Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The laundress...

I've been thinking a lot lately about laundry.  I know it's not the most popular topic, but if you run a household,  laundry is something you must deal with on a daily basis, so let's talk about it.  All of my married life, I've been in charge of the laundry even though I didn't ask for the job.  My hubby went from his mother doing all of his laundry to his 19 year-old wife doing it.  Someday I'll teach him.  All these years of washing, hanging out the clothes, and pressing shirts, and I am still learning things about getting whiter whites, banishing arm pit stains, removing oil stains and much more.  

Since today is the first official day of summer and because I want to wear my favorite, white summer tops, I need to talk about armpit stains.  This is a troublesome thing for me and always has been.  You'd think that my husband and our four hard-working, hard-playing sons would have had pit stained shirts, but no, it was us girls that always did.  I figured that I was just doomed to  pit stains and would have to throw away my white shirts at the end of every summer. Well, yesterday while I was sniffing around a few laundry links (pun), I came to this one and watched their video on removing stains -- which included armpit stains.  Today, I tried it out.  I dribbled some liquid laundry detergent directly on the pit stains, rubbed it in and then poured boiling hot water from the kettle right over the stains.  Then I added in a cup of white vinegar to the tub and with more boiling hot water and let the shirts soak for a couple hours until the water was cool.  I dumped the whole tub -- shirts, water, vinegar and all right into the washer and proceeded to wash them in a regular wash cycle on HOT wash, COLD rinse.  The results:  the cotton/synthetic blends did not come totally clean, but the stains were more faint.  The 100% cotton shirt's armpits did come clean.  These were pit stains that had been there since last summer.  Really now, I need to work on pit stains sooner rather than later, but which stain remover works best?  Tonight I re-treated the shirts with recipe #2 below and I'd say that it cleaned the old sweat stains from my white shirts even more.  Yay!

Here are a few formulas to try on pit stains:

1.  Pour vinegar over pit stains, rub in course salt.  Put garment in the sun to dry.  Then wash as usual.  (Tip from Frugal Living using Vinegar as Stain Remover)

2.  Mix 1 part Dawn dish soap with 2 parts hydrogen peroxide.  Scrub with a brush, let sit for a few minutes and launder as usual.  (Tip:  Jillee added a little baking soda for more scrubbing power. ~ from One Good Thing Good Bye to Yellow Armpit Stains)

3.  Soap Jelly (I like the name of this):  Shave one bar of laundry soap (or bar soap like Ivory) into a quart jar.  Add boiling water to fill jar.  Stir or shake hard until soap is dissolved.  Allow to cool.  It should form into a jelly.  If too liquid, reheat and add a bit more soap.  If too stiff, add more hot water.  Apply to stains before washing. (from TipNut)

4. Laundry Pre-treat:  Mix 1 part dish washing soap (Dawn), 1 part ammonia, and 1 part water.  Add to spray bottle and spray on stains.  Use a brush to scrub it into tough stains.  Do NOT use this formula when using bleach.  Ammonia and bleach do not mix! (from Sunny Simple Life)

So far I have only tried just dish soap on stains and now recipe #2 for pit stains.  I have used bar soap for general stains on occasion too.  I want to make the soap jelly and try it, and the vinegar and salt  intrigues me.  Perhaps YOU have a tested, all-purpose laundry stain remover to share in the comments?  Please do!

Along with the arm pit stain solution, I found some other laundry solutions that you might be interested in.  When I was a girl at home, we always used Clorox bleach for whites.  Eventually the laundry was eaten away by the bleach and without fail someone's favorite colored T-shirt had bleach spilled on it.  Don't get me wrong, I still keep bleach in my laundry cupboard, but I rarely use it.  I do use it to scrub out the toilet bowl and we clean out water tanks at the corral with it too.  Occasionally I use bleach for really stinky, rank stuff, but most of the time, I prefer bleach alternatives like a good soaking in borax or washing soda before washing .  You can also improve your laundry with the most wonderful stuff -- baking soda!  Baking soda softens water and helps boost detergent.  Check out these links here and here for more bleach alternatives for your washing.  Of course, we know that sun bleaching is another great way to whiten whites.  Letting clothes dry in the sun for a day or two will help to bleach them naturally, and who can resist that "fresh air" smell?

Before we had Good Water here at the ranch, we had Horrid Alkali Water that had rust in it.  We couldn't drink it, but we did wash in it.  Not many people have rust in their water these days, but some of you who have wells in the country and don't have some sort of water system hooked up know what I'm talking about.  I hardly ever bought anything white because the only way things stayed white was if you didn't wash them or if you washed them in town.  After one washing in our horrid water, white clothing or towels turned creamy-white, then beige and continued to darken with every wash.  My mother-in-law helped me out with this problem and I figure I might as well share her trick with you if you just so happen to have rust in your water or if you get a rust stain on something.  We used a product called Rust-Away.  My local grocery store, which has a strong ranching customer base, sells it in the cleaning/laundry aisle.  I would put my white items in a dish pan or tub and get them wet, adding a small amount of water in the tub and then start working some of the Rust Away into the clothes, letting them soak until the rustiness lifted.  Then launder as usual.  Rust Away is rather nasty stuff and I think eventually it would eat away at your clothes, but it does work when you need it.

In my reading about alternatives to bleaching white clothing, I ran across the old idea of grass bleaching.  Have you ever heard of it?  I hadn't.  I have read many stories about pioneers drying their laundry on tall prairie grass because there were no clotheslines, but I didn't know that grass and sun combined can bleach fabrics. Wives' tale?  From the National Geographic website:  

To whiten fine linens and delicate heirloom quilts, try the traditional grass bleaching method that people used as late as the 1930s to bleach the print from flour sacks they planned to cut up for quilt blocks. Women spread the linens or quilt on a patch of grass in full sunlight, sometimes leaving them there for days until the fabrics reached a desirable degree of whiteness. The prevailing wisdom held that the sun and chemicals in the grass worked together to bleach the fabric.

Lastly, we come to the final touches part of laundry -- pressing --  which is much pleasanter to me now that I have my new, old-fashioned iron.  This one is a Black & Decker.  My mother-in-law, who loved to press clothes, had one very similar to this model.  It's heavy, it's got a slick, all-aluminum soleplate.  It does not have an irritating switch that turns it off every few minutes.  It doesn't look like a space-age iron nor does it have a modern, non-stick soleplate that is always gunked up.  With this classic, you can iron smoothly with or without steam, and that orange button there lets you mist as you iron if you want to.  Try as I might  to clean the soleplates of my non-stick irons, they would not come clean so ironing was not a smooth process and my clean clothes sometimes came off the ironing board with dark marks from the iron.  Those irons were light weight, yes, but it seemed I was always pressing down hard to iron out wrinkles.  Maybe I'm a bit quirky, but I like this simple, old-school iron.  Today a half dozen shirts were pressed proficiently, and I enjoyed it!

If you have any laundry tips to share, please do so in the comments.  Is Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle  in the reading audience?  Perhaps she'd like to share her laundress secrets!


  1. Thank you for this VERY helpful post! I have some white shirts that desperately need some help :) Another product that I've found useful is a bar of fels-naptha soap. It's a laundry soap, really tough. If you rub it onto a damp garment and scrub with a brush, it helps tough stains come out.

  2. Wow, what a lot of great information. My parents live in an older part of the city and sometimes the city decides to "flush" the water lines unannounced. When that happens, if she has laundry running, her whites get ruined. No amount of complaining to the city has helped. Thanks for the great tip for the rust stains -- hopefully it will work on some of the things that have been ruined.

    And...may I suggest...the best cure for pit stains is not to sweat. You're working too hard. Put your feet up and relax LOL!

  3. GREAT post and timely information in the season of whites! Laundry is not my favorite job and all the years I've been doing it, I too learn new things :)


  4. I wish I had laundry tips to share, but I don't. In fact, I've been looking for ways to get my whites whiter, so thanks for this post! I didn't think I cared all that much until I noticed how dingy our towels and sheets had gotten. I'll try out some of your suggestions and see what works. No prairie grass here, unfortunately ...


  5. Great post, Jody! My last iron looked just like yours. I couldn't find one again, so I have a different model now. It's just okay. When I can't decide what to do first, I iron. I find it so soothing.
    I wish you a clean breeze to dry your sparkling whites today!

  6. Oh those dingy whites! I might have to try one of these methods. I'm intrigued with the iron...
    I love Mrs. TiggyWinkle!

  7. I make my own laundry soap....I use a box grater to grate my homemade castille soap (any laundry bar soap would work), then mix it with washing soda, borax, and any essential oil I feel like!

    That being said, I am a fan of Shaklee detergent as well as the stain remover.

  8. I really enjoyed this and I am going to try some of your tips. I have always wondered about stains like that and how to get them clean. I like the idea of all of them. My daughter uses the baking soda and vinegar over night for smells. She runs hot water mixes the soda in the washing machine and then adds vinegar and then adds her clothes. She lets it agitate for a minute and then lets it sit over night. She washes them in the morning and all of the strong odors are gone. With clothes left over from the previous year.
    I like what you said about whites too.
    Oh, Rust Away is horrible. I have had to use it but the smell.
    Thanks so much.

  9. I've been using Borax but I haven't noticed a big difference. I tried the Dawn recipe but it didn't really work for me either - I used green Dawn instead of blue Dawn but I don't think that would make a difference, do you? I'm going to check out your Laundress recipe - I have a hubby who stains his undershirts. Here's hoping!

  10. Thanks for the tips! Now I need to go try them...

  11. I really appreciate this post, Jody. I love my homemade deodorant but don't like the pit stains that occur after a few wearings. I was wondering how to tackle them and now I know!

    Have a good day-
    Angie in WA

  12. Well as someone who tries to do laundry once a month, it is not my forte. I really do not understand it. But hubby (who does his own laundry) has helped me a bit. He knows why more than I do. I will save this post xox Clarice

  13. Oh, that iron brings back childhood memories of watching my grandmother!

    Also, the Italians are big believers in the bleaching properties of the sun. I don't have any grass to supplement that with, but I could try some baking soda. Good idea!


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