Brian Sansoni, a vice president at the American Cleaning Institute, joined staff writer Jura Koncius last week for The Washington Post's Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.
Q: Is there anything I should be doing in the laundry room to be more environmentally friendly and save on utility costs?
A: Believe it or not, working more cold water loads into your routine can play a major role in the energy you use (and the money you spend) when doing laundry. About 90 percent of the energy your washing machines uses goes toward heating water. By switching to cold water washing, your household could eliminate about 1,600 pounds of carbon dioxide a year.
Cold water is important not only for the environment but for your clothes. Hot water can cause certain items to fade, shrink or bleed. The right temperature can prolong the life span of your clothes and save you money in the long run.
Q: What's the best way to wash jeans?
A: Jeans can typically be worn three times — maybe more — before washing them following the instructions on the tag. You'll find many apparel manufacturers recommending to wash jeans in cold water, which can help preserve the life of the fabric.
We've also heard that some people place their jeans in the freezer instead of the wash. They claim that freezing temperatures kill some of the bacteria that result from routine wear without the risk of shrinking. But don't believe this hype! The bacteria (frozen or not) is actually not that big of a deal and you'll still need to wash away stains, sweat and any skin that is sloughed off.
Q: I am a father of two young daughters and am introducing them to new household chores, one being laundry. What are some things to keep in mind?
A: Having kids help with the laundry can be a bonding experience and a great way to teach them important life skills.
Start with small tasks, like sorting clothing and checking garment labels (if your child is old enough to read). All clothing and fabrics that call for the same water temperature, wash cycles and type of detergent should be washed together. Use this chance to teach the importance of washing lights separate from darks.
A lot of parents turn the laundry routine into a hamper-sorting exercise for the kids. Have them sort dark and bright clothes in one load, pastels and lighter colors in another, and whites in a separate load. Then remove fuzzy sweatshirts, robes and bulky bath towels that might shed lint and wash those separately.
You can also visit PacketsUp.com to download some coloring activity sheets and at the same time learn about laundry safety. To that point, please remember safety should always come first in the laundry room. That means all liquid laundry packets and cleaners should be kept up and out of reach (and sight) from young children, even when you're in the laundry room with them.
Q: Do you have advice on getting rid of pit stains?
A: You're not alone in facing sweat or deodorant-related stains. We recommend a pre-wash stain remover or rubbing with bar soap. If perspiration has changed the color of the fabric, apply ammonia to fresh stains or white vinegar to old stains; rinse. Launder using hottest water safe for fabric. Stubborn stains may respond to washing in a product containing enzymes or oxygen bleach in the hottest water safe for fabric.
Q: I have a son who is off at college and doing his laundry for the first time on his own. Do you have any tips or guidelines for college students who might be doing laundry for the first time?
A: College is such a busy and exciting time and for many young adults it's the first real exposure to creating a consistent laundry routine. Here are a few things to keep in mind for your son and all of the other college students out there this fall.Read the label and use the recommended amount of laundry detergent. Adding more detergent doesn't make your clothes cleaner. Sort your laundry ahead of time and separate whites, lights and darks in different loads. Save energy by using cold water to wash. Washing your laundry in cold water helps the drying process become more efficient. If it's dirty with dark stains, wash it and don't let it sit in your hamper for too long. Not sure about some fabrics? Always read the label and pay close attention to the materials.
Q: We've got a walking toddler in the house. What is the best way to keep my laundry room safe from a child on the move?
A: It is critical to always keep laundry packets and cleaning products up and out of sight and in their original, sealed containers. Another simple way to keep your laundry room safe is adding child locks on cabinets or closet doors accordingly and make sure childproof locks are enabled on laundry appliances. A great resource from the American Cleaning Institute is PacketsUp.com. The site provides critical laundry safety information and you can order a free Packets Up "reminder cling" to put on your cabinet or washing machine as a reminder to store products safely in your home.
Q: Any tips on washing with well water? We have a water softener but it still seems like clothes are rough and the cycle doesn't eliminate all the soap in the wash.
A: Make sure you are not adding too much detergent. And consider adding the detergent first and let the water level fill completely before adding your dirty clothes. This will help the detergent dissolve more completely. Also, think about using dryer sheets to help soften the clothes.
Q: I'm still using a jug of detergent, but someone told me that I'm probably using too much and switching to pods will give me the right amount. On all fronts — cost, environmental impact, effectiveness — do pods work better or is it just a different delivery method?
A: It's really a matter of preference. Liquid laundry packets are quick and easy since they're pre-measured and detergent jugs can give more flexibility based on the amount of laundry in the load. Some people swear by liquid detergents, as they can dose the detergents themselves.
An important reminder: today's powdered and liquid laundry detergents are more concentrated than ever, packing more cleaning power into reduced doses. So you do not need to overdose your laundry loads with detergent.
Q: What is the most efficient all-in-one washer/dryer for apartments?
A: While we don't make specific appliance recommendations here, it is a good idea to consider having an energy-efficient model. What we can share with you is some advice on using high-efficiency (HE) detergents, which are formulated to work effectively in HE washers.
Check out our advice on using these detergents effectively online here.
Q: What makes a garment truly dry clean only? Are some clothing manufacturers overly cautious or do some rayon and polyester items actually need to be dry cleaned?
A: We recommend following manufacturer guidelines for the best care of fabric. That's the recommended approach and one that can extend the life-span of the garment, but of course not the only route to go. There are gentle care detergents for finer fabrics, as well as in-dryer kits for special care or "dry clean only" fabrics. Let's face it — we all don't have time to run to the dry cleaners so it's good to have options.
Q: I recall reading that it's the dryer, not the washing machine, that beats up your clothing and wears it out faster. Is that true?
A: Heat and friction can limit the life span of a garment and that can happen in the washer or the dryer. Line drying can be a way to cut down on that wear and tear, especially for delicate items. Washing in cold water is another option (learn more at coldwatersaves.org) and can help you save on energy and cost.
Q: My kids are stain factories. Food, candy, ink, grass, mud and the list goes on. Is there a silver bullet for overall stain removal, like bleach? Or does it depend on the type of stain?
A: Stains can be tricky to remove and there are different solutions for different types of stains. For example, if bubble gum finds its way to your kids' (or your own) pants or shirt, you can apply ice or cold water to harden the gum and then scrape it off with a knife. There are all sorts of stains, so I'll point you to the American Cleaning Institute's stain removal chart online. It can help you with just about every stain you can think of. Just remember: the quicker you can treat the stain, the better.
Q: I have an LG all-in-one washer/dryer. It isn't vented, so the drying cycle is endless and inefficient. Do you have any tips for improving performance? Or is this the price I have to pay to never have to hoard quarters and schlep dirty clothes to the basement laundry room?
A: It would be faster and more efficient if it was vented, but that doesn't mean you have to resort to quarters. Try smaller loads and consider air drying things that take a long time, like jeans and towels.
Q: There are many "recipes" for making your own detergents on Pinterest and blogs. Do you have any suggestions on the best homemade detergents? Do liquid or powders work better?
A: We always urge caution if you consider taking the 'make your own' detergent recipe angle because, well, you're on your own. With formulated products, you get specific product safety and usage information on the label and from the brand website.
Q: We have a front-loading HE washer and use a couple kinds of detergent. Using an appropriate measure of powdered Tide (marked "HE" on the front) leads to a ton of bubbles. What's the deal?
A: This goes to the theme of this chat: changes in laundry routines. Use the product and product form that works best for you.
If you are having issues with a brand that you've used for a while, don't hesitate to call the company's toll-free line usually listed on the product label. They have folks available to answer all kinds of questions about their products.
Q: I moved to the UK where tumble dryers are rare and the climate is rainy. Do you have any tips on how to make air drying more efficient?
A: I suggest you use a scented laundry detergent with an oxy boost and/or a liquid fabric softener mixed into the formula. Oxy boost laundry products are specifically formulated for deodorizing washable fabrics, at all temperatures, and in hard or soft water. Liquid fabric softeners work without a dryer. And to perhaps help dry your clothes more quickly, think about rolling them in a towel first. Also, space them out on your clothesline for more ventilation.
Q: One of my cats enjoys soiling in inappropriate places when he is displeased with me. What is the best product for cleaning these messes: a cleaner with an enzymatic or one with "oxy" power?
A: When it comes to laundering pet stains, we recommend pre-treating or soaking in a product containing enzymes. Also laundering using sodium hypochlorite bleach, if safe for fabric, or oxygen bleach.
Q: I have one of those low-water-use HE washers. I use liquid detergent because if my loads are small I'm afraid a pod will be too much. Are the pods ok for HE washers?
A: Liquid laundry packets are designed to work in a variety of washing machines, including HE. Remember the number of packets used will depend upon the size of the load and the level of soil that is being removed. Be sure to read and follow the HE detergent product label and the manufacturer's appliance guide to maximize your washer's efficiency.