As you know we love messy play. Painting is Peanut’s (18 months) favorite hobby at the moment. Some days the paints come out more than once. The number one question or comment I get is how do I keep the kids’ clothes clean? With six people in the house and all the sensory play we enjoy I have to have a good system, or the laundry will take over the house.
Last winter when we made our Body Paint Slip and Slide I posted photos on my personal Facebook page. Many of my friends commented with horror that I ruined my boys’ nice clothes.
Let me let you in on a little secret: I have never met a stain I couldn't get out. Those clothes in the photo above came out of the wash just as nice as before. I had to learn how to best care for clothes. In addition to being a mom of four young boys, I am a spiller. I don’t know how. I can’t explain why. I spill everything I eat or drink. My mom said that when I moved out she no longer needed to buy laundry boosters or stain removers. She taught me many tricks growing up, and I’ve learned a few of my own to keep our laundry fresh and stain free.
You might be wondering what a laundry post is doing on a kids’ activity and homeschool blog. I believe so strongly in the importance of sensory play and letting kids get messy that I’d hate for stains and messes to be the reason parents avoid it. It is my hope that with these tips you will be confident enough to let your kids dig in and get dirty!
This is going to vary from household to household, and you have to find the routine that works for you. Some people do one load every single day. Others catch up on the weekends. I tend to do 2-3 loads every other day. I can’t stand doing a load every single day. It makes me feel like I never ever get anything accomplished. It’s mental really. On the other hand, I can’t wait until the weekends and avoid laundry all week long. There are too many of us, and the hampers would overflow quickly!
My advice is to find the routine that works best for you and your family. The best routine is one that allows you to wash, dry, fold and put away. Laundry isn’t done until it is put away. (Don’t tell my husband I am giving advice on putting away laundry – ha ha!) In all fairness, the only time during the week that I can accomplish household chores is when my youngest three boys are napping or in bed for the night, and I can’t put their laundry away when they are sleeping in their rooms, can I? Once the twins are a bit older I’ll be able to get more chores done during the day, and I hope to keep up with putting the laundry away right after it is dried and folded.
We all know that we need to sort lights and darks. I like to take it a step further and sort adult and kids clothes, especially darks. Most of our sons’ clothes need to be washed in warm water, and ours can be washed in cold water. Also, separating clothes aids with tip number one. When I fold a load of my husband’s and my clothing I can actually get it put away that same day. I can’t use the kids are sleeping excuse. In addition to lights and darks and kids and adults we wash whites together and towels together.
Have you ever left a tissue in your pocket? Take my word for it, check your pockets. I have also left chapstick in my pockets, and that leaves greasy stains all over clothes if it makes it into the dryer. Not fun. Check every pocket before washing. My mom trained us well. I don’t put my clothes in the hamper without checking every single pocket. Her rule was if she found money in someone’s clothing, she got to keep it. Now that I’m the mom I like that rule!
Not all detergents are created equal. If you don’t spill often or have young children you might be able to get away with a less expensive detergent. My mom buys hers at the dollar store and is very happy with the results. She and my dad aren’t as clumsy as I am apparently.
For a few years I made my own detergent. My only complaint with the recipe I used was that it was hard on the clothes. Our clothes faded faster than ever before. With four boys I hope to pass clothes down to each child and get good use out of everything we buy. Faded clothing weren't cutting it for me, so I went back to store bought.
- A three ingredient detergent that works for front and top loading washers from Happy Hooligans.
- A detergent with a bold scent and an optional added stain remover from Frogs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails.
- A recipe for detergent as well as a frugal substitute for fabric softener and a multi purpose cleaning detergent from Housing a Forest.
My husband loves the smell of Kirkland brand detergent. He is the least picky person in the world. There are very few things he has a strong opinion on, so even though I prefer Tide I concede to him on this one. (If I’m being honest I think the driving factor behind preferring Kirkland is that it is so much cheaper.) Regardless of the reason, Kirkland works for us!
With four kids five and under I can’t always drop everything and run a load of wash every time there is a spill. My solution is to pretreat clothes. Anything with a potential spot gets sprayed with Spray and Wash (or comparable product) and left on top of the washing machine. Leaving stained clothes on top of the washing machine is crucial. Do you think I’m going to remember the marinara sauce all over a T-shirt two days later if it is in a hamper along with the dirty clothes from all six of us? Not a chance. By leaving the pretreated article of clothing on top of the washing machine I am able to remember which clothes need extra care when I get the chance to run a load.
Almost all stains need to be treated with WARM water. Water that is too hot or cold will set the stain. Unless your WARM setting is unusually hot or cold, always wash stained clothing on WARM. This includes chocolate, coffee, tomato sauce, paint, avocado, food coloring, grease, poop and anything else that could stain clothes.
Leave stained clothing to soak for a few hours or even overnight. If you wash clothes right after the mess is made you might be able to avoid the soaking step since the stain doesn’t have a chance to set. In most cases I don’t have the chance to wash immediately. Waiting works for me, because in the course of three days we likely have several articles of clothing that need to be soaked. Be sure to follow the rules of sorting when you soak. A pair of grass stained blue jeans soaking with a white polo shirt pretty much guarantees you a blue polo shirt with an uneven dye job.
4. DO NOT DRY
If you remember only one thing from this post let it be this. Until a stain is completely gone do not dry the clothes! Drying sets a stain. Like I said before I have never met a stain I can’t get out. The only time stains are permanent in our wardrobe is when I forget to check the clothes before tossing into the dryer. Inspect any clothes that were soaking for any remnant of the stain. If you can’t tell for sure don’t dry. When in doubt, lay flat to dry. This is especially common with grease stains. Grease stains blend in with wet clothes but rear their ugly heads once the clothes are dry. I air dry all grease stains either by hanging or laying flat.
For extremely persistent spots make an Oxi Clean paste. Put a tablespoon or so of Oxi Clean in a bowl and add a tiny bit of water. Mix with a spoon then put the paste directly onto the stain and leave overnight. The next day toss the entire thing, clothing and paste into the washer.
Red tends to be the only persistent color when we paint or use food coloring in our play. Sometimes if I don’t pretreat it right away, red takes more care than normal. I have noticed that Crayola red paints come out much easier than Colorations brand.
I’ve mentioned Oxi Clean and Spray and Wash. The other must have stain fighting tool is Dawn. Dawn fights grease. That’s how it gets dishes clean. Grease stains won’t respond to Oxi Clean or Spray and Wash. When I pretreat a grease stain I rub a little Dawn onto it. When I wash clothes that I wore while cooking bacon or sweet potato fries or the outfits my boys wear while playing with cloud dough I add a good sized squirt to the load. (One of the ingredients in cloud dough is oil.) I don’t measure, but I roughly use a tablespoon of Dawn or slightly less. Dawn is also the magic trick to keeping cloth diapers and towels absorbent. It gets rid of any build up that could be causing the fabric to repel liquid instead of soaking it up. Regardless of the main detergent you use, with these three stain fighters and proper steps you too can be stain free!
Another tip that naturally occurred after becoming a mom is avoiding clothes that need to be hand washed or dry cleaned. If you work out of the home that might not be a possibility, but for me I prefer clothes that can be washed. I don’t mind hanging or laying flat to dry, but hand washing is not going to happen in this house. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.
As you can see from the photos I have a top loader. For those of you with HE machines, here is a fabulous post from Creekside Learning on how to clean your H.E. washer without buying tablets.
Be sure and read my post on Tips and Tricks for Messy Play. With these laundry tips don't let the mess stress you out Have fun and let kids get messy!