Or laundry-routine must-haves, if your laundry “room” is the nearest laundromat. These laundry hacks have saved my clothes more than once over the years. They’ve also helped keep the girls’ fave outfits in the rotation, especially after major mealtime mishaps.
Far as I’m concerned, keeping things organized around a home with small children starts in the laundry room. Stain-free clothing will inspire kiddos to take care of their clothes (and other belongings) more effectively than clothes that read like a diary of everything they’ve done and everywhere they’ve been.
But as any laundry-washing parent knows, sometimes kiddos have an uncanny way of keeping their “play clothes” spotless, while getting all sorts of crud all over their school uniforms, fancy attire, and that special outfit from the grandparents that (given its origins) is all but sacred.
Hence, 16 laundry hacks. And by laundry hacks, I mean my 16 must-have laundry-room items for dealing with daily life in a house with kids. Or one accident-prone adult (i.e. me).
1. Leave-in stain removers
One reason I love leave-in pretreat laundry hacks is because you can apply whenever you have a minute, then set the item aside if you don’t have a full load yet. My go-to’s are the Shout pre-treatments for Heavy-Duty Stains and Set-In Stains. While you CAN put them on right before tossing something in the wash, you can also treat fabric up to a week in advance, without damaging the item.
I like this best for unspecified-food-origin stains on whites. I’ve gotten out set-in stains that even bleach pens didn’t touch.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This product is NOT safe to let dry on all fabrics! I learned this the hard way, when I accidentally let the Power Stick gel dry on a pastel T-shirt. The gel left a bleached-out area on the shirt, but the stain was gone.
By letting the product dry on the fabric, I’ve had good luck getting out stubborn stains on whites after one or two tries. But if you use this pre-treatment, either follow the directions (treat and wash within 20 min), or be choosy in what you use it on.
3. Plastic bin for pre-treats
Use a plastic bin to corral pre-treated items until laundry time:
- so they have a place to hang out while drying/don’t get mixed up in the regular wash, and
- so you remember they’ve got pretreated stains on them when it’s time to toss them in the washer. (See #9)
Mötsenböcker products aren’t cheap. But they’re an amazing last resort (especially Lift-Off #1, the “Food-Drinks-Pets” version) for that favorite blouse or dress that nothing else works on. Or those mystery stains caused by who-knows-what, on any clothing your child acquires in a “gently used” state. Or that non-washable paint you accidentally spattered onto something. (I even got red latex paint out of a favorite pair of powder-blue kiddo PJs once!)
5. Old toothbrushes
For gently scrubbing in Mötsenböcker products (or any other stain treatment that needs to be worked into clothing) without harming the fabric. Be sure to keep them out of your kiddos’ reach, lest they try to reclaim them for tooth-brushing (you’d be surprised…).
If you use powdered whitening products, as I do (Biz, Oxy-Clean, Clorox 2 powder), sometimes making it into a paste and allowing the paste to dry on the stain (see plastic bin, above) works better than just tossing a scoop of powder into the wash. Having an extra cap is great for mixing the paste; use the non-brush end of those old toothbrushes for stirring water into the powder. Bonus: many of these hold approximately a half-cup (120-125 mL), which helps when measuring ingredients into the washer (see below).
Preferably 91% (the higher the number, the better). Great for removing permanent inks (ballpoint pen, permanent marker), though you may need to do this process more than once. Put a clean rag or folded paper towel under the stain; saturate with rubbing alcohol; dab surface with another paper towel or clean cloth. Some of the stain will come out on the dabbing cloth, but most will push through onto whatever is underneath. Repeat as needed until the stain is gone.
I’ve used Lestoil on greasy and oil-based stains since my mother first taught me this hack. (Note: You’ll find Lestoil concentrate with the cleaning products on U.S. store shelves, NOT in the laundry section.) You can dump in as much as 1/2 cup if you have a really messy load (add an extra rinse to help get out the odor). Or you can pretreat a stain and allow to dry, or apply right before tossing a stained item in the washer. As long as the stain isn’t set, I’ve only had to apply and wash a second time on a few occasions. I’ve even gotten out some dryer-set greasy food stains with it.
Mesh bags rock for so many reasons:
- They protect your delicate “wash gentle cycle only” sweaters and blouses. Especially if your machine doesn’t have a gentle cycle.
- They’re a great way to keep tiny little-person socks from getting lost in the wash, so you can find and match them up at folding time.
- In our household, they’re a way of flagging anything that’s line-dry only. This includes not only those delicates (as well as my wool socks and the girls’ “hang-dry” tights), but also anything I’ve pre-treated for stains. If my pretreat efforts didn’t remove the stain completely (something you can’t always tell until the item is dry), the last thing I want to do is set whatever’s left of the stain by tossing it into the dryer!
You can buy ordinary white vinegar in large jugs at many supermarkets and warehouse stores. I first learned about vinegar’s sanitizing properties when nursing Kimmie, to help ensure that we weren’t passing thrush back and forth to each other, and then when our diaper service went out of business and I found myself trying to sanitize Essie’s cloth diapers at home.
Especially if line-drying just isn’t feasible where you live, a vinegar rinse (1/2-1 c. or 125-250 mL) is a good alternative. And the super-large jugs cost only a fraction more than the smaller bottles meant for kitchen use.
11. Baking soda
Know how a box of baking soda can help absorb odors in your refrigerator? Well, If you have really stubborn odors in laundry, try soaking the clothes in 1 c. baking soda dissolved in warm water for 1/2 hour to overnight. Or toss 1/2 -1 cup into a final extra rinse, if you can still smell Lestoil after washing grease-stained items.
12. Borax Laundry Booster
If you’re trying to get out old stains from breastmilk, formula, or baby spit-up (you know, the kind that magically appear when you take your firstborn’s clean clothes out for Baby Sibling to use), nothing works better in my experience than an overnight soak in a solution made with Borax laundry powder. (To be extra-safe, line dry to be sure the stain is out.)
Have a new item that you’re afraid may transfer its color to the rest of your load? Or an old item that always seems to bleed a bit? If it’s not practical to use vinegar, salt, or heat to help set the dye, tossing in one of these is a huge help. Shout makes single-use ones (see the green and pink “used” examples in the photo at left). The Carbona fabric version can be pricier, but also longer-lasting because it’s reusable.
14. A fold-up drying rack
Remember all those pre-treated/delicate items that you tossed into mesh bags, so you wouldn’t accidentally throw them into the dryer? A folding drying rack is a great way to spread out things to dry, then reclaim floor space when you’re done. If your laundry “room” is more like a closet, look into wall-mount versions that fold upward/inward when you’re not using them.
My husband and in-laws can’t stand the lingering odors from scented laundry detergent and dryer sheets. Besides, dryer sheets leave residue that reduces the absorbency of towels, cloth diapers, etc.
Instead, I keep a basket of tennis balls near my dryer, and toss a few into every load. (If you’d prefer, you can also buy plastic or wool “laundry balls” that do the same thing.) Laundry balls help keep clothes soft while reducing static. Their agitating properties will also re-fluff freshly-washed pillows and redistribute the padding in comforters.
And, last but not least, my secret weapon for instant removal of many tough stains:
16. Folex Carpet Cleaner
I know, I know – a carpet cleaner? Yes. This is my secret weapon for quick spot-cleaning of fabrics and other materials that can’t be laundered.
My husband loves nothing more than a cup of coffee first thing in the morning, and a glass of red wine last thing in the evening. Unfortunately, these liquids sometimes end up on his clothes and/or the nearby carpet.
Folex takes it out almost instantly, from both the carpet/upholstery AND his clothing. Moreover, this is my go-to product for cleaning the fabric on large items, like baby strollers and other kid gear, that just can’t go in the washing machine. Along with melamine sponges (Magic Erasers), Folex is my must-have secret weapon when prepping for the children’s resale events in which I participate several times each year.
Have you tried any of these laundry hacks? How have they worked for you? What is your favorite hack for laundry?