Effective Laundering Made Simple


Modern machines and wash-day products have undoubtedly taken the hard labour out of washing and ironing. Nevertheless, the variety of colours, fabrics, fibres and finishes you will find heaped in your linen basket is enormous. To get good results, you will need a certain amount of knowledge and you will need to take a certain amount of care. It is no good packing everything into the machine and hoping for the best.

The golden rule of successful washing is to look for the label. This sounds so simple, but research has shown that labels are often ignored or misunderstood. If you cannot find a label at the back of the neck or the waist band of a garment, try the side seams. Some furnishing fabrics have care symbols printed on the selvedge. Some garments and furnishings come with swing tickets giving special care instructions: keep these labels all together in one safe place, writing on each one the name of the article and when it was bought.

Most laundry care labels present in formation in the form of symbols es tablished by the International Textile Care Labelling Code and pioneered in this country by the Home Laundry Consultative Council.

You will find it very useful if you can memorise the main washcode symbols. You do not have to remember all the details for the symbols are fully set out on virtually every washing powder packet, and in every machine handbook. But you can use the symbols better if you understand the reasoning behind them. Most British labels provide the washing instructions in words as well as symbols, but continental labels often have symbols only.

There are 5 main symbols to remember: The washtub tells you how to wash by machine and/or by hand The triangle tells you about bleaching The iron tells you about ironing The circle tells you about dry-cleaning The square tells you about drying Each of these symbols contains extra information to help you further:

The washtub usually contains a temperature expressed in degrees Centigrade: this is the maximum recommended temperature for that particular machine washing. The washtub may also contain a number: this is the washcode number, which will correspond to the programme numbers on most British machines. But machine programme numbers and washcode numbers do not always match up, particularly on foreign machines, so always refer to the machine hand book, which will usually have a chart explaining how the washcodes match the machine programmes for that particular model.

A full explanation of which washtub code numbers to use for various fibres follows later in this section.

If the washtub contains the symbol of a hand, this means ‘hand-wash only: do not machine-wash’. It does not mean ‘wash in hand-hot water’, as many people think. Many machine programmes feature hand-hot water, which as you will see from the chart, is water as hot as the hand can bear. Hints for hand-washing with special sections for woollens and silks, follow later in this section.

The triangle means that you can use household chlorine bleach on the fabric if you wish. Sometimes the triangle contains the letters Ci. Bleach must always be diluted in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, and must be thoroughly rinsed out. In this country, bleaching is not usually necessary because our washing powders contain bleach. This symbol is usually of more importance to continental housewives.

The iron symbol contains one, two or three dots, according to the recommended temperature for the fabric. Most modern iron dials have dots which match the symbol. One dot is cool: for acrylic, acetate, nylon, polyester and triacetate. Two dots is warm: for polyester mixtures, and wool, and wool/nylon mixtures. Three dots is hot: for cotton, linen, viscose or modified viscose.

The circle contains a letter indicating which dry-cleaning fluid may be used. If the circle contains the letters A or P you can, in practice, use any drycleaner or coin-op drycleaning machine. But if the circle is underlined, special precautions are necessary, so do not use a coin-op machine. And if the circle contains an F, the cleaner must use a special drycleaning fluid. Not all cleaning firms have this fluid, so draw your cleaner’s attention to the symbol. Do not use a coin-op.

The square drying symbol with a circle inside means that the article can be tumble-dried. This is now the only drying symbol in common use.

If one or more symbol is crossed out, this means emphatically ‘do not…’. Thus the washtub crossed through means: do not wash, either by hand or by machine. The triangle crossed through means: do not bleach. The iron crossed through means: do not iron. The circle crossed through means: do not dry-clean, and the square crossed through means: do not tumble dry. These are important signs to recognize as they could avert a laundry disaster: with washing and ironing, what you do not do is as important as what you do do!

There are three main ways in which methods for washing clothes can be varied:

– The water temperature can be altered.

– The amount of agitation or rubbing can be varied.

– Different methods can be used for getting the water out of the clothes, e.g. short or long spin, drip-drying and so on.

You can see how the washcode chart establishes the best combinations of water temperature, agitation and water extrac tion for every possible fibre.


Soap products are available as heavy-duty powders or as light-weight easy-to-dissolve flakes. You may prefer to avoid 126 100°C Boil Self-explanatory. 95’C Very Hot Water heated to near boiling temperature. 60°C Hot Hotter than the hand can bear. The temperature of water coming from many domestic hot taps. 50°C Hand-hot As hot as the hand can bear. 40’C Warm Pleasantly warm to the hand. 30°C Cool Feels cool to the touch

DRYING soap products in hard water areas, because of the problem of rinsing away the scum: detergents will lather more easily. Do not use soap products on fabrics with flame-resistant finishes.

Soapless or synthetic detergents are available as heavy-duty powders, light-duty liquids and light-duty powders. ‘Solvent’ detergents are intended for particularly greasy clothes. Do not use detergents on proofed rainwear.

Low-sudsing powders are made especially for automatic washing machines; in fact, they are essential for machines of this type. Front-loading automatic machines have a particularly vigorous washing action, and therefore do not need the ‘slippery’ soap suds that are necessary when washing by hand, or by twin tub. Indeed the clothes cannot move around properly if there are a lot of suds and may suffer from ‘suds-lock’.

Biological powders contain enzymes which break down protein stains such as blood, sweat, egg and gravy and make them soluble in water so that they will wash away. You can get heavy-duty powders with enzymes, or low-sudsing powders with enzymes for use in automatic washing machines. Clothes must be allowed to soak, but see notes on soaking below. These powders will not work at temperatures above 6o°C, and the colder the water, the longer the soak required. Clothes must soak overnight if the water is very cold.

Strange though it may seem, water used on its own is not very effective for making fabrics wet! This is because of ‘surface tension’, which prevents the water from penetrating fibres and getting to the dirt. All washing products, therefore, contain wetting agents together with ingredients for loosening soil.

Most heavy-duty powders sold for machine washing contain sodium perborate -bleach which works quickest at high temperatures to remove stains such as wine, coffee, tea and fruit juice. Of course there are many fabrics that must be washed at lower temperatures. But at lower temperatures the bleach does not have such a strong effect, so the colours of clothes are not altered. In general there is no need to add more bleach to your washing, although you may want to use diluted bleach occasionally for stain removal as detailed in the section on Stain-removing methods. Today’s powders also contain ‘optical whiteners’ or ‘brighteners’ which have replaced the traditional ‘blues’.

Washing products may also contain dirt suspending agents to help prevent the dirt from settling back into the fabric, so that you can rinse it away. Metal protectors may be included to protect your washing machine. There may also be colouring to improve the look of the product without affecting your wash, and even perfume to give – in the maker’s opinion at least – a fresh clean fragrance.

Light-duty washing products. Do not use these products to cope with the main bulk of the family wash. They are only intended for more delicate items washed by hand and do not contain the same bleaches and special cleansing agents as heavy-duty products.


Whatever product you choose, always read the pack instructions carefully. Keep to the quantities specified: don’t use more or less. Always make sure that washing products are completely dissolved before you add your clothes. Never add powders to a basin or machine which already holds clothes. Concentrated undissolved powders can cause streaks or spots or even irremovable patches of bright colour.

For this reason, never use grains of undissolved powders to treat dirty areas at, for example, collars and cuffs. Instead rub with a bar of household soap, or use an aerosol pre-wash spray.

Soaking can be effective for shifting heavy dirt and/or stains, particularly it you use a biological powder. Using biological powder and cold water soak overnight, but if using warm water 128 soak for three to four hours. Using hot water soak for half an hour, but do not use water any hotter than this, or you will set stains, and destroy the enzyme action of the powder.

You should approach soaking with caution. First make sure that there is no label in the clothes which says ‘do not soak’. Items must be colourfast: articles with washcodes I, 2 or 3 are usually suitable for soaking. But do not soak a mixed batch of washing of which some items are not colourfast. The classic example is stockings or tights left to soak with white underwear. Stockings are not colourfast, and the underwear becomes permanently dingy. Always thoroughly dissolve the powder before you add the clothes, and choose a large enough container for them to move about freely.

Soaking may damage the surface of enamelled sinks or baths, so use a plastic washing-up bowl instead.

Above all, do not soak woollens, silk, flame-resistant or rubberised fabrics, or garments with metal fasteners or trimmings.

Fabric conditioners added to the final rinse when washing by hand or machine make fabrics feel softer and fluffier, make ironing easier and reduce static electricity in man-made fibres. A fabric conditioner will also stop a nylon slip from clinging round your legs, and help to reduce dirt attraction in synthetics generally.

Starches may seem old-fashioned, but they can be useful for putting body back into cotton and linen fabrics. Starch actually strengthens weak fibres, and helps fabric to resist soiling. Traditional starch is mixed with boiling water to burst the starch grains, but cold water varieties are also available. Follow pack directions very carefully, choosing between a crisp, medium or light dressing. Starch is also available in aerosol form, for greater convenience. Starch is best used for natural fibres; for synthetics, try an aerosol fabric finish that you spray onjust before ironing.

Washing by machine

Always use the type and quantity of washing powder recommended in your machine instruction booklet. Keep the booklet handy and re-read it from time to time. Sort your clothes into groups according to the wash-codes on their labels. Probably, you will want to make up mixed loads. You can group fabric codes 1 and 2 together and wash as 2. Code 3 fabrics must be washed on their own: white nylons and white polyester/cottons will pick up colours from the rest of the wash and retain them permanently. You should wash code 4 fabrics on their own, as they need not only a water temperature of 50°C but also a cold rinse and short spin to minimise creasing. Code 5 fabrics must be washed on their own because they are not fast above 40°C: indeed some deep dyes may not be fast even at 4o’C, and are best washed individually. Consider handwashing for code 5 fabrics, particularly it you have a spin drier. Fabrics from codes 6 and 7 can be washed together on 6, but take out of the machine immediately after washing cycle is completed. Caution: as some washing machines do not conform to these codes, always refer to the handbook. Before machine washing, mend any small tears, and empty pockets. Brush off loose dirt, and close zips and fasteners. Tie tapes, apron strings etc. in a loose bow, and button long sleeves to the front of shirts and blouses. Treat heavily soiled areas with a bar of household soap.

Washing by hand

Garments with the hand-wash only symbol must be washed by hand. These are likely to include wool and silk, and any fabrics which are not colourfast. Washing hints for wool and silk are also given later in this section.

However, if you do not have the use of a machine, you may need to wash by hand cottons and linens which are white or colourfast. Use the hottest water you can bear and make sure correct amounts of powders are dissolved completely before adding the clothes. Boiling can help shift stains, on nappies and teatowels for example. To boil, use as large a container as possible. Use enough of a heavy-duty washing product to give a s cm lather and boil for not longer than ten minutes; after that, you start to re-deposit soil onto the clothes.

Rinse all fabrics thoroughly after handwashing: at least three times. Synthetics 129 will benefit from a cold rinse and a short spin. Many easy-care synthetics can be drip-dried; check the label, and sec notes on Drying. But in general do not drip-dry heavy knitted garments whether in synthetic fibres such as acrylics or natural fibres such as wool or cotton. Dry flat to avoid stretching.

Garments which are not colourfast should be washed individually by hand in warm suds as quickly as possible. Rinse very thoroughly, and spin or roll in towel.


Have a length of strongly secured plastic clothes line outside if possible, well away from dirty fences or prickly hedges. Or you could invest in a more expensive rotary fold-down clothes line. Always wipe an outdoor line with a clean cloth before pegging out clothes. A line or rack inside is also useful, as are clip-on racks for radiators.

Drip-dry garments should be hung from a hanger as wet as possible. Give-pleated garments a hand-hot rinse, and other garments a cold rinse. Make sure your hangers will not mark the wet clothes. Wire hangers from the dry cleaners are usually suitable, as are plastic or painted wood hangers. But natural wood hangers may mark wet clothes, unless enclosed within a plastic bag.

Many heavy knitted garments should be dried flat after only a short spin , to avoid stretching them. These include knitted woollens, acrylics and some heavy cotton garments. Spread a towel out on the floor, or place a piece of hardboard with a towel on top over the bath for these garments. Alternatively, support the weight of the drying garment over the back of a chair, first covering the chair back with a clean towel.

Many fabrics may be tumble dried -look for the label. Garments must first be spun or wrung. Do not fill drier more than two thirds full. Tumble synthetics at lowest possible heat, but consult appliance booklet for recommended times and temperatures for various fabrics. A period of tumbling with the heat off helps reduce creasing: when machine stops, take out clothes as soon as possible.


Again, look for the label. See earlier explanation of ironing symbols.

If there is no care label, look for the fibre content label and work out the heat setting from this. If you can’t find either label, first use a cool setting, and if creases do not come out, only try a higher setting with great care – first testing the iron on the facing or seam of the garment.

Always allow your iron a good 5 to 7 minutes to heat up and settle down before starting to iron: consult your appliance booklet for exact times. Many irons may overshoot the marked temperature in the first instance.

Take a little time to organise your work. Have the ironing board at the correct height so that you do not have to stoop if standing up; or fix the board at a lower height for sitting down. Place a chair or small table on one side to hold the basket of damp washing, and have a rack and plenty of hangers ready to take the freshly ironed clothes.

Always iron garments which need the coolest setting first: then you will not risk spoiling fabrics with an iron that has not sufficiently cooled.

Always iron tabrics until they are dry as garments which are still damp can easily be creased.

Where possible, iron on single layers of fabric to avoid creasing under layers. First iron thick parts such as facings, collars and cufts on both sides, wrong side first. Do not iron over buttons or fastenings such as nylon zips – use the tip of the button groove to iron around buttons. Never iron over seams or hems, as they will leave a mark. Use the point of the iron for gathers and frills.

Fabrics best ironed when damp

These include cotton, linen, cultivated silks, viscose, modal, acetate, and triacetate. Wool should be slightly damp. Where possible, iron garments before they get too dry. Otherwise you can use a steam iron on fabrics which will take a warm or hot iron. Alternatively, you can sprinkle or spray colourtast cottons or linens with water and roll up tightly a little while before ironing. Do not use this method for garments which are not colourtast. Some tabrics will water-spot and must therefore never be sprinkled with water. These include viscose, acetate and triacetate and silk. If these fabrics get too dry immerse them totally in water and then allow to dry until sufficiently damp for ironing. Or try rolling the garment in a damp towel.

Fabrics to iron when dry

These include wild, slubbed silks , and acrylics, which should be ironed from the back. In particular do not use a steam iron on knitted acrylics, or iron them while damp, as they develop an unattractive glazed effect which it is impossible to remove. Some very delicate fabrics such as chiffon and georgette are often best ironed dry.

Some smooth heavy fabrics easily develop a shine: these include woven wools, viscose rayon and some polyester/wools. Use a damp cotton pressing cloth and press them from the front. Or use a thin cloth, and a steam iron.

Fabrics to iron on the wrong side

In general iron on the right side for shiny fabrics, such as glazed cottons, taffetas, satins, and on the wrong side for matt fabrics, such as crepes, or heavier cottons and linens in dark colours. Iron piques and embossed fabrics on wrong side over a thick pressing cloth to avoid flattening the raised pattern. Also use this technique for fabrics with raised embroidery, to avoid flattening.

Fabrics that need no ironing

Do not iron candlewick, but when it is dry, shake well to fluff up pile. Iron corduroy as little as possible. Give it a short spin, or drip dry. As fabric dries, smooth pile with soft cloth in right direction, and shake from time to time. If you need to iron, gently press from wrong side over thick cloth. Generally, if you iron velvet you will crush the pile. But for pressing velvet with a raised surface you can buy a special cloth which protects the pile as you iron from the back. You can run velvet ribbons quickly along the bottom of an iron stood on its heel. Sometimes, it is possible to remove small creases from velvets by using the steam from a kettle. Do not touch the fabric while still damp, or it will mark.

Other fabrics which require extra care are woollens and silks, as detailed below.

Care of woollens

Some woollens can now be machine-washed. Look for the label. Garments marked ‘Super-wash Wool’ can be machine-washed on code 5; garments marked ‘machine-washable wool’ can be washed on code 7. However,

Left: on rainy washdays extra lines and racks inside provide welcome alternative drying space. Some racks can he clipped onto a radiator, as here, but do not dry wet woollens close to radiator heat Right: ironing skills are worth acquiring, to give freshly-washed clothes a crisp finish. Having the right equipment is a great help. A steam iron saves the need for damping down clothes and a sleeve board is essential for fine blouses, dresses and shirts many knitted garments should still be washed by hand, hand-knits in particular.

Always use a gentle washing product: liquid flakes or powder, sold specifically for hand-washing. Products made especially for use with cold or lukewarm water are ideal for wool. Carefully measure as directed, using lukewarm or cold water. Wash each garment separately. Shake to get rid of any excess dirt, button up garment if appropriate, and turn inside out. Gently squeeze through the washing solution. Do not rub, twist or wring. If the water is too hot, and it you rub, the wool will ‘felt’, and once this happens, it cannot be corrected. Rinse three times with water as nearly as possible the same temperature as the washing water.

Take care as you lift out garments always to support the weight. Do not wring. Roll in a clean towel to absorb excess water, or spin-dry for 30 seconds wrapped in a towel. Dry on a flat surface , at normal room temperature, out of sunlight and away from any direct heat. Make sure that you arrange the garment as nearly as possible in its correct shape, and take particular care not to stretch the rib.

Correctly washed woollens require little ironing, but you can press while slightly damp with a warm iron or when dry with warm iron and damp cloth, or with a steam iron. Use an up and down action: do not push iron backwards and forwards, and do not press the rib.

Do not press cashmere, which can be washed as above but should never be rubbed in any way.

Take special care with mohair and angora, reshaping them carefully while drying flat. Take the measurements of the dry garment if its shape is very important or cut out its shape in brown paper to act as a pattern to which you can shape the wet garment for drying. Do not press. When dry, brush up the pile of mohair and angora using a soft clean brush. Alternatively, most woollens can be dry-cleaned: look for the label.

Care of silks

First, you must test for colourfastness. Dip a small corner of the article into warm water and iron between two white cloths, with iron set to warm. If traces of colour are transferred, then the garment must be dry-cleaned. Dry-cleaning is also recommended for badly stained garments.

Certain other types of silk should also always be dry-cleaned. These are taffetas, chiffons, brocades, many multi-coloured prints, dressing gown fabrics, ties and scarves. Cultivated silk, crepe dc chine and wild silks such as Tussore and Shantung are usually washable. Do not soak silk and do not use chlorine bleach. Always wash by hand, using luke-warm water and a mild washing product, carefully measured and well dissolved. Squeeze garment gently through suds but do not twist, scrub or rub. Rinse twice in clean warm water, and then give a final rinse in cold water, to stiffen the fibres and clear the colour.

Do not wring. Roll in towel to absorb excess moisture, then hang carefully to dry away from direct sunlight or heat to avoid ‘yellowing’.

Iron all cultivated smooth silks when slightly and evenly damp, on wrong side with a moderately warm iron. Press crepes and wild silks when dry, using a pressing cloth for slubbed silks to avoid making the fabric fluffy. Finish off lightly on the right side. Do not redamp in part or sprinkle or spray with water, as this may cause water spotting. Do not use a steam iron. If cultivated spun silks have become too dry for ironing, dip in warm water for about three minutes, allow to dry and then iron while slightly damp.


Stain removal at home is always a risky business. It is very difficult to give specific advice because of the number of variables involved: type of stain, type of fabric or furnishings and fibre, colour of fabric, age of stain and so on, but speed is essential. The hints on the following chart are intended only for guidance: always test methods first on an unseen or inconspicuous part of the article, before going on to tackle the stain.

It is useful to keep together in one place your own personal stain-removal kit. Store chemicals and so on in original containers out of the reach of children because most items are poisonous. Do not decant into containers which have held food or drink. Many items are also very flammable, and may give off harmful fumes, so always carry out stain removal in a well ventilated room and avoid breathing any fumes. Do not work near a naked flame And do not smoke, or light a match.

Effective Laundering Made Simple

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