Monday, May 5, 2008

Totally Off Topic: Homemaking Tip!

Oh! I forgot to share this tip that I've recently discovered.

A few years ago, our hand-me-down washing machine finally died and we purchased a new one. It worked fine for a while but then in the last couple of years we started getting what looked like oil stains on our clothes. We tried stain removers and various detergents to no avail. DH works on cars so we thought that maybe stuff was washing out of his clothes and redepositing on to other clothes. I started washing his work clothes in their own loads. That didn't fix the problem so we thought maybe residuals were getting stuck in nooks and crannies in the machine itself and coming out later. In the last several months, we've been getting both the oil spots and now, brown spots on our clothes. I'm pretty vigilant about cleaning out the washer and running loads of just vinegar but nothing seemed to be helping. We were close to thinking our washing machine had turned out to be a dud and were bumming out about having to consider purchasing yet another one.

I couldn't bring myself to part with all the otherwise excellent condition ruined clothes so I just put them in a pile in a hope that I could save them somehow if we ever had extra money to haul it all to the dry cleaners or if we found some miracle stain remover. Some of them were very nice and/or our favorite items so we were very disappointed to lose them, some after just one or two wears.

I did some googling to find out the possible causes and remedies to the problem. Much to my surprise, the "oil" spots are a frequent complaint about Downey Fabric Softener. In all our experimenting, we never changed fabric softeners because there are so very few scents that DH can tolerate so we found one that didn't bother him and we stuck with it. We didn't even choose it for the brand as we did the fragrance. So as we tried various detergents and stain removers, the one constant thing turned out to be the trouble maker all along.

I pulled out our fabric softener cup to wash it and get all residual softener out. Suddenly, the entire column of that cup came out (it had never come out before, though we'd tried) and we were grossed out to find that under the cup in the agitator, was a 1 or 2" thick build up old, caked up fabric softener that had turned--guess what? the same nasty shade of brown that had recently begun ruining our clothes!

We scraped and scraped and scrubbed and ran several loads of vinegar and eventually got it all out!

Further googling suggested that I use "Dawn" dish soap on the stains because it contains a powerful degreaser. So I found the least colored bottle I could (in this case a pale yellow one from their "Simple Pleasures" line) and rubbed it directly on the stains and let them set just a couple minutes. ALL of the stains came out in one or two loads (repeating adding the Dawn to the stain before the second load). In one particular case, the stain was 3 years old. It had happened on a blouse I really like after I got to wear it just 1 time. I had held on to it all this time, so disappointed that I just got to wear it once. I had tried many times to get it out so that stain was well set. 2 washes later, the stain is completely gone! So we now have a new wardrobe all over again with many many recovered items of clothing! Plus the Dawn did not discolor the clothes or leave spots lighter than the rest of the garments in place of the stains at all.

Now that I had my freshly saved clothes, I had to find a replacement for Downey. More googling brought back consistent results of the suggestion to use a 1/4 cup of vinegar in the wash, placing it in the fabric softener cup. I've always used vinegar to clean my washing machine, dishwasher and microwave but never thought about using it for my clothes. I've now tried it 10 or 12 times and have been so pleased. Vinegar gets the detergent out of clothes so much more effectively, they come out soft and refreshed and it's much less expensive (a gallon of vinegar is about $2) and better for the environment (no chemicals!). Plus, since I only use 1/4 cup, the clothes don't smell like vinegar. A couple times I've had the clothes come out a little static-y but I think that is fixed by dryer sheets.

I've switched for life! Our clothes, our budget and the environment are much happier! Thought I'd pass along the tip!

Gotta get back to work. A load of laundry is running, I've started the accounting and unpacking and shortly here I'll need to go do the grocery shopping as we ate down everything in the fridge before we left. Tomorrow I'm officially back open for business too so I have a long couple days of catch-up in front of me!

If you're just checking in, the post below this explains my absence! :)


  1. Ooh, I like that tip! We happen to have that problem too, whadda ya know?

  2. Cool deal! I'm so glad to know that! I've never used fabric softener b/c I've read about how nasty the stuff can be for the environment and our health, but now that I know the secret I'll start using vinegar!!! Thanks!!!!

  3. Oh wow - that explains a few random spots on our own clothes!! I'll give dawn a try to get the stains out, and will stop with the fabric softener for sure. Isn't vinegar amazing?? Wow. Thanks for sharing your experience & tips!! :)

    Thank you too Jen, so much, for being so sweet on the blog. I'm pouring over your friends blog as I type.


    Kristin :)

  4. Wow, I didn't know that! We have some random spots here and there also. I'll have to try the dawn and stop using the downy I've used for 6 years. Thanks! You should write and online help column for house fixes :-)