5 Things the French Know About Laundry (That You're Probably Doing All Wrong)

Tip #2 is totally life-changing.

Writer Danielle Postel-Vinay may live in New York City and the Hudson River Valley—but she knows a thing or two about French culture. As a teenager, she met her first mentor in the French way of life, Jacqueline Manon, an antique shop owner in her Midwestern hometown, who took her under her wing and invited her into her home. After spending time in France, Postel-Vinay married a Parisian man, and her new French family and mother-in-law continued her education in the French way of keeping a home.

Now, the writer's sharing all of the secrets she's gleaned from her French family and friends in her new book, Home Sweet Maison: The French Art of Making a Home.

The book is full of tiny tips and tricks learned from observing her French relatives and spending time in France. Moving through the home room by room, the book covers everything from the right way to set a table, to how to use home fragrances to evoke a mood. Woven with personal anecdotes, the guided tour of the French home is fascinating, but perhaps the most interesting and practical tips can be found in the chapter on the French way of doing laundry.

While Americans may throw giant piles of clothing haphazardly into oversized washing machines, and then dryers, Postel-Vinay describes the French way of doing laundry as more thoughtful. Will using the proper stain pre-treatments and air-drying your clothing really turn your most dreaded household chore into an art form? Perhaps not. But your white shirts will be brighter, your delicates will last longer, and your fitted sheets will always be properly folded. Here are five things the French know about doing laundry, according to Postel-Vinay.

Use Different Stain Fighters for Different Stains

Do you use a Tide pen as liberally on sauce stains as coffee spills or keep the same pre-treatment formula in your laundry room for all stains? There's a better way. When Postel-Vinay lived in the South of France, she discovered that the French grocery store stocked small bottles of specialized formulas for treating every type of stain imaginable, and from a chemistry standpoint, it made so much sense.

"Grass stains are not the same problem as ballpoint pen ink, and olive oil is utterly different on a silk blouse than coffee. How could one expect to remove all these different stains with the same chemical?" she asks. After realizing how these stain fighters could help save her clothing and linens from ruin, Postel-Vinay bought a complete set of Stain Devils from Carbona ($40; carbona.com). The initial investment is worth it, considering all of the money you'll save on destroyed jeans, bed sheets, and work blouses.

Air Dry (Don't Machine-Dry) Delicate Clothing

In general, Americans machine-dry their clothing much more often than Europeans—and the debate over Americans' reliance on clothes dryers has even sparked some heated debates on Reddit. From watching her mother-in-law's method of washing clothes, Postel-Vinay learned that dryers are to be avoided, unless absolutely necessary.

Instead, in an apartment, her mother-in-law would hoist clothes on a drying rack up to the ceiling, or in nice weather, on a clothesline outside. Not only is the dryer a waste of electricity and money, but it wreaks havoc on clothing.

"An electric dryer will fade, shrink, and deteriorate whatever you put inside it," explains the author. Want to try the French method? Set up a clothesline outside this summer or invest in a drying rack ($89.99; containerstore.com)—your clothes will thank you.

Iron Everything

Here's the point where most of us will roll our eyes. Who has time to iron out all of the wrinkles created by air-drying clothing? While Postel-Vinay says her mother-in-law ironed everything (cloth napkins and bed sheets, included), the task is a little too time-consuming for most American households, especially if you have children and daunting piles of clothing. As a compromise, opt for a small handheld steamer that you can pull out to prep your work outfit in the morning. You'll still look polished but won't devote your weekends to ironing every single piece.

Always Check Garments and Turn Them Inside Out

Okay, ironing is a little ambitious for some, but this is a tip everyone can achieve. If you're in the habit of simply throwing clothes in the machine without a thought or a thorough sorting, you've probably ruined at least one load of laundry with a pen that snuck into a pocket or a red sock that wound up with your white shirts.

To avoid future destruction (read: money wasted), check all clothing pockets and turn jeans and shirts inside out. Reversing garments helps protect any embellishments and prevents metal on jeans from scraping against the inside of the machine as it spins. It's a simple extra step to add to your laundry routine, but the extra five minutes it takes will pay off.

Learn to Fold Everything the Right Way

"Of course, the most assiduous ironing job in the world will be useless without proper folding techniques," writes Postel-Vinay. While there are a million "right" ways to fold a towel, she explains that the trick is to just choose one method and stick with it to create a consistent look. Bed sheets, on the other hand, are another story.

In France, bedding typically consists of a fitted sheet and a duvet cover (skipping the top sheet), and folding the fitted sheet the "correct" way is taken very seriously. Want to give your linen closet some French flair? It may take a few tries to master, but your linen collection will never look more organized.

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