Cleaning your clothes is both an art and a science. Sure, there’s lots of technology and science out their to make clothes cleaning agents more gentle and close and penetrating on dirt and grease, and machines that take care of most of the heavy lifting. But you still have to know how and when to use them.
Many people have come up with their own techniques over the years, and spread them by word of mouth. Some work, some don’t. Without the scrutiny of science, you could just as easily ruin a garment by listening to these DIY secrets. Here are some cleaning tips and tricks that are definitely myths:
Many people swear by club soda and salt as the ultimate DIY stain remover. They claim the bubbles in the club soda agitate the fibers to release the stain, which allows the salt to absorb it better than just using water alone.
This one is partially true, and at least based in plausible science. Agitation and wetting of the stained fabric is essential for keeping the stain from setting permanently. But the molecular movement of the carbonated bubbles in the soda is negligible compared to the effect of simply rubbing and patting with the cloth you would use to dry it off anyway.
So it doesn’t really make a difference whether you use still or sparkling water. Although not technically correct, this is one myth that’s neither helpful nor harmful—it’s just a waste of good soda.
Dry cleaning is an arcane method of cleaning that is reserved for the most delicate and expensive garments you own—the kind of clothes that are too fragile to even submit to the gentle gyrations of your washer and dryer. So you certainly wouldn’t want to get them soaking wet, right? The truth is that what goes on behind the curtain at your average dry cleaner is less complicated than you think.
Dry cleaners are so-called because they don’t use water—but that doesn’t mean you clothes don’t get wet. Instead of water, they use a chemical solvent called perchloroethylene (“perc” or “PERC”), which has a lower viscosity than water. PERC has very low wholesale price, and does a great job removing grease-based stains while minimally disturbing the fibers on your clothes. The bad news? PERC is a recognized carcinogen and soil-contaminant.
At GreenerCleaner, we use the naturally light and inert liquid silicone for our Wet Cleaning, which helps preserve clothing better than traditional dry cleaning methods. In addition to eliminating many of the environmental and health impacts
amount of detergent cleans your clothes Y amount, than 2X of detergent should get them twice as clean, right?
The problem with this logic is that it ignores how detergent actually works. Laundry detergent is a solvent, which means it mixes with the dirt in your clothes, taking all that grime with it when it gets rinsed out. Washing machines are designed to accommodate certain ratios of detergent and clothing, so that the clothes can be agitated to mix with detergent, and then rinsed through a few cycles to remove the dirt-soaked detergent from your fresh clothes.
When you use too much detergent, the washing machine doesn’t know, and wont get all the detergent out, leaving your clothes sticky and resinous. This extra detergent is bad for your clothes (especially when you dry it), and can leave a bad odor, as well as cause skin irritation. Plus, all that extra detergent just mixes the dirt right back into your clothes, making them just as nasty as before!
Jumping off of the last point—again, more is always better in terms of laundry. Bleach can certainly kill bacteria and remove stains from your whites. In that regard, bleach is a valuable cleaning agent, and an indispensable part of your laundry repertoire. The problem is that bleach and detergent actually cancel each other out. That’s why many washers now have separate bleach trays that dispense it during the rinse cycle. If you don’t have a bleach tray, add your bleach after the first five minutes of the wash to let the detergent do its job first.
Conventional wisdom says that you lay your solvent right on top of a stain to get at it as directly as possible. But this couldn’t be further from the truth—rubbing a stain from the outside just causes it to penetrate more deeply into the fabric. You’re literally pushing the stain directly into your clothes when you do this! Instead, treat the stain from the inside of the garment, pushing the stain back out the way it came.
Many people seem to think that heat shrinks your clothes. In fact, as long as your clothes don’t over-dry, no amount of heat with have any effect on the shape or fit of your clothing. It is only after all the moisture has evaporated that fibers in clothing begin to tense up and contract. Many dryers have an “automatic” setting that evaluates the moisture in your clothing, and turns off automatically when it reaches that threshold.
And for those of you who insist that your dryer is eating your socks, check the top of the dryer! The tumbling generates static electricity that can cause socks and underwear to cling to the top of the metal bin.