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My Housekeeping Book!

Smart Housekeeping
The No-Nonsense Guide to Decluttering, Organizing, and Cleaning Your Home,




Smart Housekeeping



Safe and Healthy Housekeeping




Laundry Basics

Collecting and Storing Laundry




Laundry Room Tips

Summer Laundry

Down Clothing


Rugs and Carpets

Care of Laundry Machines

Safe and Healthy Housekeeping

Thoughts about Clutter -- Why is Clutter?

The Mice Step Out! Summer's End

Book Reviews

Product Reviews





Laundry is one of those facts of life. Almost everyone has to deal with it, one way or the other.

Even if someone else does your laundry, you have to deal with it. I recall a childhood friend who decided it was too much trouble to put away the dresses and blouses that her mother had washed, starched, and ironed. So she dumped them back in the laundry chute. This proved to be a poor way to deal with laundry.

When I was a college student, it was all about quarters. Precious objects--they would operate laundry machines. Change was avidly picked over, and quarters were put aside for laundry day. I don't know why it didn't occur to me until much later that I could go into a bank and buy a whole roll of quarters. Maybe that's a rite of passage to adulthood.

In any event, there it is. You probably have to do laundry. You might as well do it as easily and effectively as possible.


Think about how you'll clean things before you buy. Almost all garments and linens have a tag with care instructions. Is the item washable? If not, is dry cleaning worth it to you?

If you're shopping online and the care instructions aren't spelled out, ask the vendor. Care instructions are part of the cost of a garment--financial as well as effort. If you add the cost of dry cleaning to the price of a garment, is it still worth the money?

Or is the tag correct? With care, some "dry clean" items can be washed. Some books say that the label "dry clean" means "washable with care," while "dry clean only" means do not wash.

I'm not so sure that's an infallible guide. Wool, silk, and cotton garments are often labeled for dry cleaning. But with cold water and gentle care, they can be handwashed. If you're wondering about washing an item, do a little Internet research on washabilty of the fiber it's made of--there is a lot of information out there. Then consider the trim and embellishments, and test for colorfastness with a damp white cloth. You have to be aware that you're taking a risk if you go for cleaning that's not accepted by the manufacturer.

Go for practicality with use as well as cleaning. For example, when you buy towels, it's tempting to go for thick fluffy ones. Advertising is so convincing that it's easy to believe that weight = luxury. As an experiment, I bought some towels online that were advertised as quick drying, and of course, I live in a very damp climate, so drying is always a problem. When they arrived, I was a little taken aback. They were thin!

After a few uses, I was sold. The towels are super absorbent, and they dry in a flash, even on rainy days. They're soft, too, not at all like low quality towels.

I mostly buy white towels. I know I can always bleach them if I need to. Some writers say that towels that kids use should be almost anything BUT white, preferably busy patterns, because stains are inevitable.

I prefer white sheets, too. Decorator sheets don't appeal to me in any case--I'm asleep most of the time I'm using sheets, and even if I'm awake, I'm probably spending very little time looking at the linens.

However, softness and quality are worth paying for, in my opinion. This means high quality cotton. I've experimented with other fibers, such as bamboo, and been disappointed with high shrinkage. Since my bed doesn't shrink, my expensive all-bamboo sheets soon had to be discarded, even though I washed them in cold water.

So do some research and think about what you really want and need before you buy.

Laundry Basics

Collecting and Storing Laundry

If you wash colors and whites together, the whites will eventually end up gray. I sort into lights and darks (and usually separated medium colors from the whites when I did the wash). I added a third basket for delicates after I made a few mistakes and messed up some clothes. I wash bright colors separately the first few times they're laundered, and also wash fuzzy, linty things separately. You don't even want to think about what happens when you wash a chenille robe and a pair of corduroy pants together.

Don't put wet or damp things into the hamper. Hang them to dry before adding them to your hamper. If you don't, you risk mildew in your clothes.

Before starting your laundry loads, cruise around the house for things that aren't in the hamper. Bathroom towels and mats, kitchen dishcloths, towels, and aprons, clothes on overdoor hooks--whatever might need to be rounded up. When doing family laundry, you may or may not want to wash things that should be in the hamper and aren't--sometimes, you can train people to pick up their clothes if that's the only way they're going to get washed. Then again, sometimes you can't.


Check the care tag! On clothes, it may not be at the back of the neck or wherever the brand tags are. The care tag is often located on a side seam. Or it may be behind the brand tag.

Even though I'm a soapmaker, I don't use soap in my washing machine. I know some people do, and are happy with it, but I use laundry detergent.

If care instructions call for using mild detergent, you can use special detergent, or simply use less.

I use bleach detergent for whites, and unscented, dye free for almost everything else. I prefer liquid--no chance of dry detergent remaining in the clothes. But if you want to use dry, fill the tub first and make sure the powder is dissolved before adding the clothes. Experiment with using less detergent than the manufacturer recommends. I sometimes use as little as half, and the clothes still get clean.

I wash everything but towels and sheets with cold water, and I use warm for them. I rarely use hot water for anything. However, I use a non-chlorine bleach detergent for white items--hot water is recommended for whites if you use ordinary detergent.

When you use cold water, make sure your detergent is right for that. I use liquid detergent in cold water. The powder sometimes doesn't dissolve.

The delicate cycle on most washers is fine for hand washables.

Some experts recommend fastening all buttons and zippers before washing. Others say to wash dark clothes inside out.

Use mesh washing bags for delicate items.

You should fill a washer no more than 3/4 full. Clothes won't get as clean if the washer is stuffed.

If you add about 1/4 cup of distilled white vinegar to the last rinse in your machine, it will help remove any remaining traces of detergent from the clothes.

Colorfastness--Fabrics may be dyed in one of two ways--yarn dyed and solution dyed. In the case of yarn dyed fabrics, the thread or fabric is created first and then dyed. This would be normal for natural fibers. These dyes may fade.

Solution dyed fabrics are synthetics. The fabric is dyed as the fiber is being made. These fabrics are very likely to be completely colorfast.

Dye fixatives such as Retayne, and "dye magnets" (sheets that you add to laundry to supposedly catch loose dye and prevent it from coloring other clothes) are available. Check online reviews--there are differences of opinion about their effectiveness.

New clothes, especially natural fibers, often fade a bit at first. If I have a new red garment, I try to wash it with older red things if I can. If the dye in the new item runs a little, it peps up the color in the older ones. Otherwise, I wash new, brightly colored things with a white cotton utility cloth (cleaning cloth or discarded kitchen towel). If the white cloth doesn't get stained, the colored one is colorfast.

The dye of some non-colorfast items will run every time they're washed. Be extra careful to keep these out of the general laundry.

Stains--Most spots and stains are removable by washing in cold water and allowing the garment to dry naturally. This works for most things if the stain hasn't set.

If you know what a stain is, google it. Put "remove grass stain" in your browser and see what you get. But be cautious and consider the source. Look at several sites and choose a method that is agreed-on and safe. Also, compare Internet directions with the care tag on the item itself.

Most stain removers won't touch blood stains, but hydrogen peroxide will. It can even remove old blood stains if they're not too set.


If you shake out wet clothes before putting them in the dryer, they'll dry faster. I've also seen advice to put a dry towel into each load with the wet clothes--that it will speed up drying. Hard to say for sure, but it definitely can't hurt anything.

If you saw a stain or spill on a garment before putting it in the washer, check it before drying. If the stain is still there, don't put the garment in the dryer--heat will set the stain. Let it dry naturally and remove the stain, then wash again.

Clothes don't seem to need nearly as much separation in the dryer as they do in the washer. I'll dry darks and lights in one load to save electricity, even though I wash them separately. However, don't dry linty light-colored clothes or towels with your darks. It's a tremendous amount of work to get all the fluff off.

Don't overdry clothes. At the very least, there's no point in scorching them, and they may last longer if you don't.

I don't use dryer sheets. They do remove static, but you can do that by running a metal object over the garment, or brushing it with damp hands or hands that have just had lotion applied. Or spritz lightly with 99% isopropyl alcohol. The moisture will eliminate the static, and the alcohol will evaporate completely.

Clean the lint screen of your dryer for every load.

Air drying: Dry knits and heavy clothes flat, at least until they're dry enough to not pull themselves out of shape. You can help them along by rolling them in towels and squeezing, but don't wring or twist delicate clothes. You can make a good place for clothes to air dry by adding a tension type shower curtain rod above your bathtub, right down the center line of the tub, and high enough that it doesn't interfere with anyone's head when they're standing up. Hang clothes on plastic hangers right over the tub.

Line drying is a no-no in some communities. I figured out a way around that--hung a plastic chain from the soffit of my porch, and hook individual hangers into the links. I can only dry a couple of things at once, but so far, no one has objected.

A folding board is helpful if you need to maximize drawer space. I used one for a while and learned a lot about compact folding. After that, I gave away the board, because I didn't need it anymore.


Most people don't seem to enjoy ironing. You may avoid ironing if you remove clothes from the dryer when they are very slightly damp. Hang them or lay them flat and let them dry completely.

Or, if you're not too particular, wrinkle releaser spray may be used instead. Or try running the wrinkled item in the clothes dryer with a damp, lint free cloth. For polyester, spritz with a little white vinegar before putting in the dryer. Or mix vinegar 50-50 with distilled water, and use as an ironing spray for set-in wrinkles in polyester and other synthetic fibers.

I don't mind ironing, but I don't do much of it. I iron dinner napkins, since the no-iron ones are really not functional. A few dresses.

I prefer to iron clothes just before I wear them. They don't look as good if I iron them and then hang them in the closet--they pick up some wrinkles, just hanging.

I keep all my ironing and clothing maintenance supplies in a cabinet near where I set up the ironing board. So in addition to the iron itself, ironing spray, and a bottle of plain water, I have a lint roller and fuzz removers in a basket in the cabinet. If everything's handy, it's not that big a job.

I like the way ironing smells. Steamy and clean.

Laundry Room Tips:

1. Go through pockets. You'll be sorry if you wash and dry a ballpoint pen or a crayon. Or a lipstick. Even a tissue in the laundry is going to create a hassle. And who knows? You might find money.

2. Have a wastebasket in the laundry room. If you don't, there's no place to put that lint you removed from the dryer screen.

3. If there's room, add a drying rack or a rod for hanging clothes to air dry. A tension type shower curtain rod may work well. Keep a couple of hangers and a few clothespins handy.

4. If you use liquid laundry detergent, you may be able to get one more load out of an "empty" bottle. Tighten the cap, turn the bottle upside down, and prop it in that position for several hours. You'll be surprised at how much detergent is left.

5. A paper towel holder is a good addition if you have wall room for one. Or you could attach a magnetic hook to the side of the washer or dryer, and hang a cleaning cloth from it. Either way, you have something handy for spilled detergent or other cleanup needs.

6. Folding or collapsible laundry baskets are convenient space savers.

Summer Laundry

What's different about summer? Laundry is an always thing.

But summer is different. In my climate, and in many, summer is when we can count on dry, warm days. This is the time to wash things that must be air dried, especially if they are heavy and harder to dry. Where I live, late summer is my main chance to wash winter coats.

Why not just dry clean these items? Of course, you may choose to do that. On the other hand, a dry cleaner may not be a convenient choice, or you may decide to avoid the chemicals.

Down Clothing and Bedding

Wash down items in lukewarm water.

Use special down wash soap.

If any seams need mending, do it before washing.

If you hand wash, be careful to keep support under the item when it's wet. The weight of the water in the fabric and down could tear the baffles and other stitching.Dont try to wring water out of it--this will also strain the stitching.

Some experts say that only front loading washing machines should be used for machine washing down. Regardless of what type of machine you use, you must use a gentle cycle.

If you use a top loading washer, keep down items submerged by washing with like-colored cotton items such as towels, Check from time to time, and press air from the down garment if needed to keep it below the water surface.

Rinse very thoroughly. It's a good idea to repeat the wash cycle with plain water to make sure that no soap remains.

Air dry down clothing and comforters. When dry, put into a clothes dryer with NO heat and several clean tennis balls or wool dryer balls to fluff the down up again.


If your quilt is a valuable antique, get advice from an expert.


The first question with a quilt is, what is it made of? Most handmade quilts are cotton fabric, and cotton should be handled carefully to prevent shrinkage. If you made the quilt yourself, you probably preshrunk the fabric, but if you didn't, it may not have been done.

Fabric shrinkage will ruin a quilt. The fabric will pucker and the thread probably will not shrink.


Look at the colors. If you don't know whether quilt fabric has been pre washed, and it contains both white and brightly colored fabrics, it's safest to dry clean it. If the bright bits aren't colorfast, washing the quilt could ruin it.

It's possible to test carefully, by wetting a small sample of the colored fabric, letting it rest for a few minutes, and then dabbing it with a white cloth. If dye comes off onto the white cloth, it's not colorfast. I can't say this is guaranteed, though, when it comes to washing a whole quilt. The color pieces are likely to be small, and you'd have to test every color individually.

Don't use bleach on a quilt.

Hand or Machine Wash?

Most experts recommend washing in a deep laundry tub or bathtub. I'd add, if you do that, have a small tub or plastic laundry basket handy for moving the quilt when you're done washing it. It will be very heavy when it's wet, and also very drippy.

If you decide to machine-wash a quilt, consider taking it to a laundromat and using an extra large washer. If the quilt is crowded in the wash tub, it won't get very clean. Take along a big waterproof tub for bringing the quilt home--you won't want to machine dry it.


If you have minerals in your water, you might reconsider dry cleaning. There's not much point in washing the quilt in water that's going to damage it. Some sources recommend distilled water, but that's an awful lot of distilled water.

Some experts recommend warm water. Unless the quilt is very dirty, I'd use cold.

Detergent or Soap

There are specialty products for washing quilts, and many quilters swear by them. If you choose a specialty product, follow the manufacturer's directions.

Otherwise, use liquid detergent, colorless and unscented. If you're using cold water, use a detergent that's labeled for that use.

Washing and Rinsing

Handle the quilt gently, without lifting, twisting, or stretching.

Rinsing is important. If you're hand washing the quilt, rinse over and over with a little white vinegar in the water to cut any remaining suds. If you're using a washing machine, run the quilt through a second entire cycle with no soap or detergent.


Roll the quilt in towels and squeeze gently to remove as much water as possible, but do not wring. Dry quilts flat. Some experts recommend spreading a sheet on the grass, laying the quilt over it, and laying another sheet on top of the quilt. If you hang quilts on a line, the weight of the wet batting may tear the stitching.

Rugs and Carpets

If your rug is valuable, get advice from an expert. These suggestions are for ordinary throw rugs.

As with clothing, check the label, if there is one, for washability. Vacuum the rug thoroughly, turn it over, and vacuum from the back. If possible, take the rug outside and shake or beat it.

Look for any areas that need mending before you wash it.

Unless your rug is very small, either take it to a laundromat with extra large machines or wash by hand.

For hand washing, I lay the rug flat on a wood porch or concrete slab (wash the surface itself down first). Wash the rug with carpet cleaning foam or a small amount of diluted liquid laundry detergent. If you use foam, follow the manufacturer's directions. If you use laundry detergent, rinse with the hose. Get all the soap out.

Either dry the rug flat, as I've described for quilts, or spread it out on a drying rack if it's not too large. Don't let it hang, as on a clothesline. It may distort.

If you use a rack outdoors, make sure it doesn't overturn. You may have to anchor it or tie it to something. In my experience, even a gentle breeze will knock a laundry rack over.

Summer is the time to clean wall-to-wall carpeting, too. You can either hire a professional or rent a machine. Use the correct cleaner for the machine--but test cleaners before using. Pour a small amount into a dish and let it dry. If the dried residue is sticky, don't use that product on your carpet. Some people skip cleaners altogether with steam cleaners.

Care of Laundry Machines

Follow the manufacturer's instructions for care.

Make sure your machines are sitting level.

If a top loading washing machine becomes unbalanced, stop it immediately and redistribute the clothes.

Wipe up any gritty detergent powder that you see at the top edge of the tub of a top loading washer.

If your washer is a front loader, especially HE machines, wipe the gasket dry with paper towels when your last load is done, and leave the door open for a while.

Run the "clean" cycle in an HE machine as recommended by the manufacturer. Some users substitute chlorine bleach for specialty washing machine cleaner.

Leave the lid of a top loading machine open after washing is done, as well. Helps prevent mold and mildew.

Clean the dryer lint filter after every load.

Make sure your dryer exhaust is unobstructed.

Safe and Healthy Housekeeping

Dressing for Housekeeping

Some authors make this into a major point. I don't--you have to do so much around the house, and most of it doesn't require anything special. However, for safety's sake, consider a few points before you start a project:

1. Gloves--Many cleaners are hard on your hands, and that goes for natural cleaners as well as commercial ones. Of course you'll wear gloves if you're handling very strong cleaners like drain openers or oven cleaners, but consider them for general cleaning as well. Gloves that are a little tight will give you better dexterity. Disposable gloves are useful for jobs like cleaning scale out of the toilet. For washing fragile dishes and glassware, get slip-resistant gloves with textured palms.

2. Goggles--Using these would be a matter of judgment. I wouldn't wear goggles for washing dishes, but I probably would if I was using strong cleaners. Or for use of ordinary cleaners at eye level and above, like scrubbing a tile shower.

3. Shoes--If you're likely to drop something nasty on your feet, or also if you're using strong cleaners, it's a good idea to wear solid shoes.

4. Apron--Saves washing your good clothes, or maybe ruining them. Definitely wear an apron whenever you use chlorine bleach.

5. I use pony tail scrunchies as sleeve garters to keep my sleeves out of the way of water and cleaners. With many sleeve styles, rolling them up doesn't work.

Other Concerns

1. Always make sure you have good ventilation if you're using strong cleaners. Also when using heat in cleaning an oven. Most ovens vent to the kitchen, not outdoors.

2. Make sure that multiple cleaners you're using at the same time are not ones that interact with each other chemically.

3. Think about food safety when using cleaners in a refrigerator or freezer.

4. Don't climb on furniture. Use a safe ladder, and don't climb higher on it than the manufacturer recommends. Ladders are one of the leading causes of household injuries, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Even better than climbing, equip yourself with long handled tools.

5. Electrical appliances should be grounded. Many of them pull enough current to electrocute you if something goes wrong. Doubly dangerous if you're using them in wet areas.

The Mice Step Out--Summer's End

Click here to see the mice's end-of-summer fun


Thoughts about Clutter--Why is Clutter?

Clutter is a big topic these days, as if it were a self-contained problem. Actually, I think clutter is a symptom of other problems. "Decluttering" is fine as far as it goes, and my book gives a method for getting it done. But until the original problem is solved, the clutter is going to come back. We joke that cofffee mugs grow little legs and cluster on the table in the living room, but that probably isn't really what's happening (even though the ones on the right appear to have been caught in the act!.)

Causes for clutter include:

1. Not being in the habit of putting things away when you've finished using them. The solution to this is habit training. This is likely to be the root problem when cluttering is blamed on lack of time. It takes almost no time to put things away immediately, but the time for correcting clutter that has built up can make it seem almost impossible to do.

2. Not having places to put things. This could have two possible causes:

A. Too many things

The solution for this is to get rid of some things and look at why so many things are coming into the household to begin with. This will vary from one individual to another, but could include hoarding, recreational shopping, excessive gifts to children from relatives, and a variety of other causes.

Sometimes the problem is that possessions have lost their purpose. Maybe you're hanging on to clothes that no longer fit. Or you bought a guitar and discovered that you have very little musical talent. Or maybe you got the gear you needed for entertaining, and discovered that no one reciprocated, so you gave up. You can pile up a lot of possessions that you don't use, but wish you could. If you add them to the things you actually do need, it may be too much for your storage space.And maybe it's hard to let go of the objects, because you're discarding a dream along with them. But it's better to bite the bullet and get it over with. Let the things go, because they'll always remind you of your disappointment.

It can be hard to get rid of objects with sentimental associations, too, even if you don't particularly like the object itself. The same is true of gifts. Unlike other authors, I'm going to say--Don't get rid of things like this if you don't want to. Think it over, and decide. If it would work for you, take a photo of the object, and then find another home for the object itself. But you don't have to discard things that are meaningful to you in pursuit of minimalist purity. It's your home. Hopefully, there aren't too many of these things, and you can find a place for them if you clear out other stuff.

B. Too little storage, or disorganized storage

A reasonable number of possessions, but too llittle storage space looks the same as an excess of things, but the solution is to either increase the efficiency of the storage space, or buy/build new shelves, cabinets, bookcases, etc.

I'm looking at this from the point of view of one person. A family may have several people with different reasons for cluttering. Unfortunately, the clutter may not bother the family members who are actually doing the cluttering.

If you think about what is behind a clutter problem, it will be much easier to change it. Knowing what the cause is will make your job a lot easier.

Book Reviews

1,001+ Housewife How-To's: Household Hints to Help Homebodies Cook, Clean, Do Laundry, Get Organized, Save Money and MORE!
by Katie Berry

A very practical, basic book with good hints for laundry as well as cleaning and organizing. Recommended.


Clothing Care Basics: Tips for Fabric Care, Clothing Storage, and Saving Money by Keeping Your Favorite Clothes Looking Good Longer
by Julie Gallagher

Good detailed advice. Recommended.


Confessions of a Happily Organized Family
by Deniece Schofield

Excellent chapter on laundry, as well as other good advice. Recommended.


Laundry: The Home Comforts Book of Caring for Clothes and Linens
by Cheryl Mendelson

Very thorough. Even has a chapter on the science of soaps and detergents, as well as much practical advice for laundry. Highly recommended.


Laundry Hints and Tips
Cindy Harris

A small basic book, but has most of what you need to know. Recommended.

Product Reviews

I have no financial interest in any of these companies, and have not received anything in exchange for my recommendations.

Lands End Hydrocotton Bath Towel--Highly recommended

Orvus Quilt Soap-- Recommended

Nikwax Down Wash--Recommended


Felted mice by Diyana Stankova

Pottery mugs by Walking Pottery

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