We’ve all heard that shaving your body hair will make it grow back thicker, or you’ll get sick if you go outside with wet hair. But old myths and wives’ tales aren’t limited to grooming and catching colds. Like a lot of myths we might not even realize are erroneous, plenty of misconceptions still swirl about how we should and shouldn’t wash our clothes. Is bleach actually a must for whites? Can you really ignore the fabric care instructions? Is warm water better than cold?
Granted, we’ve come a long way in our pursuit of cleaner clothes — from hand-washing garments by the riverbank to today’s sophisticated machines. But these long-standing laundry myths can not only create confusion but potentially compromise how fresh our garments are — and how long they’ll last. So read on as we debunk some of the most common laundry myths, reveal the truth behind them, and explain how to get the most out of your routine.
Myth 1: Hot water is necessary for effective cleaning
One of the most pervasive laundry myths is that hot water is required for truly clean clothes. While hot water can be effective in removing oily stains and killing certain bacteria, the truth is that most laundry can be adequately cleaned with cold or warm water.
Modern-day laundry detergents are formulated to work effectively at lower temperatures, which helps preserve the color and texture of your garments while reducing energy consumption. If you’re selecting “hot” every time you wash, you’re not only cranking your electricity bill and emissions but putting your clothes through the wringer — pun intended. So, unless you’re dealing with particularly stubborn stains or heavily soiled items, opt for colder water settings.
Myth 2: More detergent equals cleaner clothes
More soap means cleaner, right? Despite what some people may believe, that’s not the case at all. Using too much detergent can leave behind residue on your clothes, making them appear dull and stiff. Plus, excess suds can strain your washing machine and affect its performance over time. Instead, follow the recommended dosage provided on the detergent packaging or switch to laundry detergent sheets, which are conveniently pre-measured to avoid this kind of problem. And remember — a measured approach with detergent will give you cleaner and fresher results, not the other way around.
Myth 3: Bleach is a must for white clothes
We all associate bleach with bright, white clothes. But despite how deeply this laundry myth is ingrained in our collective laundry routine, the truth is bleach is a harmful chemical and a known irritant to the skin, eyes, and even the lungs if inhaled. And frequent use of chlorine bleach can actually weaken fabrics and cause yellowing over time. The good news is that you don’t need it to maintain bright whites. Instead, try white vinegar, lemon, hydrogen peroxide, and/or baking soda in the washing machine to brighten clothing safely. After they wash, hang them to dry in the sun for some additional love. Plus, UV rays work as a natural disinfectant. Additionally, simply sorting your laundry properly — keeping whites away from colors — can help prevent discoloration and maintain the brilliance of your whites without chemicals.
Myth 4: Dryer sheets are essential for softness and freshness
Dryer sheets have long been marketed as a must-have laundry accessory for softening clothes and infusing them with a fresh scent. But dryer sheets can actually leave residue on fabrics, reducing absorbency and irritating sensitive skin. They’re also far from the only solution. Instead, try using wool dryer balls, which naturally soften clothes by reducing static and drying time. Then, for added freshness, use an essential-oil based laundry spray after your clothes have dried. Another trick is to put natural sachets in your drawers or closets to subtly scent your garments.
Myth 5: Washing by hand is always gentler than machine washing
Washing by hand is the gentlest method for cleaning delicate items, so goes the belief. But while it can be more suitable for certain fabrics, hand-washing is not always superior to the mechanical alternative. Unless you’ve learned how to correctly hand-wash clothes, they might not clean properly — and you could damage them with improper care. Fortunately, modern washing machines come with delicate or hand-wash cycles specifically designed to mimic the gentle action of hand-washing, ensuring thorough yet safe cleaning for your delicate garments. Always refer to the care label instructions on your clothing and consider using a mesh laundry bag to protect delicate items during machine washing. (And this also addresses the myth that you can ignore the fabric care label. Those instructions are there for a reason and should be followed — if you want the item to last and always look its best.)
Myth 6: Dry cleaning is the only way to properly clean delicate fabrics
Many people believe that delicate fabrics, such as silk or wool, can only be cleaned through dry cleaning services. While dry cleaning can be suitable for certain delicate items, advancements in technology and delicate detergents have made it possible to clean many types of fabrics safely and effectively at home. Always check the care label instructions on your garments and consider using a gentle cycle or handwashing with mild detergents. By understanding the appropriate care methods, you can save money and maintain the quality of your delicate garments without having to hop in the car and head to the dry cleaners.
Myth 7: Always button up shirts before you wash
Just the opposite, in fact. Fastening shirts can both stretch the fabric and even cause the buttons to tear off, due to the stress the washing machine exerts. Instead, make sure all your shirts are unbuttoned and uncuffed before you toss them into the wash.
These are just a few of the laundry misconceptions out there, of course. And most of them will continue to persist. But for the moment, let’s recap the facts: cold water is better, bleach should be avoided, and don’t overuse detergent (or better yet, switch to pre-measured laundry sheets). Hopefully with these myths debunked, you can optimize your laundry day, save energy and money, and extend the life of your favorite garments.