Thursday, May 31, 2012


Ask a Clean Person: Laundry School Commencement Exercises

Get out your notebooks, sharpen your pencils, hone your note-passing skills: Laundry School is in session! We're devoting the entire month of May to the subject of laundry. And what fun would Laundry School be if you couldn't backtalk the teacher, right? So! The Twitter hashtag for this is #LAUNDRYSCHOOL. If you follow me on Twitter (@joliekerr) you can holler at me when you do your laundry! Or lemme see those beautiful piles of folded clothes! Or ask questions! Or tweet at me in emergency situations! Or maybe you just really, really, really need to talk to me about how folding a fitted sheet sends you into fits of rage. This is me, being here for you. And because I try to be here for you in as many ways as possible, I've started a pinboard devoted entirely to laundry to serve as a reference source. Most importantly: got questions? Ask away!

Here we are, coming up on the end of laundry school and oh my, aren't you all impressive looking in your caps and (perfectly pressed!) gowns. Ach! Just lovely. I'm so proud.

As we did with #LAMOB, for the final installment I'll recap what we've learned — not just this month, but an entire round-up of all the laundry-related questions that we've tackled during the lifespan of this column, then I'll do quick answers to a few more questions and then we'll throw ourselves a wicked rippah to celebrate our graduation! But before I do that, I feel like I owe you a wee apology: I had every intention of making #LAUNDRYSCHOOL into as well planned out and steady a project as #LAMOB. Then things got, ummm, a li'l busy, and I don't feel that I've brought my A-game to this series. So! To make it up to you, come the Fall we're going to pack up our extra-long twin sheets and head off to #LAUNDRYCOLLEGE. Which is to say this — all of you who asked about getting cat hair off your blankies and sweaters and dear God on your underpants too?? What all are you doing with your cats? Nevermind, I don't want to know (unless you're getting rid of them, in which case OH GOD YES I WANT TO KNOW, I WANT TO KNOW): I will get back to you, promiseies. Also, gosh there were loads (HEH) of other fantastic questions but I'm only one Clean Person, ya know?! So! Please don't fret if there's a laundry topic we've not yet covered, we'll get there. Also maybe we've already got you covered and you didn't even know it? Aaand with that lead-in, let's go to the highlight reel! 

The basics of how to do laundry
Tips for laundering items in hard water
Stain removal for the bustier among us
Doing battle with 'pit stains
Keeping air-dried clothes smelling fresh
Hand washing bras
Setting the color in dark denim
What to do about dingy whites
Removing Laffy Taffy from clothes
Getting bicycle grease stains off clothing
Hand washing cashmere
What to do when you accidentally use fabric softener instead of detergent
Barf stains on corduroy
Blood stains on underthings
Mildew smells in laundry
...And in washers
Machine washing down parkas
More dye setting tips
Cleaning faux fur trim
What to do about cum stains on sheets
Prewashing cleaning rags to cut down on loads of laundry
Keeping summer whites and brights looking that way
How to get a stinky comforter smelling fresh again
Deodorant stains on bras
Getting yellowed linens white again
Treating mysterious grease spots on laundry
Caring for silk sheeting
Solutions for excessively lint-y towels
Lint removal for bedding and other large surfaces
Handwashing wool and other "dry clean only" items
Washing oversized comforters and mattress pads
Static cling
Washing greasy sheets
Mascara stains on pillowcases
Ironing basics
What to do when colors bleed

Woof! That was exhausting. And yet? THERE'S STILL MORE. But let's make this fast so we can get onto the important work of signing one another's Laundry School Class of 2012 yearbooks.

With the weather heating up, I thought this was a timely Laundry Month question: my boyfriend dutifully sprays himself down with sunscreen, but it always leaves a gross orange/pink ring around the collar of his white v-necks. I've tried Zout on the stains and OxiClean in the laundry, but neither worked. He suggested bleach — I noticed that when the bleach splashed onto the shirts in the washing machine, there was a momentary chemical reaction where the entire shirt (the white part of the body, there are no stains on the shirt itself, primarily just the v-neck ribbing) turned the same orange/pink. So what's going on? And, how do I get this stuff off? We live in sunny New Orleans and at this rate he's going to go broke buying new white v-necks all summer.

There's an ingredient that is commonly found in sunscreens called avobenzone that reacts with iron particles found in water, particularly hard water. (Remember hard water?? This is how I figure out if you're paying attention in class, btw.) When the avobenzone gets all funky up with iron it oxidizes and causes what are essentially rust stains. So that's what we need to treat.

There are a bunch of commercially available products out there that treat rust stains on laundry; Rust Stain Magic (it's magic!) is one, and while it may seem strange to use the same product on your clothes that you use on your toilet I promise it's fine. And actually? I guess it's not that strange. I dunno, that narsty looking toilet on the front of the bottle is throwing me for a loop.

If you want to go the all-natural route, you can use a combination of lemon juice and salt to pull the stains out. Rinse the item in cool water to flush out as much of the stain as possible, squeeze lemon juice on the discolored areas, and sprinkle liberally with salt before allowing it to sit for 24 hours before laundering as usual. The same thing will work with vinegar and salt too.

What you don't want to use is bleach or, more devastatingly, OxiClean. They won't work and, particularly in the case of bleach, will make the staining more pronounced. Poor Bleachie, he means well but just can't seem to get it right.

I've got lots of sailor-stripey type tops. I collect and wear them, and I love them so much. I've got black on white, white on black, blue on white, and equally spaced red (or blue or black) and white stripes. Sometimes mostly white, and sometimes mostly dark background, if you see what I mean. I'm always saving them for a special load because I'm afraid the white stripes will go dingy on me. However, this often means I have to spend a long time not wearing my favorite striped tops. I'm sometimes tempted to toss the black tops with thin white stripes into the dark wash, but then I get scared I'll end up with dingy white stripes on a black top. Oh, I should say, most of these tops are cotton, or cotton with lycra. Some are cotton/modal.

Am I being needlessly careful? Can I mix my stripes with my colors? I'm a dutiful separator of colors in washer AND dryer (even separating the red spectrum colors from the blue spectrum colors, and mixing heather grays into both when there's not enough of each for a load). I love doing my laundry right, you can't imagine how proud I am of my technique. But the stripes have me stumped!

Oh man, you're speaking my language — I've never met a striped-shirt I didn't love. My friends and I call them "French Vacation Shirts" and I should probably just go ahead and tell you that I organize my shirt drawer in the following way:

Long sleeved tees
Short sleeved tees
Striped tees

Naturally, the striped tees pile is the biggest one, such that it requires a special folding method so that I can fit them in a double row so that they'll line up with the solids, those assholes. I don't even know why I bother with the solids. They're such dullards.

ANYway. This is mostly to explain that I GET YOU. And I mean? Really what do you do with items that are both white and colored?!? It's so confounding. But happily I'm here to worry and think and worry about these things so you don't have to. So here are my two recommendations for you, which you can take in an and/or way: when you first get your striped items, give 'em a soak in a vinegar/water solution to set then color and then wash the whiter of the stripies with your whites, confident in the knowledge that the colored parts won't bleed because of your forethought. The other choice you have is to use or use the Shout Color Catcher in your mixed wash, which is the best bet for your darker stripies. The Shout Color Catcher, savior of stripie-tee lovin' lads and lasses the world 'round.

I got a white bathing suit accented with a shiny gray pattern last summer. It actually fits my 32F boobs, which is so nice, but it was super expensive because of that. Anyway, I was at the beach at the time, and in the ocean, and everything was fine. The next time I wore it, it was in a pool and I guess the chlorine or something tinted the white parts yellowish-green. I tried washing it but no luck. It's been almost a year since I tried to do anything with it, so I guess it is set in pretty badly. I really want to wear the bathing suit this summer … any tips for me?

You betcha! Okay but first let's talk about what NOT to use: as much as we love it, do not (DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT!!) use bleach on your bathing suits. (Man. Rough week for Bleachie!) It's absolutely terrible for the fabric.

The best thing to do with any bathing suits you wear into a chlorine pool is to rinse it thoroughly in cold water immediately after wearing. You really don't want those chemicals hanging out in your suit. You don't need to wash it straight away or anything nuts — heck, you can just rinse it in the shower when you're rinsing yourself. (You're rinsing yourself after swimming, right? Right.)

General bathing suit laundering tips: treat 'em basically like your brawrs. Handwash them in a gentle detergent like Woolite — if they're dark colored you might choose to use Woolite Dark, which will help to protect the integrity of the color, which takes a real beating what with all that sun and salt and chlorine and rum.

OxiClean is an option, but many people report mixed luck with it on yellowed bathing suits. What does totally work is baking soda, which is convenient since even the barest of refrigerators generally contain a box of baking soda, which means it's almost always on hand. You'll want to use a half cup of baking soda dissolved in a sinkful of cold water, and allow the suit to soak in that solution for 1-2 hours. Then drain the sink, rinse the suit and allow it to air dry.

As a last resort, if you really can't get things as bright as you want them try using a product like White Bright or Rit Whitener & Brightener.

Previously: Laundry School Week 1, Week 2, Week 3 and Week 4.

Jolie Kerr is not paid to endorse any of the products mentioned in this column, but she sure would be very happy to accept any free samples the manufacturers care to send her way! Are you curious to know if she's answered a question you have? Do check out the archives, listed by topic. More importantly: is anything you own dirty?

65 Comments / Post A Comment

Cat named Virtute

Aw, Jolie, I think you`ve done a perfectly lovely job on laundry month! Thanks for helping us be Clean(er) Persons, and for responding to my laundry question tweet so promptly today. Much love for all your hard work, and looking forward to laundry college!


Love it, love it, love it!@v


gosh don't we all look smashing in our fancy dresses and suits! time for the celebratin' to begin!!!



@redheaded&crazie Dear Jolie: How do I get champagne stains out of my fancy dress?

fondue with cheddar

@redheaded&crazie My boyfriend barfed in my graduation cap!


Okay, so nobody cares about this but me, but I got the weird gray marks off of my favorite yellow pencil skirt that I was complaining about last week! It was actually mostly accidental? I Shouted it Out (and yes, I do say that every time I use Shout), brushed and brushed and sobbed and brushed a little more...and then accidentally left it in my handwashing tub soaking in water for three or four days straight while I left to attend a wedding. Remembered it eventually, threw it in the wash when I got home, and behold! It came out stainless. With only a little damage to the fabric where I brushed too vigorously. *cough* But never give up your stained garments for lost, folks! This I tell you.

[/tales of frigwiggin]


@frigwiggin I totally care about this! I had weird gray marks appear on a brand new shirt after it came out of the washer. It looked almost like the washer drum had somehow put marks all over it. I was about to try OxiClean but this still doesn't answer how those marks got there in the first place.


@InYourLibrary That's what it seems like happened to my skirt! Went into the wash perfectly fine, went into the dryer, came out--WHOOPS, gray marks on the front! I've gotten pretty much used to the occasional grease stain (doesn't mean I like it, DRYER) but the gray marks mystify me. Try Shout [it Out] or Spray N Wash or one of those things? I don't know which part of my technique actually worked; I kept thinking the marks were fading as I brushed it, but then I'd look away and look back and they'd seem exactly the same. Kind of a pain to replicate, but maybe just the spray will do the trick?


@InYourLibrary That has happened to a couple of my white shirts at the laundromat! Nothing got those grey streaks out, it was like someone washed greasy rags in there, or had gum in their pockets. Now at least I know to always check the drum before putting my stuff in. But if it happens again, I'll try @frigwiggin's Shout tip.


Weird, kind of irrelevant stain story: A few years ago, I got a grease blob on the front of a silk camisole top, and it wouldn't come out. I tried various things - washing-up liquid, soaky-uppy powders - but to no avail. I put it in my fabric basket to use for scraps. Recently, I was going through the fabric basket, found the top, and the stain had disappeared completely. Actual MAGIC.


@spanglepants May I borrow your magic basket? I need to rescue my orange silk dress from its greasy brisket bbq stain.


@dinos May I borrow your brisket? Mmm...

Terrifying Wife-Avatar

Arrrgh, orange avobenzone stains! Our house has well water that is so hard it's barely a liquid, and I am an obsessive sunscreen wearer. Orangeness EVERYWHERE. And that part where you "rinse to flush out the stain" never works for me because I'm rinsing with the same water that caused the chemical reaction in the first place ("It's coming from inside the house!")

My best workarounds were to stop wearing anything white/light-colored or to take all my whites to the cleaner's. Lately I've quit avobenzone by accident because I've been trying to quit using products with parabens and it seems like the paraben-free sunscreens are mostly non-chemical as well. But I am going to remember that Rust Stain Magic for the future. Thanks!


@Nicole Sauvage@twitter On a (slightly) unrelated note, I would be happy to hear what your adventures in paraben-free sunscreen have been like! I know I've bothered people on the 'Pin for similar recommendations before, but I don't think it was you?

Terrifying Wife-Avatar

@VolcanoMouse Wasn't me; I'm a latecomer to the paraben-free, er, "movement?" "lifestyle?" "thingy?" As such I am only on my 2nd tube of Banana Boat Natural Reflect SPF 50+. I like it because it's cheaper and more widely available than, e.g., Burt's Bees or California Baby, but it is not perfect. Hard to rub in and does not disappear into the skin as readily as I'd like. Lately I've been cutting it with an equal-sized dollop of regular lotion (good, inexpensive paraben-free lotion bought by accident: St. Ives Intensive Healing) and that helps. I also got Yes To Cucumbers moisturizer with SPF for my face/neck. Also a little hard to rub in but it moisturizes without causing my face to become an oil slick--which, interestingly (read "not that you asked"), all the high SPF chemical sunscreens/SPF moisturizers seemed to do. I'm wondering if titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide absorb oil?

Wow, I use a lot of slashes.


@Nicole Sauvage@twitter OOOH, this Banana Boat item sounds like a thing I need and want!


@Nicole Sauvage@twitter My derm told me to stay away from Avobenzene.It's super carcinogenic. I tend to believe this bc this info comes from my medically trained dermatologist who has an office on the beach in Florida and not some random, chemical-phobic hippie. You can get regular drugstore sunscreen w.o this ingredient.


I agree, there has been nothing wrong with Laundry Month! I celebrated by buying my first jar-thing of OxiClean and soaking/scrubbing all of my summer flip-flops, teva-type sandals, and gardening shoes. Brilliant! They look good as new. Thanks, Jolie!


I just did some stain treating last night with OxyClean. I let a white shirt (with a coffee stain on it, of course) soak in a solution for about 15 minutes, then threw it in the wash. When I took it out of the dryer. While the original stains I treated were gone, it had another mystery stain on it that wasn't even there when it went in the wash! It looks like an ink sudge, or something. I don't know where it came from.

Wearing white is an uphill battle, is what I'm trying to say.


@yrouttasight I just replied to frigwiggin about similar mystery gray/inky/shadowy stains appearing on clothes after washing. My shirt was also white. Where are these mystery stains coming from?


@InYourLibrary I'm tempted to blame my illustrator partner. He's notorious for leaving pens/pencils/ink brushes (get rid of him, serously, revolting, etc.) in his pockets and not emptying them before they go in the wash.

However, I have to believe this was covered in a previous Clean Person article. We need this shit archived and searchable! For our own good!


I know it's how most of the world operates, and it's much greener, but do people seriously enjoy line dried clothing? I have nightmares about it from childhood--finding a bug my undies after taking them in from the line, or having to practically crack a towel in half to use it and having my skin heavily exfoliated. Not to mention the time a bird pooped on my bedsheets. Nature, you're a jerk.


@parallel-lines I actually enjoy hanging my laundry out (and I enjoy very little about housework, so), so yes. I even enjoy the nature encounters. One time I found a stick insect on my underpants! <3 U, Stickie!

I often throw the loads or part of them in the dryer for 10 mins on no heat just to get the dog hair off/fluff things up a bit, though.


@parallel-lines I don't have a clothesline but I dry literally ALL my laundry on racks in my apartment. It sounds counterintuitive, but I am partially motivated by laziness (and cheapness.) Air drying = fewer trips to the laundry room 4 floors down, and I can just leave and go somewhere or do something else while it's drying.
So drying inside, even though it takes up a lot of room, definitely mitigates the bird-poop or big-in-undies stuff. My towels don't really feel crunchy after air drying but maybe I am just used to it. And, best of all, I think air-dried clothes smell AMAZING.
But everyone has their own preferences so I wouldn't worry too much about not loving it.


@planforamiracle Indoors makes more sense. Maybe we just had the laundry line from hell--wasps even built a next on it!


@parallel-lines I love it. Yes, towels and jeans get crunchy, but for basically everything else? Splendid. (And I air-dry my jeans anyway.) I wish I were able to have a clothesline instead of drying racks inside where I live now. It just seems nicer to me to have fresh air moving through my clothes instead of putting them in a metal box that may or may not actually dry them.


@parallel-lines Agreed about rack-drying over line-drying. I have this huge drying rack from Ikea (oh god that looks like it is no longer available! sorry!) but it's got four tiers that you can hang or lay flat on. When it's open, it takes up about a 2'x2' area which is a little annoying but not difficult to stash away in a corner. Then when it's not in use, it folds up flat, maybe two" thick or so. It's tall, but thin, so I just stash it in the closet when I'm not using it.

I don't dry towels on the rack though, or socks or underoos. Those go in the dryer.

The Lady of Shalott

@parallel-lines Yep. I truly love line-dried clothing. Having a clothesline (or what my mom has, a square rotating thing) is literally one of my favourite things about doing laundry (which is one of my favourite chores). Fabric softener with the wash, snapping the clothes when hanging them and taking them down, and ironing things after they come back in all help with the softness thing.


@parallel-lines I would LOVE to have an outdoor line! I grew up with all our laundry being dried outdoors in warmer months, and indoors on a line strung across the basement in colder months. I never found bugs in them though! Yikes.

I'm with those above who dry everything on racks. I hate dryers! They shrink clothes and set missed stains and apparently, as I'm learning reading comments, actually CREATE stains occasionally. Yuck. It's sometimes inconvenient to have two big racks in my livingroom covered with laundry, but I vastly prefer it to dryers. I occasionally dry sheets or towels in the dryer, but often times I just find creative ways to drape them over closet doors or chairs or what have you. Kind of bonkers, but ah well. This is why I live alone!

Oh, and my clothes don't dry all stiff, but I remember they would when I was kid. I wonder if it's a water quality type thing (how hard vs how soft).


@parallel-lines I miss my clothes line. I never found bugs in my clothes but they'd come in smelling like trees/cut grass. The ones I dry on the racks inside now just smell like my spare room, which is nowhere near so nice.


@parallel-lines I love line-dried clothes (and sheets! Especially sheets!) because they smell so lovely. I live in the frozen tundra, (and now live in an apartment), and I now have an indoor laundry rack that I use for everything - even sheets. I refuse to pay to use a dryer. It doesn't smell breezy fresh, but it's still nicer on my clothes. Though not great for my interior decorating scheme, I guess.


@parallel-lines Come to Australia! Not only is sunshine free but electricity is VERY expensive! Towels are the only things I put in the dryer. I love sheets straight off the line and on the bed - the smell of sunshine is better than starch. I think an Australian invented the Hills Hoist (wikipedia link please!!) and every house has one!


Heyyyyy, the T-shirt shelf in my closet looks exactly like A Clean Person's shirt drawer. And too, the stripies totally dominate the solidies in numbers and style.

You know why striped T-shirts are the best? They make yer bewbs look amazing.


@laurel Busted! (pun not intended, but now I"m happy about it). That's why I wear 'em! I might also add that I separate my T's exactly the same way as Jolie does!


Edith, that's adorable.


I had the same problem with my white Nirvana tank top, obviously a very key part of my wardrobe, and I tried everything. Then my mom filled a bowl with a bleach/water solution and soaked the stained part for a few hours, and it looks perfect now. So maybe you can <3Bleachie for this after all, if you've tried everything else.


@psychedelicate Bleach is okay, but I prefer In Utero.


@Decca hahaha omg i didn't even think of that.


@psychedelicate My favourite song off Incesticide? "Stain".


I have a couple striped tops, and I go by "Is there more white or more dark on the shirt?" and toss it in the appropriate pile. I have not noticed the white getting dingy, but I haven't had them for a super long time. But I apply this logic to lots of patterns and haven't noticed they get dingy. BUT I also use that stuff that keeps whites and brights looking good.


I consider this the perfect excuse to buy more striped tees.


Hi All- threadjacking to say, if you are on Sharepin, I have uploaded the address to my Flickr stream and contact info. And on my Flickr stream are so many clothes, most US sizes 14-18. Please take them offa my hands so I don't have to think about them any more.

Would love help with shipping on account of I HAVE SO MUCH STUFF and it will cost to send stuff.

Would have waited to post on Friday Open Thread but I posted to a style blog I read/write for and Hairpin Fashion, and things went fast yesterday.


Currently, can't find my tape measure (swear I put it down somewhere). Happy to measure stuff for you if I can unearth it, but it might take a bit of time to locate said utensil.

PS: Am having some funny staining issues on a pair of trousers, so yay for laundry school round up!

PS PS: Am hiding photos of things that were claimed by folks. If it disappears it's claimed.


@PistolPackinMama I totally joined the Sharepin for this.


@Astroix Excellent. Find things! Take them off my hands.


Thank the gods for Jolie.
Just yesterday I woke up to bizarre and unexplainable blood on my expensive white sheets. I didn't panic, just pulled up 'ask a clean person' on my iphone and VOILA.
Ok. not full voila. I think there's still a small spot but it's entirely possible it's only in my mind.


@Jade How much blood? A streak? Look out for the BBs...

apples and oranges

@Jade If it's your blood, try to rub some of your spit in it to get it out. Weird I know but apparently the enzymes in spit break down blood? SCIENCE. Only will work if it's your spit and your blood though.


@kangerine I totally did the spit on blood thing! It was hilarious because my mouth decided at that moment to be utterly and completely dry.

@Stevie oh, spots. I figured it out, it was my foot!

The Lady of Shalott



@The Lady of Shalott I assume this means we are looking at Edith's eyelet dresses and bloomers.


Jolie! I sent my e-mail this morning, much too late, I fear. I just want my white skirt to look new again :(



Check Ebay for Freya suits. I am a 34F and my Freya bras fit me perfectly. I love them. The bikini tops fit just like the bras. Freya bikini tops cost like $80+ at Nordstrom. You can get them brand-new for about $24 a bikini piece on Ebay. Get fitted at Nordstrom, then head to Ebay to purchase.

Jenna Q

First of all I LOVE your username, I am absolutely obsessed with manatees.
Secondly, I actually did that after reading an older article about problems finding bras/bathing suit tops for big boobs. And I got them on ebay and it was so cheap and they fit me so beautifully! So thanks! :)

fondue with cheddar

@Jenna Q Then I assume you've seen Calming Manatee?


I have recently learned (and successfully used!) a laundry tip that I feel is right up the ol' Clean Person Alley: If you accidentally run a disposable diaper through the washing machine with all your adorable baby's adorable baby clothes, and there is this incredibly gross blobby gel all over all the clothes and your washing machine, all you have to do is put salt (SALT!) in the washer and run them again. They will be fine.

fondue with cheddar

@OlivettiValentine THAT SOUNDS LIKE MAGIC.


I know laundry school is almost over, but help: I put Otter Wax (http://www.otterwax.com/) all over a green cotton jacket to try and waterproof it/make it look cool and weathered, and it's basically sticky and horrible-looking and I can't seem to get the wax off. Their website suggestion is "wipe with a cloth", which has not worked, nor has washing it on a regular cycle. Ideas? Suggestions?


@ponymalta I've never used Otter Wax, but going with the "spilled a candle on my carpet" school of thought, maybe try ironing over fairly low heat with a brown paper bag between the jacket and the iron? The iron melts the wax and it seeps up into the paper bag. Worth a shot?


@mustelid Thank you! Good reminder, I'm attempting it tonight.

Lily Rowan

OK, this is so weird, but I can't stop thinking Jolie's avatar is a kind of abstract/oil painting-ish picture of the top 3/4 of a lady's face. EVEN THOUGH I KNOW WHAT IT REALLY IS.

mine de rien

I feel like celebrating! I'm going to go throw a load of laundry on. WITH VINEGAR.

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