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Touch that dial

By Leslie Scanlon from November 2013 Issue

Click and spin your way to a cleaner and cheaper wash
We all have a "laundry-gone-wrong" story. A favorite shirt that went into the machine just a little dirty, took a happy little spin, and came out a different size or color. The pen (or cell phone) forgotten in the pocket. You know the pain.

Nothing can protect us from all self-inflicted laundry disasters. But there are some techniques for using the washing machine more efficiently and effectively—for getting clothes clean while also saving money and being kinder to the clothing.

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SMART STEPS

Those settings are there for a reason
Start by sorting the clothes—both for color and also by types of fabrics and degree of soiling (a sheer blouse, lightly worn, vs. jeans so muddy they could stand up by themselves).

Then pay attention to the cycles on your washer. Many people leave the dial on the same settings out of convenience, habit, or sheer confusion. Taking time to select the right cycle can help strike the balance between getting the clothes clean while not being too hard on the fabric.

Many models have controls for the speed at which the machine agitates the clothes, the length of the wash and spin cycles, and the heat of the water. In general, the "delicate" setting is a slower speed (great for lingerie and swimsuits or pieces that need gentle care). "Heavy duty" will move the laundry faster through the water (meant for sturdy items such as jeans or towels). The "permanent press" cycle is intended for synthetic fibers (such as rayons, knits, polyester, and acetates). It combines faster agitation in the wash cycle with a slower spin cycle for less wrinkling.

Some models also offer options for presoaking or a second rinse—valuable tools for removing stains or cleaning particularly dirty loads.

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ECO CONSUMER

Cash in with cold water
Consider water temperature. In general, hot water is good to keep whites bright, kill germs, and remove stains (although not blood or red wine). Warm water will protect the colors in many synthetic fabrics. Cold water is good for delicate and lightly stained items. While hot water may pack more of a cleaning punch, it also can cause more damage to clothes. Check the fabric label to see what the manufacturer recommends.

Energy efficiency may also play a role. Estimates are that more than 80 percent of the energy used in washing clothes goes toward heating the water. Some experts say that cold water washing (particularly with a detergent specifically designed for cold water) can help lower energy use, reduce emissions, and save money—and be just as effective with moderately dirty loads than washing at higher temperatures.

Another smart technique: presoak laundry to remove grime and tough stains before the washing cycle begins.