Stuff everything in together? Separate whites and colours? And should you be mixing tea towels and clothes? A laundry professional weighs in.
Everyone has their own personal idea of what the best way to do laundry is – but is there a universally right way? According to Haier, most people use the same washing cycle for all their laundry and research shows it’s often based on what our parents first taught us.
But this week a bomb was dropped into the laundry debate after Stuff revealed it was allegedly acceptable to wash your dirty clothes at the same time as your tea towels. “The reality is the washing process is supposed to clean your clothes,” said Massey University food safety expert Steve Flint. “[It’s] something you shouldn’t worry about too much”.
That proclamation sparked some serious debate in The Spinoff’s office. While some admitted to happily washing all their laundry in the same load, others were less convinced. Our resident laundry aficionado Tina Tiller was outraged. “Doing laundry is my part time hustle that I’m not getting paid for,” she laughs. “My tea towels are quite nasty… I think it’s contaminating my clothes and that’s what I’m not about.”
Tiller’s laundry routine involves separating everything out. She swears by a cold wash – even for sheets and white clothing – and believes in using just the regular setting of the washing machine rather than playing around with the delicate function. “You should try a cold wash for your sheets and see the feeling,” she advises me. “When it dries, especially in the sun, it’s so nice and soft and fresh.”
It’s a compelling case, but I wanted to know what tips and tricks a professional washer had for getting the best out of my laundry. Ana Waalkens runs the Auckland-based concierge service Housewife and says that doing laundry is the “bread and butter” of her business. And while she shrinks at being labelled a washing “expert”, she does confess to doing a “bloody lot” of cleaning up.
Let’s start with the washing machine: front or top loader?
“We absolutely hate front loaders,” Waalkens tells me. “We don’t think front loaders actually spin like a traditional washing machine.”
According to Waalkens, who says she’s doing washing every single day, top loaders produce better results. “We feel that the front loader definitely conserves power, but… your clothes come out more creased and more wrung than in a normal machine.”
Interestingly, Waalkens says that one argument in favour of front loaders is that your clothes will dry quicker than if you have a top loader (if you’re putting them in a dryer, that is).
OK, what about the detergent: powder or liquid?
“We prefer liquid because the powder doesn’t always fully dissolve and it doesn’t clean your clothes as well,” says Waalkens, a claim that, as a reformed powder user, I fully sympathise with. “We feel it gets dispersed better in the machine when it’s a liquid, as opposed to a big clump that’s waiting to get dissolved.”
If you put your liquid in the fabric softener section by mistake, are your clothes still being washed?
Turns out that if you’ve never noticed the little numbers for where you should putting the detergent, it might not matter too much. Waalkens says your clothes will still get washed – but it’ll take a bit longer. “If you put your liquid into the part where you’re meant to take your fabric softener, it’s going to take longer to filter through the machine.”
Here’s the big question: should you really be separating out your washing?
“Absolutely,” says Waalkens. That means clothes in one wash (separated into whites and colours), sheets in another and then towels.
I checked in with Haier and a spokesperson for the manufacturer agreed. “If you have a new, brightly coloured T-shirt and wash it at a hotter temperature, it’s more likely to release dye,” they said. “But even with washing at cooler temperatures there’s still a risk of dye colour release.”
Turns out it’s more than just the myth of the red sock turning all the clothes pink.
Are sheets and towels all good together?
This is a point of personal preference, but Waalkens reckons these should be separated out too. “When I first started this business, I used to put sheets with the towels, because I was like, ‘it’s all the same thing’. But actually it makes the sheets go slightly coarse if you put them in with the towels and the colour from the towel is likely to run onto the sheets.”
…so what about tea towels?
Most people wouldn’t like the thought of their clothes and tea towels sloshing around in the same wash, says Waalkens, who advocates for washing them separately (and on a hot wash).
“Tea towels, dish cloths and face cloths – definitely a hot wash! I think the majority of people would like that, unless you’re in a flat and might not care as much and just chuck everything in.”
Haier concurred. “Wash [tea towels] separately because of the bacteria and odour,” said the spokesperson. “You don’t want to cross-contaminate. You should also wash tea towels at higher temperature, as heat kills bacteria.”
On the subject of towels: can you keep them fluffy without a dryer?
The key with bath towels is fabric softener, though Waalkens admits that a dryer is the best way to keep your bath towels soft (if that’s how you like them). “If you hang them up on the line they’re going to be slightly harder – but just use fabric softener,” she says. “And don’t shove your machine full of towels if you’re going to be putting them on the line.”
Should I be stuffing as many clothes into the machine as possible?
Something I’m definitely guilty of is loading up the washing machine as full as possible in an attempt to get through my backlog on a sunny day. Waalkens says that’s a bad idea. “It’s gross… you can see undies stuck to shorts that haven’t been washed properly,” she says. “if you’ve got too much in there it doesn’t get spread out around the machine.”
Smaller, more frequent loads are the key to making sure your clothes have been properly cleaned.
OK, but what about the cost of doing multiple loads? Can I use a cold wash?
Cold washing is a great way to keep costs down, especially if you plan on heeding Waalkens’ advice and doing smaller washing loads. “Cold wash is great because it won’t run your colour. But if you’ve been tramping or you’ve run a cross country and you do a cold wash, it’s not going to get the mud off your gear,” she says.
That means you should be using a hot wash for very dirty clothing, and items like tea towels and face cloths. It’s also good for white clothes, says Waalkens. “I think a hot wash is fine if you’re doing all whites, but probably not otherwise because the colours will run.”