Get Your Home In Shape for the Holidays: a Week-by-Week Action Plan

 

close up of two flute glasses filled with sparkling wine wuth ribbons and christmas decor
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The holiday season is bearing down on us like a freight train. If your home is not quite ready for the time of year when people show up at your door and expect to be invited inside, now’s the time to get busy. This holiday-readiness action plan breaks down home holiday preparation into a simple five-week plan that’ll have your house in tip-top shape by Thanksgiving Day.

Week One: Cut Down on Clutter in Common Areas

Phase one calls for clearing out unnecessary stuff that collects dust and complicates cleaning in common areas like the living room, dining room, kitchen, and family room. The goal is uncluttered surfaces throughout: countertops, shelves, tables, and wherever else stuff has accumulated.

File or toss out stacks of bills. Recycle magazines that you’ll never read. Donate the box of baking pans that have been sitting in the corner since your mother-in-law gave them to you after she cleaned out her kitchen cupboards (and which don’t fit into yours either).

Look around your space with a critical eye and be merciless. If it’s not useful to you, get rid of it. Things that you don’t need can be used and appreciated by someone else if you donate them to a local community action center or church.

This de-cluttering phase is a fresh start. When it’s complete you’ll be able to clearly spot, and access, the dust on flat surfaces, cobwebs in corners, and dirt everywhere else. It’s infinitely easier to clean and maintain spaces that have minimal clutter, so this first step ensures that your subsequent cleaning endeavors will be successful.

 

Week Two: Tackle Dust and Cobwebs in Common Areas

Phase two is the time to clean up accumulated dust and cobwebs that are clearly visible and accessible now that the clutter has gone away. Get out your long-handled, telescoping duster to first tackle cobwebs and dust up high. If you don’t have one, secure an old towel over the business end of a broom. Areas where dust settles and cobwebs form: valances and window treatments, ceiling fans, the top of wardrobes and cupboards, recessed lighting fixtures, and corners where walls meet up.

After all the dust up high has been removed, move on to areas at eye level and below. Target chair rails, lampshades and finials, picture frames and wall hangings, window sills, shelves, door ridges and louvered doors, air exchange grates and covers, baseboards and baseboard heaters.

Dust also accumulates at floor level under appliances like the refrigerator and stove, under beds and couches, and in the corners behind furniture and in closets. Tackle these areas with crevice tools, a dust mop, a broom, or your vacuum cleaner.

Remove as much dust as you can from these typically overlooked areas. Eliminating dust from your ceiling fan and on top of the fridge reduces the overall amount of dust that can be stirred up and re-distributed later on. Once the lion’s share of dust is gone, a little bit of upkeep between now and Christmas Eve will guarantee a dust-free family bash, so Aunt Gertrude will have no cause to cast a critical eye at dust bunnies in corners.

leather chair

Week Three: Deep Clean Guest Rooms

If you’re expecting out-of-town guests for the holidays, phase three of your pre-holiday cleanup involves getting guests rooms ready for occupancy. The nature and amount of work involved in this step depends on the state of the rooms: if they’ve become household catchall spaces, the task will be more complicated than if they simply need sprucing up.

Do whatever needs to be done to make them habitable. De-clutter, if necessary, dust and vacuum, freshen bed linens and window treatments. When this phase is completed, your guest rooms will be ready and waiting when Santa Clause and his compadres come to town and you won’t have to scramble at the last minute to unearth the beds.

Week Four: Thoroughly Clean the Kitchen

The kitchen typically sees a lot of action during the holiday season. For this reason, giving the kitchen a good cleanup is the goal of phase four of your holiday action plan.

This is the time to tackle tasks that don’t get done regularly: purge the pantry, re-arrange and re-organize cupboards, clean the oven and the fridge. Really take time to get into corners and underneath furniture.

When you’re done, the kitchen will be in prime condition for holiday baking as well as entertaining visitors. No cringing when Cousin Celia opens your oven door to pop in her green-bean casserole!

Week Five: Give the Whole House a Quick Cleanup

Phase five is the time to whip through the whole house: dust, vacuum, mop, clean bathrooms, and generally tidy up. Pay particular attention to the areas that will be visible to visitors. Since you’ve already de-cluttered, eliminated cobwebs and dust, plus cleaned guest rooms and the kitchen, this phase of the operation should be quick and easy.

Breaking down a big job into manageable segments is the key to successfully achieving any goal. This five-week action plan gets your home into shape just in time for the holiday season kickoff: Thanksgiving. So get busy, stay on track, and allow yourself the luxury of less stress at game time by implementing this preparation plan over the next five weeks.

Want more house cleaning tips and ideas? Check out my book Clean Like A Pro: Tips and Techniques for Cleaning Your Home Like a Seasoned Professional, available on Amazon.

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House Cleaning Express: The Quickest Route to a Clean House

rugWho has time to clean?

Everyone wants a clean house, but who has time to do the job? Getting your home clean without spending a lot of time isn’t difficult; it just takes a little dedication. This guide will explain how to keep a clean house when your time is limited.

Keep It Picked Up

When your home is free of unnecessary clutter, cleaning is ten times easier. Clutter makes it look messy, breeds dust, and impedes the cleaning process.

Some simple steps to accomplish neatness:

  • Assign every object in your home a space to call its own.
  • Make “putting things away” a habit. When you’re done using the scissors, put them away. When you bring groceries home, put them away. When you get undressed, put your clothes in the dirty clothes hamper. In no time at all, you’ll be putting things away without giving it a second thought.
  • Make each household member take responsibility for their own stuff. Assign each person a basket and place stray items into the basket. If baskets are overflowing, hold the contents ransom until the errant party agrees to deal with their mess.
  • Purge unnecessary items on a regular basis. Keep a donation box in a prominent spot and make use of it.
  • Use baskets, bins, totes, shelves, or whatever tickles your fancy to keep your stuff organized and put away.

window and curtain

Clean as You Go

Housecleaning is most effective when it’s done on a regular basis. The quickest method by far is cleaning up every day. This doesn’t mean cleaning the entire house every day. This means doing various tasks as necessary so that areas never really get dirty. Daily tasks include the following:

  • Kitchen cleanup: as soon as food preparation is done, areas that were used should be wiped clean. Constantly be alert to the state of your kitchen appliances. If the stovetop is dirty, wipe it clean. If the inside of the microwave has food splatters, wipe it clean. When you begin to notice fingerprints on keypads or handles, it’s time to clean them. None of these tasks, taken individually, requires much time. Spending ten or fifteen minutes each day sprucing up the kitchen means you’ll never have to spend an hour or more at one time cleaning everything.
  • Bathroom patrol: clean bathroom sinks, vanities, and the toilet when you notice that it needs to be done. If there’s toothpaste on the mirror, take a minute to wipe it clean. Squeegee shower walls clean every day so that soap scum doesn’t get the opportunity to build up. Keep rags, sponges, paper towels, and bathroom cleaner under the sink and make use of them as necessary so the bathroom never really gets dirty.
  • Laundry: do it as often a necessary to avoid a huge accumulation.
  • Sweep or vacuum entryways as soon as dirt is tracked inside. This prevents dirt from getting tracked further into the house.
  • Clean pet areas often. Mats under water dishes, pet beds, and other pet-related paraphernalia should be cleaned whenever you notice they’re dirty.
  • Floors: spot clean as needed. If something gets spilled, clean it up before it gets tracked anywhere else.

Commit to a Regimen

On a regular basis, preferably weekly or every other week, make a point of completing whatever other housekeeping chores need doing. When the kitchen, bathrooms, laundry, and pet areas are kept clean on a daily basis, there’s not much left to do. Change bedding, dust, vacuum or sweep, and mop (if necessary). Don’t clean anything that isn’t dirty. An hour or two at most, and your home will be spic-and-span.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

Tried-and-true cleaning methods and tips are everywhere. The internet and magazines are loaded with cleaning advice. Put it to good use. House cleaning has been around for a long time. Cash in on the experience of others to save yourself time and trouble. A clean house doesn’t have to be a huge hassle, don’t turn it into one.

Want more house cleaning tips and ideas? Check out my book Clean Like A Pro: Tips and Techniques for Cleaning Your Home Like a Seasoned Professional, available on Amazon.

The Anyone Can Clean Guide to Housekeeping

valanceThe ability to clean a house is a basic skill that everyone should have, yet there are many who don’t know where to begin. If you’re a member of this unlucky group, this guide will get you going in the right direction.

Cleaning is neither complicated nor difficult. It’s a skill that improves with time and practice, so if at first it seems like cleaning is hard for you to do or you’re not doing it right, have patience. Once you get the hang of it, keeping your home clean will be a breeze.

Step One: Clutter Control

House cleaning begins by putting away clutter, also known as organizing. Getting organized is a simple process of finding a home for all objects and then making sure to put each object away when it’s not in use.

In order to minimize clutter, it’s also important to purge objects that are no longer needed. Every so often, closets and cupboards should be reorganized in order to make room for new objects in need of a home.

Organizing and putting stuff away is the first step in cleaning because it’s easier to vacuum, dust, and wipe down areas that are as clear as possible. Dust also has fewer places to settle in environments that aren’t littered with clutter.

dust ceiling wall

Start Cleaning From the Top Down

After getting organized, the next step in the cleaning process is getting rid of cobwebs and dust. Anything up high is done first, including ceiling fans, wall hangings, tops of cabinets and cupboards, etc.

Continuing to work from the top of the room downward, dust window treatments, window sills, chair rails, ridges on doors, lamp shades, furniture, baseboards, and baseboard heaters.

In the living room, den, family room, etc. vacuum upholstered furniture. Flip cushions and fluff pillows.

In bedrooms, change bedding as needed and periodically flip mattresses and sweep or vacuum under beds.

The Kitchen

In the kitchen, wipe down countertops and backsplashes, stovetop, and inside the microwave. Spot clean table and chairs and cabinet fronts. Clean keypads and fronts of appliances like the dishwasher and refrigerator. Scour the sink.

The Bathroom

In the bathroom, clean mirrors, sink and vanity, tub and/or shower, and the toilet. Tiled walls should also periodically be cleaned. Clean the bathroom often so that soap scum and other grime doesn’t build up.

Finally, in all rooms, vacuum, dust mop or sweep floors and damp mop, if necessary.

Laundry

Laundry can be a big job that’s often easier by spreading it out over time. Rather than letting it accumulate, doing laundry as soon as you’ve got a full load makes it more manageable than facing the daunting task of doing six loads in one day. Plus, you never run out of clean towels using this method.

Cleaning Styles

Different lifestyles call for different cleaning styles. House cleaning can be done every day, once every week or two, or whenever you have time. The key element is doing it. A house that’s never cleaned isn’t a pleasant place to live.

This is a basic overview of house cleaning. The process is made up of many more details, which you can learn about from other blog posts here. Don’t let cleaning intimidate you, it’s not difficult. Just get up, start doing it, and before you know it, you’ll be a cleaning master.

Want more house cleaning tips and ideas? Check out my book Clean Like A Pro: Tips and Techniques for Cleaning Your Home Like a Seasoned Professional, available on Amazon.

Get Everyone in Your Home Involved in Cleaning

clean switchplate

Keeping a home clean is a big job which gets bigger based on many factors, including the number of occupants in a household as well as the cleaning habits of each member. It’s only fair that all inhabitants participate in cleaning at least to the degree that they contribute to the mess.

The willing and able-ness of all occupants weighs heavily into their level of participation. Some people are natural-born cleaners, some not so much. Some may be too young or physically unable. And sometimes it’s just easier to take on the job without the group for any number of reasons.

Create a Team

Cajoling those who are able but not overly enthusiastic about cleaning can sometimes be accomplished through shame or bribery. Offering a reward (beyond the intrinsic satisfaction that comes from a job well done) or encouraging participation through praise might spur the loafers to action.

Alternatively, educate them: home care is the duty of all household members and the failure to participate indicates a lack of respect for others as well as self. As a last resort, present a bill for your time to anyone who willfully subjugates you to the role of live-in maid. The going rate for professional housecleaners ranges between $25 and $45 per hour.

cleaning shower door

Team Cleaning Plan

If you’ve managed to corral a willing and able team, the next step is formulating a plan. Creating an effective team cleaning plan promotes a successful cleaning experience for all team members. Breaking the job down by tasks or by areas in your home is one means of accomplishing this. Refer to this house cleaning checklist for a comprehensive list of common house cleaning tasks. Additional assignable jobs include dish washing and laundry as well as changing bed linens and bathroom towels.

Decide whether your team will clean all at once or as time permits. This decision will be based as much on the availability of various team members as the preferred cleaning methods of the household. Some break the job down over time, some tackle a portion every day, and some complete the entire job in one fell swoop every week or two.

Make Lists or Charts

Lists or charts outlining who is responsible for what are excellent organizational tools that serve several purposes. They make it clear to all parties what their jobs are. They also make it easy to identify who is pulling their weight and who isn’t. They give all team members a good idea of the overall makeup of a house cleaning regimen, which is valuable knowledge for young people to be exposed to. Lists also help the group facilitator keep track of what’s been done and what hasn’t.

Assign a Leader

Which brings us to the next point: your team needs a leader. This can be a fixed individual or team members can take turns leading. Either way, someone has to assign tasks and make sure each team member is completing their chores. Taking turns at being the team leader is a great way to expose all team members to the overall picture. Cleaning a home is a big job that’s comprised of many smaller tasks. Everyone on your team should understand its wide-reaching importance.

door window

A clean home is a happy, healthy home. It’s the responsibility of all occupants to keep their environment in shape. House cleaning chores are basic life skills that all children need to learn, and all adults should practice. Cleaning as a team might take a little time and practice to master, but in the long run this approach will pay off, both as a shared experience and as a valuable tool for teaching and productivity. Best of all, team cleaning makes the big job of cleaning a house manageable for all household members.

Want more house cleaning tips and ideas? Check out my book Clean Like A Pro: Tips and Techniques for Cleaning Your Home Like a Seasoned Professional, available on Amazon.

The Importance of Setting Goals When Cleaning Your Home

To get to where you want to be you need to know where you want to be. This statement seems obvious, but when it comes to house cleaning, we often fail to start out with any particular direction in mind. This is remedied by setting goals.

 

photo of dining table on top of wooden floor
Photo by Milly Eaton on Pexels.com

Plan Your Job

A successful house cleaning regimen begins with planning. Setting goals ensures that your efforts are used for maximum gain. Approaching the job systematically, breaking it down, and understanding what you’re hoping to accomplish all increase the likelihood that every important task on your to-do list gets completed. Diving in without any clear plan makes for a haphazard result that may or may not get you where you want to be.

Spontaneous Cleaning

Here’s an example: suppose you wake up bright and early on Saturday morning, look around at your messy home, and decide this would be a wonderful day to clean it up. You dive right in, starting in the kitchen, but are quickly sidetracked by the mountain of laundry awaiting your attention in the adjoining laundry room.

While starting a load of wash you see that the laundry room cupboards are a disaster, so you start pulling things out to reorganize. Partway through this process, however, you take a load of trash to the garage and, on your return trip, are again sidetracked by a mess of backpacks, shoes, and other misplaced paraphernalia creating a hazard in the middle of the mud room floor.

After gathering the pile into a basket, you begin distributing items into their respective homes. In the course of this activity, you collect a large variety of dirty dishes that need to be transported to the kitchen. You return to the kitchen, where you unload the clean dishes from the dishwasher and reload it with dirty dishes.

By this point you’re feeling somewhat frazzled and can’t recall where you left off or what your original intention was. A neighbor calls and asks you if you want to go for a walk. With great relief, you accept the invitation and give up on the house cleaning job that’s become confusing and overwhelming.

Spontaneity is not your friend when it comes to house cleaning. Having a clear set of goals in mind along with a solid plan outlining how to achieve them keeps you focused.

Planned Cleaning

Adding clear goals and solid planning to the above scenario leads to a very different outcome. On Friday evening, you make a plan to clean your home the next day. With this in mind, you do some prep work by washing, drying, and folding the dirty laundry that’s piled up in the laundry room. You also put away the clean dishes in the dishwasher and restart it with the dirty dishes that you gathered up from around the house while tidying up the clutter lying around. With these side jobs out of the way, tomorrow you can get right to cleaning without distractions.

You write out a list of the tasks you hope to accomplish: clean the kitchen countertops and appliances; clean the kitchen and mud room floors; dust and vacuum the living room, dining room, and den; clean the bathrooms. You budget three hours overall to achieve these goals and break this down further by assigning time values to individual rooms to help keep yourself on schedule.

First thing the next morning, you silence your phone and get busy. Having completed the kitchen cleaning from beginning to end, you move right on to the dusting and vacuuming and finish up with the bathrooms. You complete the job on time and feel great that you’ve spent your morning productively and met your goals.

white wooden table and chairs seen from oval mirror
Photo by Thomas on Pexels.com

 

Goals Keep You On Track

Goals keep you on track. They force you to devise a strategy to get to where you want to be, and they narrow your focus to where it needs to be in order to get there. Goals motivate you to follow a job through to completion. Furthermore, the act of repeatedly achieving your goals motivates you to set new goals and follow them through to completion as well.

To get to where you want to be, you need to know where you want to be. Whether it’s cleaning a house or constructing one, the job is best achieved by setting goals and then formulating a plan to reach them. Treat house cleaning like the job it is and you’ll be on your way to knowing what you want as well as how to get it.

Want more house cleaning tips and ideas? Check out my book Clean Like A Pro: Tips and Techniques for Cleaning Your Home Like a Seasoned Professional, available on Amazon.

 

Cleaning Secrets: Make a Big Job Simple by Breaking It Down

white curtains on window wall
Photo by Leonardo Rossatti on Pexels.com

The thought of tackling big cleaning jobs can be intimidating, even overwhelming. Whether the project involves cleaning dirty windows, de-scaling bathroom showers, or dealing with out-of-control clutter, the key to getting it done is converting it into manageable pieces. This is best achieved through a basic process whereby the job is first defined and then broken down.

Define the Job

The first step is to define the issue at hand. In order to find a solution, the problem must be understood. This can be in the form of a simple statement, such as “my windows are dirty” or a detailed list, for example: the kitchen appliances and floor need cleaning, the whole house needs vacuuming, the showers have to be scrubbed, and the laundry has to be washed, dried, folded, and put away.

If the job is large, write out a detailed list. This will be the basis for determining how best to break down the large job into smaller increments, so think in terms of sectioning the job into manageable portions.

Make a Plan

Next, outline a plan to deal with the issue. For example, if your windows are dirty, the plan would be to clean them. Seems simple enough, but maybe not.

If you’ve got five windows in your home and they all tip in for cleaning ease, the plan will be straightforward: clean the windows. You’ll have a little bit of planning to do, for instance figuring out what supplies to use and whether you’ve got time to clean all the windows at once. Sorting out the details shouldn’t be a big deal.

If, however, you’ve got twenty-five windows, each with additional storm windows to remove and clean as well as screens, and none of them have been cleaned in ten years, this is a big project. You would want to break it down and complete the steps over a period of time. This would require some planning.

For instance, you might plan on cleaning the windows over the course of three or four Saturdays and enlist assistance so that one person could work inside while another works outside. The procedures involved would be somewhat complicated, and a variety of supplies would be needed, such as a ladder and squeegees and lots of rags or paper towels and a bucket. Cleaning window screens adds an entire step to the plan. Writing out some lists or flowcharts to help break the job down into smaller steps makes a lot of sense when the job looms large.

Understand the Job

If you’re not sure how to clean this type of windows, the planning stage would be the time to research the issue to understand what’s really involved. Any specific challenges would be addressed at this time, for example windows that are immovable in their tracks, or outside surfaces that are inaccessible from outdoors. Fully understanding the scope of the job and planning for the specific issues that need attention helps the job flow smoothly because you’ll know what to expect, have the proper supplies on hand, and have good ideas about how to successfully complete the job.

Break It Down

The planning stage is the point at which a large job is converted into a series of smaller jobs, which are both mentally and physically easier to manage. Always plan such that the goals you set are attainable. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to accomplish more than you set out to do. It’s not so great to complete only half the job before you run out of steam, time, or supplies. You want to end up feeling good about your day’s work, not be left feeling like a failure because you weren’t able to meet your goals.

Complete the Project

If steps one and two were completed thoughtfully and thoroughly, the final step, actually completing the project, will be a simple matter of following through on the framework of plans that were set up. By breaking the job down into smaller, manageable pieces and taking time to understand the process, you’ve set yourself up for success. When the job is done, you’ll feel great about having mastered not only the job itself, but the equally large challenge of making a big job manageable.

Want more house cleaning tips and ideas? Check out my book Clean Like A Pro: Tips and Techniques for Cleaning Your Home Like a Seasoned Professional, available on Amazon.

photography of waterfalls between trees
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Basics of Laundry and Fabric Care

Laundry and fabric care are a part of housekeeping that we tend to overlook until a problem pops up. We usually don’t worry about clothing stains or wrinkles until it’s too late. The best time to consider how to wash your silk blouse isn’t after you’ve ruined it.

Today’s post will cover the basics of laundry and fabric care, including an overview of laundry care products and instructions for washing and drying fabrics, as well as suggestions for de-wrinkling and storing your clothes.

First, an introduction to the marvelous machines that make it easy for us to wear multiple changes of clothes every day: the washer and dryer.

Your Washer and Dryer

Depending on the model, your washing machine might be more complicated to operate than your car. Seriously. So, while I can provide some general information about washers, your particular machine may have different features or guidelines for use. Happily, there’s a YouTube video for everything, so if in doubt…

To begin, washing machines are either front loaders or top loaders, which means dirty laundry goes into the top of the machine or into the front of the machine, depending on where the door is placed. Front-load washing machines tend to be more efficient than top loaders. Top loaders are generally less expensive and their run cycle is shorter.

High efficiency washers are a variation on traditional machines. HEs use less water and clean clothes via a different process than traditional washers. They don’t have a high agitator in the center of the tub like traditional washing machines, so, theoretically, they should be less likely to damage your clothing. HEs also spin out more moisture from clothing, so articles require less drying time.

High efficiency washing machines have received bad press because of issues relating to mold and odors, as well as complaints about clothes not getting clean. If you are in the market for a new washer, do some research first.

Expect a different user experience from a HE than with a traditional washing machine. Some machines have a cleaning cycle that should be run once a month or so. HE machines also require HE laundry soap.

Most newer washing machines have quite a wide variety of features and options for run cycles, speeds, adjustments for how dirty the clothes are, and whether you want fries with that. So it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with your particular machine in order to get the most out of it.

Dryers, on the other hand, tend to be a little more straightforward. Damp clothes are tumbled around in a warm environment until they are dry. They are not difficult to operate, although you should have an idea of what settings to use on which fabrics.

A clothes dryer is not nearly as important as a washer, since items can always be air dried. Washing clothes without a washing machine is much more difficult.

bath bomb
Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

Laundry Care Products

Washing laundry calls for some kind of laundry detergent. Basic laundry detergent comes in the form of liquid, powder, or single-use pods. Which of these to use is a matter of personal choice.

Generally, powder detergents are cheaper and the packaging tends to be easier on the environment. The drawback is that powders sometimes don’t fully dissolve and can leave trace evidence of this on laundry.

Liquid costs more than powder, as a rule, and usually comes in plastic bottles, which are not enviro-friendly. Liquids are easier to use than powder, but the convenience comes at a cost.

Single-use pods eliminate the need to measure out your detergent, but are usually the least cost-effective option.

Laundry detergents comes in all different scents, concentrations, sizes, and combinations. Personal preference with regard to scents will be a major consideration when deciding which to use.

Another important factor to consider is how dirty your laundry actually is. We tend to wash textiles more frequently than they need to be washed. Most of the time, it’s not necessary to use a super-strong laundry detergent because clothes simply aren’t especially dirty. My advice: break out the big guns when you need to, otherwise don’t waste your money.

If you have sensitivity to soap, use one of the many additive-free varieties of laundry detergent.

It’s also best to use a mild detergent on delicate fabrics because strong detergents can break down the fibers in your sweet little nighties or your spandex swimwear.

The fight against grime on dirty laundry extends beyond laundry detergents. There are also stain fighters, chlorine and non-chlorine bleach, fabric softeners including dryer sheets, plus color boosters and other additives.

Chlorine bleach is good to use when washing things like smelly gym socks or anything (white) that you want to disinfect and deodorize.

Oxygen bleach, or color-safe bleach, is safe to use on most colored textiles and also has disinfecting properties. If in doubt, test a small area of the item with the color-safe bleach by applying and letting it sit for a few minutes, then rinsing the area.

Laundry boosters are things people add into the wash load to help their laundry detergent do a better job. These include washing soda, vinegar, baking soda, and dish detergent. Boosters are completely optional and usually not necessary.

Again, most of the time we tend to over-wash clothing. Don’t add to the madness by using too much laundry detergent or a stronger soap than is necessary. Soap residue on clothing will actually attract more dirt.

Washing and Drying Clothes: The Process

Washing clothes is a process. Clothes should be sorted, pretreated for stains, washed using the correct settings, and dried using the correct drying method for the correct period of time. Following the right procedures ensures that your clothes will be clean, undamaged, and wrinkle-free.

What you don’t want to do when washing laundry is jam all your clothes into the washing machine mixed together, regardless of weight or color, until the machine is stuffed like a turkey. This is a great way to ensure that your clothes don’t get clean, possibly get ruined, and your machine gets subjected to wear and tear beyond what it’s designed for.

Sorting Laundry

The process of washing clothes begins with sorting. Group clothing and other textiles by weight and color: darks, whites, lights, delicates. You can get away with washing medium-weight articles with heavier articles, to a point.

Lightweight items should be washed in a delicates bag, which is a mesh bag that zips closed. Washing delicates in the same load as heavier items can be done, if you use a delicates bag and there’s nothing in the load that will snag on anything else.

Delicates are things like underwear, nightgowns, lightweight sweaters or tops, anything with lace or sequins, silk, cashmere, and tights. Make sure to check care tags – some things like silk or cashmere should be dry cleaned or hand washed. If in doubt, hand wash, or take the chance of ruining the item.

There’s a learning curve to sorting laundry correctly. You want to create large enough loads to fill, but not overfill, the washer. Generally, shoot for filling the washer with loosely packed clothes so that it’s no more than 3/4 full. Running a load that’s too small is a waste of energy, so try to strike a balance between a full load and an overstuffed load.

Keep white/light and dark items separate so that colors don’t bleed onto your whites or lights and discolor them. A red top in a load of white towels will absolutely turn the towels pink.

If you’re not bleaching your whites, it’s ok to combine them with lights to create a full load. If using chlorine bleach, don’t wash anything that isn’t white in the load. Doing so will cause colors to bleed so that your whites turn gray or blue or purple, and your colored items will take on a mottled appearance.

It’s best to wash really heavy items like jeans in a load by themselves. You might get away with washing jeans with towels or heavy sweatshirts, but another practical thing to consider is how much weight your washing machine can handle. Almost all machines go off balance easily if they’re loaded up with heavy things.

Off Balance Loads

If you have no idea what I mean by “off balance”, you’ll get the idea the first time you hear sounds coming from your laundry room that make you think there’s an elephant in there dancing on a set of extremely large drums.

When a heavy load of laundry shifts so that more items are on one side of the washer basin than the other during the spin cycle, the machine may start to dance around. If the washer isn’t perfectly level, this happens more easily, but it can happen even if the machine is level and your laundry was loaded into the machine to perfection. Over time you will get a feel for the limitations of your washing machine. It’s a deeply personal relationship.

Sheets can be washed with other similar color and weight items, just be careful to load the washer loosely. Sheets have the tendency to wrap themselves into knots if they’re packed in too tightly. Sometimes they do it anyway, even if they’re loaded correctly. This would also fall under the category entitled: things you will learn to hate about your washing machine.

Don’t load up a machine with items that are completely different weights, like, for instance, your comforter and a half load of shirts. This will also cause your machine to go off balance.

Heavyweight Items

On a related note, be sure that your machine can handle heavy items before trying to wash, say, a comforter or pillow. Check the user manual to be sure. You can actually ruin your washing machine by loading items that are too heavy into a machine that isn’t up to the task.

HE machines might shut off mid-spin if they’re loaded with items that are too heavy, which is one of the drawbacks of some of these machines. It’s good to have an idea what you can and can’t wash in your particular machine so you aren’t stuck with a sopping wet comforter that’s only half washed.

These types of special needs items can be taken to a laundromat that has larger machines to accommodate oversize, heavyweight items. Many laundromats have attendants in-house who can wash your items for you (at a cost) if you don’t care to hang around and do it yourself.

white bottoms on clothes line
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Pre-Treating

Anything greasy like soiled tablecloths, napkins, pot-holders, or kitchen towels should be pre-treated with stain remover and washed in hot water to break down the grease. Likewise, greasy work clothes should be washed separately in hot water. It’s probably not a good idea to combine the greasy work clothes in the same load as the cloth napkins.

While you are sorting the laundry, zip zippers and check pockets for change and tissues and pens. If you’ve ever washed a tissue or a cell phone, you’ll understand why this step is important. Also keep an eye out for stains that need to be pre-treated.

Any drawstring ties should be tied together. This step prevents the strings from getting tangled with other items or the ends from getting lost inside the garment. To keep dark items from fading, turn them inside out.

Once you’ve gotten your laundry sorted, pre-treated, and otherwise prepared for the big dive into the pool, it’s time to load your washing machine. Again, don’t over-fill the machine. Your laundry needs to have room to move around somewhat, not be packed in so tightly that is doesn’t get cleaned.

Adding Soap

Ideally, your machine will have dispensers for adding soap, fabric softener, and bleach. If not, here’s how it’s done. Load your laundry into the machine, add water, then add detergent. You can usually get away with adding the detergent right onto the clothes, too, but don’t tell anyone I said so. Any other additives go in the washer at this time, too.

If, for some reason, there’s no bleach dispenser, wait for the water to fill the tub before adding bleach. Don’t pour the bleach directly onto your laundry.

Fabric softener gets added to the final rinse cycle, so if there’s no dispenser, you need to catch the wash load at the point that the water is draining into the machine for the final rinse and add softener then.

It would be unusual for your washing machine not to have bleach and fabric softener dispensers. It’s also not always necessary to use either bleach or fabric softeners, although many people like to use either or both.

You’ll also need to figure out what temperature water to use, how much water to use, and what settings to use on your laundry adventure.

There will be lots of variations at this stage, depending on differences in washers. Some machines automatically select certain settings, some have more than others. Some machines have options for every fabric type under the sun as well as how dirty the laundry is.

Some machines have steam cycles to help remove stains or to freshen up wrinkled clothes. There may be a pre-wash cycle for help with stains. Generally, dirtier clothes and heavier fabrics will need a longer wash cycles than lightweight items or things that aren’t especially dirty.

Some general rules of thumb:

  • Use the permanent press cycle for synthetic fabrics.
  • Use the heavy-duty cycle for towels, jeans, and other heavyweight fabrics.
  • Use the whites cycles for whites – this will release bleach from the bleach dispenser at the right time.
  • Use the delicates cycle for delicates, and wash in cold water.
  • Cold water is best for darks that don’t have any greasy soiling or sweat stains, otherwise use warm or hot.
  • Use warm or hot water for towels, again depending on how dirty they are.
  • If you’re washing dirty socks and underwear, go ahead and use hot water.
  • Pay attention to fabric care tags.
  • Don’t use hot water or the hot dryer setting on wool unless you are trying to shrink it.
  • Silk and linen require special care, be sure to check labels.
  • Anything with sequins, beads, or lace should be handled with extreme care and is probably best hand-washed.
  • Cotton fabrics are subject to shrinkage, so use the coolest water for washing that will clean the item, and consider air drying.

Pay attention to the washing machine, the load may need to be re-distributed if the machine goes off balance.

Doing laundry is a lot like making a sandwich. You can make a plain old sandwich with white bread, and it’ll be OK. But a really good sandwich requires really good bread. That’s how laundry is, too.

Pre-treating, sorting, setting up your machine properly are all the things that, if you do them right, lay the foundation for an excellent laundry outcome. That’s your bottom piece of bread.

In the middle, the laundry gets washed. Ho-hum. Go make a sandwich while you wait for the machine to do it’s thing. Slather on a little mustard, if you wish.

Then comes the other piece of bread: the drying process. If done well, your laundry will be wonderfully soft and wrinkle-free. If not, your laundry can end up a wrinkled mess, looking and smelling less-than-fresh.

Drying

Laundry can either be air-dried or machine-dried. Most folks use a clothes dryer for the majority of their drying needs, however some items shouldn’t go into a dryer, such as delicate fabrics like silk or things that are lacy or beaded, wool, bras and pantyhose, bathing suits, and anything with rubber backing such as bathroom rugs.

A drying rack can be used for things that need to air dry, or drape them over a shower curtain rod, or hang things on clothes hangers and hang them up somewhere. Get creative.

Most items can safely go into your dryer, just be sure to select the proper heat setting. Many machines tell you which setting to use for what. Generally, the permanent press cycle is a safe bet for most fabrics. Delicates should probably air dry, however they can be dried on a low (warm) setting. Cotton shrinks when exposed to heat.

It’s good practice to remove items as they dry to prevent excess wear and tear and wrinkling. Keep an eye on sheets, which may need to be adjusted or untangled partway through the drying process.

If you’re fastidious about removing your laundry immediately from the dryer when it’s dry, you will have wrinkle-free, fresh laundry to fold, hang up, and wear.

An alternative to using an electric clothes dryer is a clothesline. It uses no electricity, causes less wear on your clothing, and leaves laundry smelling fresh. It’s also better for the environment.

Some neighborhoods do not allow clotheslines, so check first. Citizens in some areas are lobbying for the right to hang their laundry outside to dry in so-called “Right To Dry” movements.

assorted color string bikini top
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Hand Washing

Very flimsy or delicate items can be hand washed. It’s not difficult or time-consuming. Simply fill your sink or a basin with some cool water, add laundry and a little mild laundry detergent, and swish the laundry around for a minute or two until the water is sudsy. Allow the laundry to soak in the water for a few minutes, then swish it around for a couple of minutes more and rinse in cool water until all the soap is gone.

Don’t wring or twist the items. Place on a towel to absorb excess moisture, then either hang or lay flat to dry. Knit items like sweaters should lay flat, everything else can be hung up.

Ironing and Steaming

Ironing isn’t a big part of our laundry routine these days. Wrinkle-free fabrics make it unnecessary to iron most articles. Should you find yourself challenged with having to iron something but aren’t sure how, it’s pretty simple.

First, check the iron’s water level, then pre-heat it to the appropriate setting. Delicate fabrics are ironed at cooler settings, heavyweight fabrics get hotter settings. Irons have indicators as to which temperature to use on what fabric.

When your iron is warm, lay the wrinkled garment out flat on an ironing board or a couple of towels and pass the iron back and forth over the wrinkled area until it’s no longer wrinkled. Adjust the fabric and repeat the process until the entire garment has been de-wrinkled.

 

An alternative to ironing is steaming. A clothes steamer is easier to use than an iron. Just put in some water, turn it on, wait for the steam to start materializing, pass the steamer head over the wrinkles and watch them disappear. Presto!

baskets clean color cotton
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Storing Clean Laundry to Minimize Wrinkles

Avoiding most wrinkles is easy if you keep an eye on your laundry as it dries. Retrieving items from the dryer at the point just prior to their being completely dry and still warm, and then immediately hanging up or folding them, ensures they will have little to no wrinkles.

If air-drying laundry, easily de-wrinkle it by tossing it into the dryer for five minutes while it’s still slightly damp.

Properly storing your clean laundry ensures that it remains wrinkle-free. Hang items like shirts and dresses and skirts, preferably while they’re still very slightly damp. Fold knits neatly. Don’t overstuff drawers.

Fold sheets and towels and stack in neat piles so they don’t topple over and become transformed into a wrinkled mess.

Keeping textiles in excellent condition takes a little bit of know-how. By taking the time to follow the correct processes from pre-treating straight through to removing items from the dryer at precisely the right time, your laundry will always come out looking and smelling its best.

Want more house cleaning tips and ideas? Check out my book Clean Like A Pro: Tips and Techniques for Cleaning Your Home Like a Seasoned Professional, available on Amazon.