Soap or Detergent?

Soap is a fat based product and was first discovered by accident. The Soap and Detergent Institute (SDA) says soap got its name, according to an ancient Roman legend, from Sapo, where animals were sacrificed. Rain washed a mixture of melted animal fat, or tallow, and wood ashes down into the clay soil of the Tiber River. Women found that this clay mixture made their wash cleaner with much less effort.


When fat was hard to get during the first World War, soap makers started to look for other ways to manufacture cleaning products and came up with detergents. According to the SDA: synthetic detergents are non-soap washing and cleaning products that are "synthesized" or put together chemically from a variety of raw materials. The discovery of detergents was also driven by the need for a cleaning agent that, unlike soap, would not combine with the mineral salts in water to form an insoluble substance known as soap curd.

Today, detergents are used for most of our laundry needs. There are some soap products that claim to do a better job on delicate fabrics, woolens and baby items.

Liquid or Powder?

Liquid detergents do a good job when you're using cold water and are more effective at washing oily or grease-stained fabrics. Powders tend to clump up and may not be quite as effective in cold water but as long as you don't use too much they clean just as well.

Powder detergents are better for getting heavily soiled articles cleaned.

How Much?

Don't use too much, most manufacturers include an instruction booklet with the washer. Read it, and see what is recommended for your washer. Usually they say to follow the directions on the detergent box. I find that you can usually use slightly less than what is called for and still have good results. Don't use too much, if your garments are heavily soiled more soap isn't going to make them cleaner, pre-treat them with a stain remover or grease-cutting hand cleaners.

Waterless hand cleaners, used in industrial workplaces, and available at most stores where detergent is sold, are excellent for removing oily or greasy stains. Rub a bit on the stain and let it sit before you put it in the washer. The grease-cutting ingredients work very well. There are also many pre-wash spot treatment sprays on the market now that are quite effective.

If you store your stain remover spray right in your laundry basket or hamper, you'll always have it handy and can pre-treat soiled items before you throw them in the hamper.

For some neat tips on stain removal see Peggy's Household Tips article Mud Season.


There are two types: Chlorine bleach, which is only safe on white items; and Oxidizing bleach, which is safe for colored fabrics. Chlorine bleach has disinfectant properties so it's good to use it with diapers, dishcloths and towels.

Laundry Additives

There are many. Pre-washing stain removers come in sprays or sticks, bluing can remove yellow tinges on white fabrics, enzyme pre-soak aids help remove heavy stains and will enhance the cleaning properties of your detergent. Try different products to see what works best for you. Again, cheaper doesn't always mean less effective so don't let advertising influence your purchase. If something cheap works, use that.

Non-toxic Aids

Vinegar has anti-bacterial qualities so can be used in place of bleach. Mix vinegar, water and baking soda in a spray bottle for an excellent cleaner or spot remover. Adding a bit of dish soap to the mix will cut grease or oily residues.


Keep laundry products on a shelf above the washing machine if possible. They shouldn't be easily accessible to children. If you don't have room over the washer, keep them in a container (like a basket) that you can store in a cupboard or on a closet shelf.

The Laundromat

If you don't have a washer and dryer and have to use the laundromat, make up packets of soap to take with you, one for each load, then you don't have to drag the whole box of detergent along. Bleach can go in a smaller plastic container, just take enough to do that day's laundry.

Even if you do have your own washer and dryer there may be times when it pays to use the laundromat. If you have very heavily soiled, greasy work clothes you may want to do them in a heavy-duty washer at the laundromat.

If you are washing pillows or large quilts, the oversized laundromat washers will do a better job than your ordinary-sized one will do.

Other Helpers

Laundry hampers: Have one for each member of the family. Encourage children to put their clothes in the hamper only when they are dirty. Kids are prone to gathering up everything in sight and throwing it into the hamper, often mixing clean clothes in with the soiled ones. It's faster to clean up the room that way. Don't let them get away with this.


I don't believe in ironing, but there are times when you need to touch up something or you may have cotton items that need pressing. Try not to buy things that need ironing, but if you do have a few things get yourself a small travel ironing board and get rid of the big one.

If you have a separate room for laundry and don't mind having a big board set up, that's great. If you have stuff that needs ironing then you can get to the board easily, otherwise you may tend to pile up the ironing until you can get around to setting up the board. Somehow it never gets done.

Don't buy the most expensive iron there is. One with steam and dry is fine. Too many settings just complicates matters.

Washers and Dryers

Follow your manufacturers instructions and always clean the lint filter on the dryer after drying each load. Your dryer will last longer and clothes will dry faster.

Give the appliances a wipe each time you use them and a good cleaning inside every month or so to keep them looking like new.

If you can put up a clothes line outdoors, get clothes pins and keep them in a plastic drawstring bag right out on the end of the clothesline so they are always handy.

There may be other items for doing laundry, but this covers the majority of them. Everything is easier to keep up with if you have the proper supplies on hand. You're always going to have laundry to do, if you see a good bargain, stock up if you have room to store your items. If you do this you'll never have to run out at the last minute or put off doing your laundry until you get around to buying what you need.

Copyright © 2003-2004 Judy Brown