As a generalist, my cleaning expertise spans just about every topic you could think of — and plenty of things you wouldn’t ever think of, because messes can get awfully creative! Within that general specialty, however, lies one area where I truly come alive, and that area is laundry.
I like doing laundry, but more importantly, I find laundry fascinating. The chemistry of stains and stain removal, how different textiles respond to water-based cleaning versus solvent-based cleaning, the roles mechanics and gravity (yep!) play on wash day are intriguing to me. As a laundry enthusiast and expert, I have a lot of thoughts and opinions about laundry products.
Ahead, I’ve rounded up the laundry products I swear by — the ones I use in my own life, and the ones I recommend to friends, family and colleagues when they ask (and believe me, they ask!) for fabric care advice.
The basics for washers and dryers
$13.99 $12.97 at Amazon
Liquid laundry detergent will be the best choice for most people because of its versatility; in addition to allowing for precise dosing, liquid laundry detergent can be used as a stain pretreatment and for hand-laundering. I’ve used a lot of liquid laundry detergents, and Tide Ultra Stain Release has outperformed them, sometimes in ways that defy reason. One time, I used it to successfully remove crayon from a light-colored fabric couch that a toddler had used as an artist’s canvas. It shouldn’t have worked! And yet, it did. Tide Ultra Stain Release might be made of magic, honestly.
$9.58 at Amazon
I’m not here to take anyone’s beloved laundry products away, which I tell you before I tell you this: I don’t use fabric softener of any kind. Instead, I use dryer balls, which help to eliminate wrinkles and static cling by moving laundry in the drum, allowing better airflow and reducing drying time. Dryer balls are also key when drying bulky items and/or items with fill, because they help to redistribute and fluff up the filling of pillows, duvets, parkas, puffer vests, etc.
$15.99 $13.99 at Amazon
Every laundry product I recommend has a practical use, a specific reason that I can say, “This is a product worth having in your laundry arsenal,” save for one: scent beads. You absolutely do not need scent beads! But if you, like me, like your clean laundry to have a distinct smell, then you’ll want to know about scent beads. They go into the washer and impart a, well, scent. That’s all! Love them.
$8.99 at Amazon
If you’ve followed our laundry coverage, you may have noticed that these mesh washing bags pop up in just about every guide to fabric care. That’s because they are incredibly useful! They help to protect delicate items like bras and swimsuits from getting ruined in the wash; they are great for items like sweatbands, laces or sashes that would otherwise wind around everything else in the load; and they can pull double duty to pack small items like socks and undergarments in an overnight bag or suitcase.
$14.86 $13.20 at Amazon
I love stain removers, and I would encourage you to have more than one in your laundry arsenal. Stains have different chemical makeups, making it virtually impossible to formulate a one-size-fits-all solution for eliminating them. With that said, Shout is one of the best all-purpose stain removers, so if you have to choose just one (it hurts me to write that), go for Shout. It’s also worth noting that Shout is especially effective on food stains like chocolate, tomato, hot sauce and soy sauce.
$6.99 at Amazon
If you were to add a second stain remover to your laundry arsenal, I would suggest choosing an enzyme-based product, like Zout. Enzymatic stain removers are what you want to reach for when you’re dealing with a protein stain. To illustrate how prevalent protein stains are, here is an incomplete list of common protein stains: blood, sweat, sebum, saliva, urine, vomit, grass, mud … you get the (grim) picture.
$14.01 at Amazon
Krud Kutter Sports Stain Remover is another very good enzymatic stain treatment product that I tend to buy instead of Zout for one simple reason: I like the name!
$9.99 at Amazon
Lestoil is The Stuff for getting oil and grease stains out of clothes. If you’re a person who is prone to dripping pizza grease on their pants, or dribbling salad oil down the front of their shirt, you’re a person who should stock a bottle of Lestoil in the laundry room.
$16.79 at Amazon
OxiClean is a great all-purpose laundry booster that can be used in concert with laundry detergent to eliminate stains and brighten whites. But where OxiClean really shines is in eliminating what we in the laundry world call “dinge” — that grimy, sometimes yellow buildup that can happen over time on bedding, towels and white clothes.
$7.99 $5.85 at Amazon
This last one, an old-fashioned laundry booster called bluing, is among my very favorite laundry products because it’s weird and wonderful. Bluing does exactly what it sounds like it would: It turns things ever-so-slightly blue, which, because of the way color perception works, counteracts yellowing and makes whites appear whiter. It’s especially helpful to know about if you have white bedding that needs a refresh.
The best products for hand-laundering
$16 at Amazon
Hand-laundering is an easier chore than you might think, and it’s worth trying your hand at it (couldn’t resist the laundry pun, sorry!) because it is truly the best way to care for delicates like lingerie, swimwear and sweaters. Soak Wash is a no-rinse detergent formula that makes hand-laundering a cinch.
From $8.99 at Amazon
After laundering a garment by hand, it can be helpful to roll it up in a towel to extrude water without wringing or twisting the garment, which can cause the fibers to stretch or break. Using a super-absorbent quick-drying towel for the job is ideal — they’re also a smart choice for use when doing hand-washing while traveling.
$18.99 at Amazon
Even if you never wash a single garment by hand, a good drying rack is a smart buy — most delicate items like swimwear, workout gear and sweaters can be safely machine-washed, but should not go in the dryer. A flat mesh drying rack is ideal for indoor air drying because it allows air to circulate evenly without requiring that you hang a wet garment to dry, which can cause stretching and damage (that’s the gravity effect I was talking about!).
$8.99 at Amazon
Linen spray solves a very specific problem that I have, that many of you might also have: I love the look of pressed bed linens but I hate ironing them. So instead of spending a lot of time and energy to press or steam a wrinkled duvet cover, I simply put it on the bed, spritz it with linen spray and pull it taut. As the duvet cover dries, the wrinkles work themselves out of the fabric, making the bed look positively catalogue-worthy.
$19.99 at Amazon
There’s not an especially polite way to say this so I shall just say it. Sometimes an item of clothing that you want to wear again before washing, like a pair of bike shorts or a favorite pair of lounge pants, takes on a less-than-fresh smell. Fabric deodorizing sprays like this one from Hex are a great way to get a few more wears between washings. It can also be used to deodorize stinky sneakers, and to clean an exercise mat that’s gone a bit funky.
$9.09 at Amazon
Speaking of funky smells! From time to time, a really bad odor will overtake an item and no amount of washing with regular detergent will touch it. Enter: Dr. Bronner’s, which for reasons I can’t explain with science, is absolutely incredible at eliminating odors in fabric. During the years I wrote a cleaning advice column, my readers successfully used Dr. Bronner’s to eliminate strong smells in clothes ranging from gasoline to oil from tinned fish.