Lean Laundry 2

In a pique of boredom, The Laundry Fairy prattles another pet peeve:

Whenever I hear someone say they’re going to wash a load of towels, I cringe. I couldn’t think of a more effective way to exact unnecessary wear and tear on a washing machine. Cruising the web, it appears this is what everyone does. How odd. I’m thinking that many of you in the trade know better particularly if you’ve ever had items prewashed or dyed. In such case, loads (and costs) are calculated by weight. Your home washing machine is no different. The basket size (volume) is an average; wear and tear is exacted by weight and there’s nothing that absorbs water more effectively than towels. The average basket was only designed to handle eight pounds.

The best way to wash towels is mixed in with the appropriate colors. If a load has mostly lightweight (non water absorbing fabrics like polar fleece, nylons) you can put in two towels depending on their size maybe three, to reach basket volume. If it’s heavier bottom weights with denims or cotton sweaters, only one towel. Actually, cotton sweaters are as bad as towels; when washing, think weight, not volume.

Off topic from my rant to save the world for washing machines, I noticed that people washed towels in hot water. If I use a water temperature other than cold, it’s a once a year occasion. I think people are habituated to using warm and hot water but detergents are much better than when you first learned to do laundry (and are getting even better). The only soils difficult to remove in cold water are oil/grease. As someone who uses linen napkins, the best way to break the bonds of oil and grease is chemically, using ammonia occasionally rather than hot water. Vinegar is also good for stains.

I think that most clothes look dingy due to build up of laundry products (too much detergent) and overloading (most people overload machines). Balance loads with heavy and lighter items, items should be loose to agitate freely reducing build up. One way to test over usage of detergent is to fill the washer and let it start agitating before you put in any soap. If the water suds or you see water breakage, you’re using too much soap. I only use softner occasionally. Vinegar is also good to reduce build up. I can always feel the stickiness. When my husband and I got married, I had to wash his towels three times to get the residue out.

I also found that people washed towels after only one use, they seemed to be proud of their cleanliness. I’d be embarrassed to admit my wastefulness and OCD obsession with cleanliness. How can you dirty up a towel if you’ve just gotten out of the shower? You couldn’t be any cleaner. Will you get a nasty disease from using your own towel twice -or heaven forbid- three times? I will concede that conditions may vary; in this arid clime, a towel will be completely dry within an hour or two but I still find it hard to believe you’d catch flesh eating bacteria from your own towel if you use it twice.

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  1. alisa benay says:

    O.K. I’ll be all out of the closet & admit that we’ve got towel rules in our house. The kids have to use the same towel all week before they can bring it to me to wash. But then again, you’re right about the climate, things just don’t mildew here (colorado).

    Do you know anything about the new washing machines? My mom just got one & said she has to use “special” detergent b/c of the low agitation or something. Is that better or worse?

    Also, we use Lestoil to get out grease stains.

  2. Carole says:

    Hi, I just read your towel note. I agree with you and do not do LOADS of towels for that reason.
    My question is, if you put fleece in with a terrycloth towel, even if it is the same color, or close, doesn’t the terry pill up the fleece?

    Have you ever heard of Charlie’s Soap? It comes in either a liquid or powder and it cleans even the dirtiest clothes, it is great. I have been using it for a couple of years and it is the only soap I use for my laundry.

    Thank you,

  3. katyrenee says:

    So true and funny. To learn how to be really lean, rent an apartment without hookups. We get creative and only do laundry every 3rd or 4th week since that means laudromat… I promise I don’t smell!

  4. Lisa Bloodgood says:

    I didn’t know that about the weight thing. I can see washing the light-colored towels with the clothes (my mom taught me that they make the clothes linty so I never mixed a load), but the burgundy towels that are more than 6 years old still bleed. I use Bio-Kleen detergent that only takes an ounce, but I don’t know yet if even that is too much. I like that it’s also perfume- and dye-free.

    And I always use my towels at least 3 times. I live in humid rainy Portland, OR and they still dry hanging up on the shower curtain rod. I’ve never smelled mildew in them, just where they don’t smell fresh anymore. I’ve always thought that using a towel only once was so wasteful. (Probably got that from my 89-year-old grandma who grew up in the Depression.)

    I also noticed we do seem to use an awful lot of paper napkins. I do have some linen ones but not nearly enough. Yet.

  5. Helen says:

    I don’t wash towels until they are dirty, i.e. look/smell/feel icky. If none of these criteria are filled, it’s still clean and will still be used.

  6. Kai Jones says:

    I have read that it’s best to wash towels (and underwear) in hot water because it kills the bacteria. After all, those two items touch the areas with the most dangerous bacteria (although mouths come in close after them), and cold water doesn’t clean them well enough.

    If you’re drying them outside in the sun, you get the benefit of bacteria-killing sunshine.

  7. Connie says:

    I’m one of those geeks who read appliance instructions. The booklet that came with the Maytag we bought 25 yrs ago (and still going strong) also discouraged washing a “load of towels” or too many large items together. The recommendation was to mix large items(sheets) or heavy items(towels) with smaller, lighter items (underwear, socks).

    Another factor that affects dingy clothes is water hardness. I would wash my kids clothes at my mother’s where the water is softer than where I live and they would always come out cleaner.

  8. Connie says:

    I forgot to add that our favourite appliance instruction came with a toaster oven we once bought. It said “Do not dash water on finder”. It took us a while to figure that one out.

  9. mamafitz says:

    i am trying, without much success, to train my oldest (who just starting taking a daily shower about 2 months ago) that you hang the towel up to dry, and use the same towel for a few days. i also didn’t know about the weight thing (and usually do a ‘load’ of towels, and i promise i’ll stop! ~G~

  10. /anne... says:

    Ok, I wash towels, teatowels and sheets together, mostly because of lint – and I know it’s a problem, because sometimes other things get mixed in.

    My washing machine weighs the load before putting the water in, then sloshes around afterwards to see if that was enough – probably to adjust for more absorbent items. It’s as water-efficient as most of the front loaders, and I can open it up during the cycle if I need to.

    I also turned off the hot tap, so no one CAN wash with hot water.

    Oh, and hot water killing bacteria? Unlikely, unless you’re using steam. Truly, most clothing wouldn’t survive the temperatures needed to kill most evil bacteria, and a lot of types of bacteria are washed away with an adequate amount of water. I only use hot water to wash fleeces (I spin) – lanolin only disolves in very hot water.

  11. carissa says:

    I agree with the water type/ climate issue thing. At my old house. I got by with baking soda and vinegar for detergent and rarely used fabric softner. Here the water is different. (BTW mildew grows in less than 24 hours here in the hot, humid summer!) I have to use hot water, tons of detergent- which sometimes means an extra rinse cycle, and lots of fabric softner. Both the liquid and the sheets! I also use Oxy boost.

    Sometimes, I still take my clothes from the dryer and from one whiff have to throw them straight back into the washer and go through it again. Our water here smells like a mixture between a pool and a fish tank- yuck. I even had to sell my beloved cloth diapers and switch to disposable because of the horrible water. Stuff doesn’t come clean here. Even my dishes get build up.

    I do wash my towels by themselves. I always heard that it would make my clothes pill up. Maybe I should try not to overfill the towel load. Just do a few at a time?

    Gee- It turns out I am the supreme laundry transgressor.

  12. esther says:

    We probably have the hardest water in the entire country – no joking (I tested it once, and it was off the chart!). Without our water softener the washer would last maybe a year – if you are lucky. I have grown to love soft water and it does clean better. Worth every penny.

  13. Vesta says:

    Here’s one nobody has mentioned: I’m allergic to house dust, and therefore must wash sheets in hot water (120 degrees). I wash towels once a week. Our schmancy new front-loader weighs the loads and proceeds accordingly. I actually, gasp, read the manual to figure out why the heck there was no load size knob!

  14. Kerryn says:

    I bet the same people who wash their towels after one use will wash their Jeans after one wear as well. Rather than just airing them and wearing them again (they’ll last a LOT longer and be much more comfortable).

    It’s also important to mix up your loads to help prevent pilling, e.g mixing your jeans and knit tops. The different textures help to wash each other, and you’ll use less powder.

  15. nadine says:

    Thank you for helping me realize I’m not a weirdo! I guess all the efficiency I have to do on the job got into my laundry habits. I own 2 or 3 towel sets that go with my bathroom decor but are in a light, med and dark tone. I wash the light color with the light color load etc. So I really do follow the idea of throwing a towel or 2 in the load probably because I launder for one. Family washing almost always entails a load of towels.

    Being in a humid summer zone, I can only let a towel go for 2 days at the most before the mildew smell appears so I choose to rotate towels rather than launder more frequently. Whatever towel is dirty goes in the appropriate color wash I’m doing at the moment. Also, I’m not a big fan of washing jeans after one wearing but if you’ve been in a 80 degree humidity day, there is no way you’ll want to wear sweat soaked pants twice even if they have dried. I got a rash from that once. So in the summer I opt for thin fabrics which I can wash after one wearing in minimum water and to save energy from extra washing, I line dry. Same with gym clothing. I wear capris that are a dry touch poly with some stretch. I can rise them in cold water and line dry for another use.

  16. Tom Willmon says:

    I have long searched for the perfect laundry detergent, one that cleaned well and didn’t make my skin itch. The best I’ve found is a liquid called “Oasis”, designed by grey-water guru Art Ludwig. Having no sodium compounds, it breaks down into plant nutrients, so I pump the wash water out onto the garden. It works as well with cold (in winter, 34 deg.) water as hot – my observation as well as others’. 1 oz. per load, costs in the low $20’s for a gallon (I have long searched for the perfect laundry detergent, one that cleaned well and didn’t make my skin itch. The best I’ve found is a liquid called “Oasis”, designed by grey-water guru Art Ludwig. Having no sodium compounds, it breaks down into plant nutrients, so I pump the wash water out onto the garden. It works as well with cold (in winter, 34 deg.) water as hot – my observation as well as others’. 1 oz. per load, costs in the low $20’s for a gallon (<$.20 per load). In my off-grid, solar-powered, rainwater-harvest- ing (no well, totally soft water) home, conservation is vital. My washing machine is a Staber, a top-loading tumbler (like a front- loader) designed for low water and electricity use. A great design except for their choosing to use very short between-operation spin times which seriously compromises rinse effectiveness. I manually control the cycle, forcing long spin times. Stock final spin is fine. Tom Willmon [recovering engineer] near Mountainair, [mid] New Mexico

  17. Trish says:

    Well, if anyone is reading this far, I have a great suggestion… this was taught to me by my brother who learned it in the Army. After a shower, dry first with your clean washcloth… just wet it and wring it out… then use it to dry off, wring as needed. Now when you finish up the drying with your towel, the towel will hardly be wet… thus it will dry quickly and not get that nasty smell.

    I transgress and wash towels alone… but not a huge batch. I find that my 20 year old General Electric is still happy with me!!!

  18. Carol Phillips says:

    Living in dry Colorado, I also launder towels only once a week or so.
    I would like to hear the opinion of some of the mechanical engineers who read this blog. To me, it looks like the worst mechanical wear on a washing machine happens during spin cycle of an off-balance load — and off-balance is what ALWAYS happens when I’ve got 1 or 2 towels in a load of lighter stuff. For that reason, I wash towels (or blue jeans) as a separate load, which though heavy, is well-balanced.

  19. Robyn S. says:

    I have always washed all garments in cold, but recently read about a study where they tested bacteria on clothing and how nasty it is if you wash in cold. It says they dryer will get a lot of it if you use the dryer, but if you air dry things, it will remain. It said just transferring a cold water washed load to the dryer leaves your hands full of bacteria.

    I don’t know that all this is true, but it bothered me.

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