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Hooks above a bench in a hallway
Credit: William Abranowicz

Bet you didn’t think you could toss that backpack into the washer. Guess again: You can launder all sorts of random things ― just make sure to rinse off grime first, so you don’t clog the machine. “I take my dirty work clothes outside and spray them with the pressure washer first,” says Don Aslett, author of 20 cleaning books.


Wash alone in a front-loader on gentle in cold water with all-purpose detergent. Don’t wash multicolored packs; the dyes may bleed.

Cloth Purses and Tote Bags

“People put them on car and restaurant floors ― they’re some of the dirtiest things we own,” says Sandra Phillips, a cleaning consultant and the author of A Clean Break (Live-Right Books, $10, amazon.com). Wash on delicate in warm water with all-purpose detergent. Air-dry. Don’t wash purses with sequins or other embellishments.

Laptop and iPod Cases

Wash canvas, nylon, and microfiber cases in warm water with all-purpose detergent. Air-dry. Don’t wash padded ones ― they contain a foam layer that holds water and doesn’t dry well.

Ironing-Board Cover

Wash in warm water with all-purpose detergent. Air-dry.

Sleeping Bags

Wash in a front-loader―the agitator in a top-loader may rip seams―on gentle in warm water with mild detergent. (Harsher detergents can ruin the feathers in down bags.) Dry on low or no heat.

Car-Seat and High-Chair Covers

Use warm water and 1 1/2 capfuls of all-purpose detergent to get rid of the ground-in soils on cloth covers. Dry on low for 5 to 10 minutes, then air-dry.


Wash canvas or leather sneakers (even those kids’ shoes with plastic parts) in cold water with all-purpose detergent. Place them in mesh bags to keep laces from wrapping around the agitator. Dry on low for 10 minutes, then air-dry for a day. Wash slippers with rubber soles if the care label allows it.

Oven Mitts and Sponges

Wash in hot water and all-purpose detergent. Air-dry.

Cloth Diapers

Use hot water, bleach, and mild detergent, and dry on high to help kill germs.

Travel Pillows

Rather than washing the pillows themselves (their padding tends to get mildewy), slip them inside pillowcases for use, then just wash the pillowcases instead.

Bath Toys

Rubber duckies sometimes need a bath, too. Use warm water and all-purpose detergent. “Throw toys in the wash with a hand towel, which will get the slime off,” says cleaning consultant Sandra Phillips.

Plastic Pool Floats

“If it can be deflated and it fits in the machine, it can be washed,” says Phillips. Use cold water, all-purpose detergent, and a hand towel (as with bath toys) to remove slime. Air-dry.

Pet Accessories

Wash pet-bed covers, collars, and leashes on gentle in cold water with all-purpose detergent in small loads but on a large-load setting to flush out dirt and hair. Tumble dry on low.

Plastic Dish Gloves

Wash on a gentle, short cycle (about four minutes) in warm water. Air-dry.

Sports Gear

Wash basketball nets and shin guards on gentle in warm water. Air-dry.

Mop Heads

Use all-purpose detergent and warm water. Air-dry.


Wash cloth toys on gentle in cold water with mild detergent; dry on low for 5 minutes, then air-dry.