When you go down the laundry product aisle at the market, there are hundreds of different products. Every single one is trying to get your attention and make you believe that it is essential for you to have clean laundry. But what does each product really do? Do you need them all?
This article will give you definitions and descriptions of each type of laundry product and how it should be used. Within each type of product there are usually countless brand names from which to choose.
You can make your choices based on scent or what your mother used but we'll try to help you make the best selections for the type of laundry in your family.
What Products Do I Really Need in the Laundry Room?
With just a few products, you can handle almost every type of laundry. With just six products, you can produce good results:
- Heavy Duty Detergent - Choose a detergent with enough enzymes to tackle stains and heavy soil. It can be used as a stain remover to pretreat almost all stains. The best option is a detergent free of fragrances and dyes that can irritate sensitive skin, especially if you have young children. Shop for Heavy Duty Laundry Detergent on Amazon.com
- Gentle Detergent for Hand Washing Delicates - A gentle detergent can be used for delicate fabrics and for hand washing wool sweaters. Shop for Gentle Detergent on Amazon.com
- Oxygen Bleach - Oxygen bleach is an excellent stain remover and also whitens and brightens fabrics. It is safe to use on all fabrics except wool, silk and leather and can be used for both white and colored fabrics. Shop for Oxygen Bleach on Amazon.com
- Chlorine Bleach or Pine-Based Disinfectant - A disinfectant is necessary for some laundry that is loaded with bacteria (sick bed linens, athlete's foot laundry). Chlorine bleach works fine for white, cotton fabrics but other disinfectant products can be used for all types of fabrics and colored items. Shop for Laundry Disinfectant on Amazon.com
- Baking Soda - Baking soda helps control offensive odors. Shop for Baking Soda on Amazon.com
- White Distilled Vinegar - Added to the rinse cycle, white distilled vinegar leaves clothes feeling soft to the touch. Shop for White Distilled Vinegar on Amazon.com
A well-stocked laundry room will also have a few other products to handle specific types of stains and fabrics:
- Dry Cleaning Solvent - Having dry cleaning solvent on hand to treat small stains on dry clean only garments can save a trip to the cleaners and some money. Shop for Dry Cleaning Solvent on Amazon.com
- Rust Remover - Rust stains are difficult to remove and usually require a specifically formulated product. Shop for Rust Remover on Amazon.com
- Hydrogen Peroxide - Excellent stain remover for white garments and works exceptionally well in removing yellow under arm stains. Shop for Hydrogen Peroxide on Amazon.com
- Borax - If you have young children in diapers, borax will help control odors and lift stains by boosting the cleaning power of your detergent. Shop for Borax on Amazon.com
22 Laundry Products and What They Do
- Bleach: There are two types of bleach commonly used in home laundry: chlorine bleach or sodium hypochlorite and oxygen bleach. Through a process of oxidation, bleach changes the soil into soluble particles to be washed away by detergents in the washing process. Bleach helps to whiten and brighten washable fabrics and some bleaches disinfect fabrics by killing bacteria. Bleach products may also be labeled as whiteners.
- Bluing: Bluing products improve the whiteness level of fabrics by counteracting the natural yellowing that occurs during regular laundering by adding a blue pigment. The eye perceives the nearly undetectable amount of blue and see the fabric as whiter. Commercial bluing products are highly concentrated and must be diluted before using to prevent permanent staining and streaking. Bluing directions must be followed carefully for good results.
- Borax: A naturally occurring mineral composed of sodium, boron, oxygen and water. Borax has no toxic fumes and is safe for the environment. Borax can irritate skin and should not be ingested. It is a detergent booster, deodorizer and disinfectant.
- Chlorine Bleach: Laundry chlorine bleach is a 5.25% solution of sodium hypochloride. It is quite powerful and must be diluted with water for safe use on some fabrics. It acts as a disinfectant on bacteria and viruses and generally whitens cotton, linen and natural fabrics.
- Color Remover: A form of bleach, laundry color removers are a combination of Sodium Hydrosulfite and Sodium Carbonate Anhydrous. They are can be toxic and should be used carefully and only when all other methods fail.
- Detergent: General purpose laundry detergents are available in liquid, powdered or single dose form. The key to selecting the best detergent for your laundry needs is to look at the list of ingredients. The more active ingredients like surfactants that lift soil away from fabric and suspend it in the water and enzymes that remove stains, the better the detergent. Learn more about choosing a laundry detergent.
- Detergent Booster: Most boosters contain oxygen bleach, enzymes and surfactants to improve the cleaning power of laundry detergents. If you are satisfied with the cleaning performance of your current product, a booster is not needed. They are appropriate on occasion if laundry loads are heavily soiled.
- Disinfectant: Clothes that have been exposed to excessive bacteria and infectious virus should be disinfected. There are four types of fabric disinfectants: pine oil, phenolic disinfectants, liquid chlorine (sodium hypochlorite) and quaternary disinfectants.
- Dry Cleaning Solvent: Not all fabrics can tolerate water and not all stains respond to water-based products. Dry cleaning solvent is a type of petroleum based fluid available in liquids, sprays and powders that is used to clean specific types of stains and fabrics without water.
- Dryer Sheets: Dryer sheets are a non-woven synthetic or cellulose fabric treated with a heat-activated lubricant that leaves coating on fabrics to make them feel softer next to our skin and helps to reduce static. If the sheet stays in one spot too long during the drying cycle, it can leave excessive product that appears as a grease stain on clothes.
- Enzyme Presoak: Laundry enzyme presoaks are a pre-washing stain removal treatment used to break down protein stains like grass, blood and baby formula so they can be more efficiently removed during the regular wash cycle. A presoak is necessary when clothes are heavily soiled or stained.
- Fabric Dye: Fabric dyes are used to boost or change the colors of fabric. They can be powdered or liquid, synthetic or made from plants. Using fabric dyes successfully requires knowledge of the fabric's fiber content and following directions carefully.
- Fabric Freshener: Also known as odor removers, fabric fresheners work by trapping odor molecules and suspending them away from the fabric until they can be washed away. Some are made for topical use only and others can be added to the wash cycle.
- Fabric softener/Fabric conditioner: Most commercial fabric softeners and fabric conditioners work by leaving a lubricating coating on fabrics to make them feel softer next to our skin and to our touch. The main product ingredient is often a silicone that binds to the fibers.
- Oxygen Bleach: Sold in liquid and powdered formulas, oxygen-based or all-fabric bleach contains sodium perborate, sodium precarbonate or hydrogen peroxide. When this bleach is introduced to wash water, the chemical ingredient oxidizes to help remove soil and organic matter helping to remove stains and brighten the fabric. It works much more slowly than chlorine bleach but is much more gentle on fabrics.
- Rust Remover: Commercial rust remover products generally contain oxalic or hydrofluoric acid and are formulated to remove rust on fabrics. They are quite powerful and home remedies made from lemon juice or cream of tartar should be tried first to remove rust stains.
- Scent Enhancer: Available in pellet and powdered packets, scent enhancers contain a dissolving agent and perfume. They offer no cleaning or odor control properties, they simply add perfume to the wash water.
- Sizing: Home laundry sizing is a resinous solution that adds body to fabric, creates soil resistance and ease of soil removal in the wash and makes ironing easier. It is available in both aerosol and trigger spray bottles.
- Stain Remover: Also known as Pre-Treater, a stain remover is used to pretreat stains before laundering, these products are available as aerosols, pump sprays, sticks, pens and liquids. Stain removal products are solvent-based often made with petroleum distillates. They work particularly well in removing oil-based stains from synthetic fibers such as polyester, acrylic and olefins.
- Starch: A natural product produced from plants, usually corn, starch is used to coat natural fabric fibers to add stiffness and increase stain resistance. Laundry starch is available in powdered, liquid and aerosol form.
- Washing Soda: Washing soda or soda ash, is a chemical compound that can be used to remove stubborn stains from laundry and is an essential component in most homemade laundry detergent for powder, liquid or single pod formulas. Washing soda should not be confused with baking soda, although the two compounds are closely related.
- Water Conditioner/Water Softener: These terms are used interchangeably on some laundry products but there is a difference. Water conditioner is a term for an equipment system that changes the qualities of the water in your home. A water softener is a product that reduces water hardness one grain per gallon or less. Softening water allows detergents to do a better job in cleaning clothes and is more gentle on clothing fibers.