Here we are, friends, at the end of our Laundry School coursework. We covered a ton of ground this month, from explaining the difference between liquid and powder detergents to an overview of washer and dryer settings and cycles. There were posts dedicated to the products you use to get your clothes clean, and how to tackle common stain and smell problems. And I shared some strong feelings on fabric softener. All in all, it’s been a grand time.
Now it’s time to wrap this series up with some talk about wrinkles.
First, I must preface with this: I am 25 and still living with the same roommates I had in college, so I can pretty confidently say that I am AT BEST a marginally functional adult. Honestly, “financially independent adolescent” may be a more apt description of my current lifestyle. So, keeping that in my mind, can you please, please give me some pointers on how to achieve unwrinkled clothes after washing and drying? I know this sounds so basic, but this skill has eluded me my entire life and has made laundry the most despised item on my list of “Things to do that will momentarily fool people into thinking I’m at the proper maturity level for my age.”
I sure can give you some pointers! Actually, let’s make this a list. A list will be good.
Before I do that, though, a kind word for you. You are being, I believe, a little too hard on yourself! You’re 25 and you take the time to not only read a cleaning advice column on a sports gossip site, but also to ask a question. This demonstrates to me that you’ve identified a problem and have sought out a solution. What could be more grown-up than that? Exactly! Now onto that list.
- Don’t overstuff the washer and dryer. Overstuffing a washer is probably not going to cause wrinkles, but most people take a load out of the washer and put it, in its entirety, into the dryer, which is why I’m starting there. (Also, overstuffing a washer is going to mean your clothes get less clean, because they’re all jammed up in there, preventing the water and detergent from making full contact with all your stuff.) Too much stuff in the dryer means that your clothes will have less room to move around, and if they’re all crumpled up in the machine, they’ll come out, well, crumpled-up-looking.
- Speaking of the switch from washer to dryer! It takes a bit more effort, to be sure, but shaking freshly washed clothes out before you put them in the dryer will help to cut back on wrinkling, and will speed up drying time.
- Once the clothes are in the dryer, opt for the “permanent press” setting if that’s an option for you. That setting, as we learned waaaaay back at the beginning of Laundry School, is the one that offers a medium-heat drying cycle followed by a cool-down period at the end to release wrinkles.
- Fold your clothes right when you take them out of the dryer. If you have a lot of dress shirts in the load, bring hangers to the laundry room or laundromat so you can hang them right up.
- If a garment comes out of the dryer impossibly wrinkled, put it back in the machine along with a fairly damp item (a washcloth or hand towel is great for this; you could also use, like, a pair of sweat socks) and run it for another five minutes. The steam created by the damp item will help to coax out wrinkles.
In general, I have no idea how to wash my dress shirts without them turning into a shrunken, wrinkled mess. I’ve tried everything that seems logical; do you maybe have some tips? Maybe some ironing tips? I don’t even have one, but I think irons are a thing adults should have, so maybe I should get one?
I suspect, because you’ve said that your dress shirts are shrinking in the wash, that you may be laundering them with hot water. Switch to a cold-water cycle, which should cut out the shrinking.
In terms of cutting down on wrinkles, you may want to skip machine-drying your dress shirts in favor of hanging them to dry when they come out of the washer. Fun fact! When you send your dress shirts out for what’s known as “Wash and Press,” that’s exactly what they’re doing: washing them and then pressing them straight out of the machine, while they’re still somewhere in between damp and wet. (Clothes don’t actually come out of the washer soaking wet, so.)
If hanging shirts to dry isn’t realistic for you—either because of your particular set-up or because of your relative willingness to take that extra step—try following some of the tips I gave to our 25-year-old pal upcolumn.
As for the iron, yeah, get one. But only if you’re going to use it. A steamer is another good option for people who are ironing-averse. And if you want to go the really lazy route, try this: Get a spray bottle, fill it with water, spritz the wrinkled garment, and hang it to dry (or lay it flat and smooth it out). You will be A M A Z E D at how well that works. (Lest you think that comment about the lazy route was a form of judgment, this is a practice that I engage in all the time.)
I *thought* I was okay at laundry, but I would appreciate an ironing school. It does not seem to be that hard, but it is a task I am terrible at. I will dry clean shirts and pants to avoid ironing them.
Let’s let Queen Martha take us through the steps for ironing a dress shirt, shall we? Mostly because I haven’t made a video of my own yet. I tried! There’s a script and everything, I swear. I dunno, maybe it will still happen. Until then, Martha continues to be better than me, and I’m entirely fine with that. I’ve always been more of a Sidekick anyway.
A few key takeaways from Queen Martha’s approach to ironing: QM irons on a towel, which will help to protect the buttons of the shirt; QM prefers to iron a damp shirt; QM opts for sizing over starch (I love starch, but this isn’t my video); QM also recommends turning on the TV while doing your ironing.
Do you prefer a more vintage Martha experience? Here’s another version.
Before I got married, I would often use the dryer to “iron” my clothes. I would just pop my slacks or my dress shirts in the dryer on wrinkle release and then go about my day. My wife doesn’t think it is as effective. Is my wife correct, and do I really need to break out the ironing board every time?
There isn’t so much a right or wrong here—it’s more accurate to say that you and your wife have different standards of what “wrinkled” looks like. To her, a pressed shirt or pair of slacks, what with those nice creases, is the standard; to you, a shirt pulled out of the dryer without that crumpled-up look is A-OK. It’s true that ironing is more effective when it comes to creating a tidy-looking outfit, but ironing also takes much more time and effort than does just popping clothes into the wrinkle-release cycle.
Yes and no. To understand that non-answer, you have to understand why the placket of certain shirts suffers from that frustrating creasing and bunching. It has to do, entirely, with the way that plackets are stitched—there’s actually quite a bit of thread in there, and when you discover that a shirt’s placket has gone all higgledy-piggledy on you, it means that the threads have shrunk.
Now then! This is not as dire as it may sound: You can correct the buckling caused by the shrunken threads by ironing the shirt. The use of starch or sizing will help the ironing along, and may also prevent the wrinkling from recurring in the next wash cycle.
To avoid or at least cut back on thread shrinkage, try following the same routine I told the guy with the impossibly wrinkled dress shirts to adopt by washing the shirts in cold water and hanging them to dry.
Before I dismiss class for the final time, a few quick things! First, thank you—I greatly enjoyed this exercise and hope that it was helpful for you as well. Secondly, due to the response and also to the fact that, oh, wow, you asked so many questions, I’m going to incorporate Laundry School into Ask a Clean Person as a regular feature. In the upcoming months, be on the lookout for more installments; please continue to send along your questions by emailing email@example.com with the subject line LAUNDRY SCHOOL.
Jolie Kerr is Deadspin’s resident cleaning expert and the author of the book My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag … And Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha (Plume). Follow her onTwitter, or email her: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Illustration by Sam Woolley.
Adequate Man is Deadspin’s new self-improvement blog, dedicated to making you just good enough at everything. Suggestions for future topics are welcome below.