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The Homemaker



Writer: Melanie Maxcey (979) 845-2895,

Your mother was born with it -- that innate sense of always knowing just what to do. She could sort it all out. No matter what mess you'd managed to get into, she could usually get the mess out.

But now you're on your own and face the bitter realization that not one itty-bitty, teensy weensy shred of Mom's know-how was passed down to you.

Surveying the mass destruction that clutters your bedroom floor, you mumble aloud: "To bleach or not to bleach, that is the question."

Fear not! To get your clothes as clean as Mom always did, you just need to follow a few basic procedures, says Pamela Brown, a consumer sciences expert with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service.

Out Spot!

Don't wait a few days or until the next time you go home to treat a stain.

To remove a stain, use a blotting motion -- don't rub the stain. Work from the outer edge to the center of the stain. Be patient when following stain-removal directions. Retreat stains that are not completely gone -- some must be treated several times.

"Do not dry stained clothes in the dryer," Brown warns. "The stains may become permanent."

Check for really dirty areas like collars and cuffs, and pretreat them before washing.

You can make your own pretreatment by using liquid detergent, a paste of granular detergent and water, or use one from the grocery store, Brown says.

Make sure the fabric color remains the same when pretreatment is applied.

Brown suggests testing an inconspicuous area, like a seam allowance inside the garment.

Chlorine bleach is a stain remover and should only be used on white and colorfast clothes.

"Bleach can improve the cleaning power of laundry detergents, but it weakens fibers, especially cotton, when it is used repeatedly," notes Brown.

Never use bleach on silk, wool, Spandex, noncolorfast fabrics or fabrics with a flame retardant finish.

"Oxygen bleach is safe for colored fabrics and is also effective in brightening colors and whites when used regularly," she adds.

In A Fix

Repair holes and replace buttons before you wash, Brown advises. That way, the areas don*t continue to expand while being washed.

If you don't know how to sew buttons or replace a zipper, find a friend who can or take clothes to a cleaners.

Be Prepared

If you have to use a laundromat, try to choose one with an attendant on duty. Don't go alone at night. Take your own quarters just in case the laundromat doesn't have a dollar bill changer. Bring your own laundry supplies -- detergents could be expensive if you wait to purchase at the laundry. You may also want to sanitize washers before you use them.

U Need 2 Read

Follow the manufacturer's instructions on the care label, says Brown. Following those directions can mean the difference between a garment that lasts and one that can be ruined easily.

Manufacturers are required by law to permanently attach care labels. Don't cut them out -- you may forget the laundering instructions.

Sort It Out

Sort clothes before you wash. It prevents colors from fading onto other colors, prevents transferring soil and lint and makes it easier to choose water temperature and detergent.

"Be sure to empty pockets, shake off loose dirt, close zippers, hooks and eyes, and remove pins, buckles and belts," Brown adds.

To separate, consider:
--color: Separate whites from colors, light colors from dark.
--fiber content of fabric: Wash cottons and linens together. Manmade fabrics, like polyester and blends can be washed together. Remember that some fabrics are dry-cleanable only.
--texture: Separate smooth fabrics, like polyester, from pile fabrics, like corduroy. Don't wash fabrics that shed lint, like terry cloth towels, with fabrics that attract it, like velvet.
--construction: Wash delicate items, like lace or loose knits, separately.
--soil: Don't wash heavily soiled clothes with lightly soiled ones.

Water Temperature

According to the Soap and Detergent Association, laundry products work better in warmer water. Read the care label for guidelines. Use cold water only when the label recommends it.

Laundry Products

Talk about choices! There are literally hundreds of brands to pick from when it comes to choosing products with which to wash clothes.

Read laundry labels and directions to choose the right one, suggests Brown.

"Soaps are designed for light, gentle washing. Detergents work to remove a variety of soil amounts," she notes.

Powdered detergents dissolve better in hot water . A powdery residue on clothes may indicate that detergent didn't dissolve completely.

Granular detergents work well on mud and clay soils. Liquid detergents are usually effective in removing greasy, oily stains.

Fabric softeners reduce static cling, minimize wrinkling and soften clothes. Read instructions on laundry equipment and products to know when and how to add fabric softeners.

Loading Zone

Fill the washer with water, add detergent and then put in clothes. Don't pack clothes into a washer.

Vary the size of articles in loads. For example, wash large towels with washcloths or jeans and dark shirts.

Never wind, wrap or drape clothing over the washer agitator!


Read the care label. Some items, like lingerie, should not be placed in the washer. Instead, Brown recommends, they should be washed in the sink and handled carefully.

Dry, Dry, Dry

Choose a dry cycle that fits the care label instructions. Generally, if they can be washed together, they can be dried together.

Shake damp clothes to loosen them before placing them in the dryer. Don't overload the dryer!

"If you use a dryer with a removable lint filter, clean it before each use," says Brown.

Regular cycles are intended for all-cotton fabrics. Use the permanent press cycle for clothes made of man-made fabrics. Remove clothes promptly from the dryer and hang them up -- they wrinkle less.

New Clothes

Now that you know how to care for what you already own, consider what to look for in new clothes the next time you go shopping.

Ask yourself, with what the label recommends, will it require special care, how much will it cost in time and money to care for the item, do I have the right products to care for this properly and how much with the care procedure add to the cost of the item

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