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Laundry Basics

How to Do Laundry

A no-spin guide to washing clothes, car-seat covers, and nearly everything in between.

By Sarah Stebbins
A clean and organized laundry roomJohn Gruen

Undergarments and Delicates

Everyday Bras and Lingerie

  • Set the washing machine to the gentle cycle. Most lingerie can be put through the machine’s gentle cycle, even if the labels say “hand-wash.” Use all-purpose detergent with cotton and synthetics; opt for mild detergent with lacy fabrics.
  • Apply a stain solution. Pretreat yellow perspiration stains by rubbing them with mild soap and warm water; let soak for 30 minutes.
  • Place delicates in zippered mesh bags. Protect hosiery, bras, bustiers, camisoles, slips, and any other garments with straps or underwires by placing them in zippered mesh bags, which will keep them from twisting or snagging; fasten clasps to prevent them from catching on the netting. Use a bag with fine mesh so hooks can’t get through.
  • Wash undergarments separately. Wash in light loads, and never throw them in with heavy items, as these can cause wires to bend or break, says Chris Allsbrooks, a textile analyst at the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute, in Laurel, Maryland.
  • Don’t use the dryer. Air-dry to prevent damage to underwires and straps.


Fine Bras and Lingerie

  • Hand-washing is best. Hand-washing is often the best way to care for ornate pieces and those made of delicate fabrics, like silk. Let the pieces soak for a few minutes in warm or cool water, then gently squeeze the suds through the fabric; rinse and roll in a towel to absorb excess moisture before hanging them to dry. Bras, nightgowns, and the like are not apt to be heavily soiled, so “hand washing gets them cleaner than you might think,” says Allsbrooks.
  • Clean lingerie while you’re in the shower. Get the article wet, lather a pea-size amount of mild shampoo or baby shampoo in your hands and wash, as suggested, then air-dry.


Baby Clothes

  • For an infant, use an extremely mild detergent to start. The skin of an infant is often too sensitive for the chemicals in many detergents and bleaches, so textile analyst Chris Allsbrooks advises introducing these products gradually. She followed this timeline with her son: For the first six months, she used Dreft, a very mild detergent formulated for babies ($15, for stores).
  • Then upgrade to a stain-fighting detergent. When he started eating solid foods, she moved on to Ultra Cheer Free & Gentle, which is “a little stronger and better at getting out stains from pureed spinach,” she says. Once he was eating regular food, it was “straight on to the Tide.” Wash with warm water and tumble dry on low. “Using the lowest heat setting will minimize static electricity, lessening the need for dryer sheets,” says Sandra Phillips, a cleaning consultant and the author of A Clean Break (Live-Right Books, $10,
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