By Bob Nieman | Mar 09, 2011
Mary Marlowe Leverette has served as a Clemson University Extension Agent, writing articles and teaching classes on laundry and stain removal. In addition, she has more than 40 years of experience in the “real world” of laundry, growing up on a farm and raising two sons.
Marlowe Leverette – who holds a bachelor’s degree in home economics education from Mars Hill College and a master's degree in journalism from the University of South Carolina – has been called upon to provide information as a laundry expert for Proctor and Gamble's Everyday Solutions newsletter, Real Simple magazine, Women's Health, First for Women, Cosmopolitan (UK), Publix Grocery Stores and Martha Stewart Living Radio.
Today, she writes a daily blog and a weekly newsletter for the laundry section at About.com.
What are some of the toughest stains to remove?
I get a lot of questions about dye-transfer stains and rust stains.
For instance, a popular question is: How do I remove red dye from clothes? Pink seems to be the most dreaded color to find on white underwear, but I’ve also seen whites turned blue or gray, depending on what accidentally gets mixed into the white load.
The first thing to do is to find the culprit and pull it out. Next, rewash all of the whites using non-chlorine bleach or a cup of white distilled vinegar, in addition to your regular laundry detergent. Do this before you put the clothes in the dryer.
This is why clothes should be sorted. Just because something hasn’t faded before doesn’t mean it never will. Sometimes it takes several washings before dyes begin to wash out and cling to the unsuspecting.
As for rust stains, they are some of the most difficult stains to remove from clothes. It takes time and patience – and sometimes it is impossible. But there are some tips I would suggest:
Commercial rust removers found in grocery stores are effective and safe for most fabrics. However, rust removers that contain hydrofluoric acid are extremely toxic and can burn skin and damage appliance finishes.
Lemon juice and salt are readily available, much less toxic and will often give great results. Sprinkle salt on the stain, squeeze lemon juice onto the salt and spread the garment in the sun to dry. This works best on colorfast garments. Test on a seam or inconspicuous spot to see if fading or bleaching occurs. You should have no problems with white or ecru fabrics.
Rust stains cannot be removed by normal laundering. And using chlorine bleach will make them permanent.
In addition, some rust-colored stains are not caused by rust. Caramelized sugar and benzoyl peroxide (found in acne medicine) stains can look like rust. So, do a bit of investigating before treating the stains.
For store owners who offer wash-dry-fold services, what types of laundry products should they have on hand?
They need a heavy-duty detergent that includes some enzymes. They need enzyme pre-treaters to help remove oily stains and combination stains. And one of the best products is an oxygen-based bleach, as opposed to chlorine bleach. It’s one of the best products you can use to help boost detergent and remove stains. It’s also excellent for soaking garments.
Debunk some of the most popular laundry myths for us.
Different laundry tips and techniques have been passed around for generations. Unfortunately, some of those tips are pure myth. For instance…
• Use hair spray to remove ink. The idea of using hair spray to remove ink from laundry began in the 1950s and was actually a valid tip. It was the alcohol in hair spray that worked on the ink stain. However, today's hair sprays are different from those aerosols of yesteryear. Many formulas do not even contain alcohol and can actually cause stains surrounding the ink on your garment.
• Use more detergent to get cleaner clothes. More is not better when it comes to laundry detergent. We are all quite guilty of using too much detergent and creating suds that actually redeposit soil onto our clothing when they don't get rinsed away efficiently.
• Treat all stains from the front. As tempting as it is to tackle the stain on the front of your garment, turn it inside out and start there. By treating a stain from the back of the fabric, you are pushing the stain out of the fabric fibers rather than rubbing it in deeper.
• Chlorine bleach boosts detergent power. Chlorine bleach and detergents can actually cancel each other out. To allow the enzymes in the laundry detergents time to do their job of whitening and brightening, wait about five minutes after the wash cycle begins to add your diluted bleach. Chlorine bleach can also be added to the rinse cycle. Want to boost bleach's whitening power? Add baking soda.
• High dryer heat causes shrinking. Fabric shrinkage is most often caused by the lack of moisture in fibers. Lack of moisture comes from over-drying. Clothing should be removed from the dryer while still slightly damp if shrinkage is a concern.
You recently wrote about water quality and its effect on laundry. What should laundry owners know about their water?
Every laundry owner should contact his or her water supplier to get a test sample of the water. If you have hard water, it’s will ruin your machines and plumbing because the minerals in hard water will build up on your equipment. Of course, hard water is not good for your customers’ clothes because the minerals actually abrade the clothing, and you’ll get rips and tears very easily from that. Plus, the clothes are not going to come out looking white and bright – you’re going to see that deposit back onto the fabric.
Most cities and counties will test the water for free or have an analysis right there. If you do have hard water, adding softeners or additives can make a huge different in how long your machines last.
How can laundry owners best help their customers?
I think clear instructions are so important. If I were a laundry owner, I would have information readily accessible – whether on a computer or in a booklet – that gives stain removal tips and reference material to those who want to learn more.
Having a knowledgeable attendant and some reference materials would go a long way.
Every state has a cooperative extension service that offers pamphlets and information on laundry and textiles. It’s free. Your tax dollars have paid for it, so put it to good use.
Also, provide clear instructions on how to use the machines. Don’t assume that everybody knows what to do.
What secret laundry tips do you care to reveal?
Perhaps the biggest secret is that the old-time remedies actually work. I keep white distilled vinegar, baking soda and the old 20 Mule Team Borax in my laundry room.
Of course, some of those things are back in fashion now because they’re “green.” It’s come full cycle. The things that my mother used are now very trendy.
If I drop grease on myself, I’ll sprinkle baking soda on it to help absorb the grease. That can help even before you begin to treat it.
And vinegar works wonders as a natural fabric softener. Add it to the rinse and you don’t need to buy commercial fabric softener.
So, I guess all of those old-fashioned tips are really my secrets. And they’re inexpensive. Instead of having a cabinet full of chemicals, sometimes you need to use the basics.