The Big Spring Spruce-Up

6 Gloriously Simple Tips for Way Better Laundry

Our co-founder Amanda Hesser shares her top laundry tricks and product picks.

March 13, 2019

For The Big Spring Spruce-Up, we’re throwing our windows wide open and letting in all that fresh air. Follow along for handy tips and game-changing tricks—cleaning and organizing to-dos, home decorating projects, and more.

One of the first things I was told in my early days at Food52 was that our company's co-founder and CEO, Amanda Hesser, loves to do laundry. Another team member mentioned it offhandedly when I inquired about a bowl filled with clothespins in a shared lounge space: something like, "Oh, Amanda loves to do laundry. Loves it."

While it turned out to be mostly conjectural—I've never actually seen Amanda add to or take pins from that bowl—I never forgot this detail.

And it checks out. When Amanda agreed to share her thoughts about all things spin cycle for our Big Spring Spruce-Up campaign, I asked why, exactly, she loves doing laundry so much. She has no fewer than nine reasons:

  1. Laundry has a clear beginning, middle, and end.
  2. And that end involves a tidy pile of clothes that you get to wear again!
  3. It’s one of the few household tasks that you can pick up at different stages and not have it rule your day.
  4. Laundry is predictable (when done properly).
  5. Doing laundry doesn’t make you sweat.
  6. You can fold laundry and have a meaningful conversation.
  7. Laundry allows you to bring order and neatness to the messiness of your life.
  8. Laundry smells good.
  9. Laundry involves warm, fluffy fabrics. ("What’s not to love?")

It's no wonder, then, that laundry is a Hesser family activity, taking place several times each week smack in the middle of their home.

"We don’t have a laundry room—it’s just a closet with a stackable washer and dryer in one corner of our open kitchen and dining area. I keep the laundry detergent and stain spray in our liquor cabinet, which is right next to the laundry closet. I consider this a pretty luxe situation for New York City," says Amanda.

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“My grandma taught me to do laundry, she was a nurse for 30 years and is famous for her white whites. (Uniforms used to be strictly white in her day.) She is a laundry legend. But the best thing I learned from her is to give everything a shake when you take it out of the washer before you put it in the dryer. All the clothes are rigid and plastered on the inside of the washer from the spin cycle, so I take each individual item and give it one big shake before I toss it into the dryer. Just to release it from it’s deformity and bring it back to its own shape and form, but also to reduce wrinkles. It is the first step in wrinkle prevention, all other steps occur in the dry cycle, like making sure you don’t overdry items, and of course removing them before the dryer stops, but this one step has the biggest impact in reducing wrinkles. It’s step one, and yet I’ve never known anyone besides my gma and I who do it! ”
— Lindsee

Here, she shares her most clever washing tips and sworn-by products—bowl of clothespins not included:

1. Use Detergent Judiciously

Just like when she's cooking, Amanda's not afraid to tinker with recommended quantities for the best laundry results.

"I use one-third the amount of soap indicated on the detergent cap," she says. "Neither our waterways nor your clothes need that much soap."

2. Don't Let a Tough Stain Get the Best of You

Amanda's top trick for defeating stubborn stains? Don't give up.

"Lightly wet the stain, rub a bar of soap, stain stick, or spray into the stain, and let it sit for at least 30 minutes. If it’s a heavy stain like blood or dirt, run this soaped spot under cold water and scrub it between your hands to try to loosen as much of the stain as possible before laundering. When it goes into the washer, use cold water and put it on the full cycle so there’s lots of swishing and rinsing. You may need to run it a few times," she says. "Don’t assume that because a stain didn’t come out the first time, it will never come out. Rub soap into it again and repeat the rinsing, scrubbing, and washing process."

3. When It Comes to Dress Shirts, Simply Hang & Stretch

One of Amanda's biggest laundry breakthroughs to date has been cracking the code of clean dress shirts at home.

"Years ago, I found myself frustrated by how expensive dry cleaning is (don’t get me started on the sexism of dry cleaning!)," she says. "In order to do this without having to iron, I wash them in cold water, remove them from the washer as soon as the cycle is done, hang on a plastic hanger, and then stretch each sleeve and quarter of the shirt to straighten it. If there are ruffles, yes, I pull on each area of the ruffles, too, so they dry loose and airy. Drying shirts this way won’t get them as smooth as a pressed shirt; your shirts will look put together but a little looser, which is more my style anyway. But it’s free, you don’t have to wait a day or two for it, and you’ll appreciate the feeling that you’re taking good care of your clothing!"

4. There's A Secret to Better Folded Sheets

"Sheets always fold better if you remove them from the dryer just faintly damp," reveals Amanda. "Learned this trick from my mom, whose linen closet looked like a store display."

5. Air-Dry Your Way to Longer-Lasting Clothes

While the dryer's a solid bet for quick, clean laundry in bulk (think: bedding, towels, those 15 sweatshirts that always seem to be in your hamper...), Amanda's got a different approach for her most treasured pieces of clothing.

"Air is your best friend when it comes to laundry. I hang dry so many pieces of clothing: jeans, tights, bras, shirts, and any nicer t-shirts," she says. "I started doing this when I was younger and wanted any good clothing I bought to hold up longer. It works. I have jeans and t-shirts that are 10 years old, and they still look great."

6. Streamline Your Folding by Doing One Thing First

"When I have a big pile of clothes to fold, the first thing I do is sort it," she says. "I make a pile of socks, a pile of underwear, a pile of shirts, etc. It’s much easier to clear an area and quickly fold a bunch of shirts, than to do a shirt then a sock then pants. Also, if you have helpers—aka kids—they love sorting, and socks are easy to pair and fold, so my kids are always assigned to sorting and socks!"

Amanda's Top Laundry Picks

"This is the laundry basket in our kids' room. They love it because they can toss clothes from the other end of the room into it, and it easily rolls into the kitchen when it’s time to do their laundry."

"I have dozens of these, layered between sweaters, strung on hangers, and nestled in drawers."

"Great for small spaces."

"I consider this a household essential—a rack is great for hanging shirts, sweaters, and table linens to dry. And this multitasker can double as a slim perch for towels if you don't have hooks in your bathroom."

What's your tried-and-true secret for better laundry? Let us know in the comments!

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Ella Quittner

Written by: Ella Quittner

Ella Quittner is a a writer at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches. You can follow her on Instagram @equittner, or Twitter at @ellaquittner. She also develops recipes for Food52, and has a soft spot for all pasta, anything spicy, and salty chocolate things.


Mar September 21, 2019
In the winter, when the air is sooooo dry, I hang as much laundry as I can to dry. It dries quickly and puts a little moisture into the air.
jlw August 15, 2019
For an ink stain I have used rubbing alcohol and shampoo or dawn; then rub vigorously. This can be repeated before washing in machine.

Sara V. June 21, 2019
When I have a large load of towels, denims, or cotton tee shirts, I use the electric dryer for a timed ten minutes, then hang them on the clothesline. The dryer fluffs them and prevents a stiff finish, and the sunshine and fresh air provide a free drying process, plus a wonderful fragrance.
Meg O. March 21, 2019
On a related side issue, instead of Dawn, which I am allergic to the fragrance in, I use a local company for dish "soap", Watkins, from Winona Minnesota, who make a lemon scented dish soap. The detergent is so strongly lemony that it keeps the dish cloths from getting a bad smell (sour sponge small). But it is thin and not as soapy as my husband, who does the dishes, wants, so I actually mix it 50:50 with concentrated Ajax lemon dish detergent. I get lemon detergent that is strong enough to clean a sink full of dishes, and also get a dish soap that prevents sour sponge. But again, it is a detergent, not really a soap, but my water is very hard, so soaps don't work here.
Meg O. March 21, 2019
(btw, on the subject of hanging clothes out, there are some areas of the US where there are tiny bugs called chiggers, that get onto the clothes lines if they are left outside, and then get into the waist bands of the clothes, and ultimately get into your skin, where they burrow in and cause a nasty, itchy rash. So, if you are planning to dry clothes outside, be sure that you take the clotheslines down after getting the clothes down and put the lines back up the next time.)

(And also in that line, I live in Wisconsin, and clothes hung out in the winter do freeze first, but if they are left on the line when it's windy, then the wind will cause the ice crystals to sublime, or convert to the gas phase, and the clothes will be "freeze-dried". It will take a bit longer than drying them outside in warm weather, but it does work, they will get dry, but will take longer than they would in warm weather.)
Meg O. March 21, 2019
Your Fels Naptha soap is a true soap. Not a detergent. The difference is that true soaps can get accidentally bound to hard water ions (calcium and magnesium primarily) if your water is hard. This turns the soap into a water-insoluble waxy solid which leaves that nasty waxy stuff as a grey residue on your clothes. ALL true soaps will do that with hard water. Vinegar in the rinse may help remove that mess, but it will depend on how hard the water was to start with. So, the vinegar rinse may help keep your clothes whiter, but it's because it reacts with the hard soap residue and removes the binding to the hard water ions, making the soap water soluble again, so it keeps that waxy mess from hardening on your clothes.

Soaps are long oily molecules with an organic acid molecule attached to one end, that has been reacted with lye to make it a sodium salt. (The reacted end is water soluble, and the rest of the molecule is fat soluble, so grease dissolves in the fatty end, and gets water soluble from the salt end, so can allow the bound grease to be rinsed away with water.) The sodium from the lye makes the "acid" end water soluble but it can be bumped off by calcium and magnesium ions present in hard water with the resulting compound water insoluble.

Detergents are long molecules, similar to soap molecules, which have been chemically altered so that they will not make waxy solids with hard water. The end of the soap molecule which would bind to hard water, the organic acid, is replaced with a different molecule that can't. The first choice detergent manufacturers tried in the 40's and 50's to serve this function were phosphates, which did the trick, they didn't bind to hard water, but were unexpectedly a bad choice because the phosphates acted like fertilizer to algae in bodies of water, and then we got algal over-growths and fish kills and the sort of stuff you may remember if you are my age, like Lake Erie being covered in green slime and floating dead fish, and catching on fire.

So, the manufacturers switched to using sulfates, which don't feed the algae in natural bodies of water, so no algal over-growths and no fish kills. The most common detergent is now sodium lauryl sulfate, (SLS on labels). (The word lauryl in the name is in reference to the organic acid it was made from, lauric acid.) The dish "soap" you buy, the laundry "soap" you buy, your shampoo, your hand soap, your body soap, etc. almost all are detergents, not soaps. Fels Naptha, Dreft, Castille soap, and a few others are true soaps, but in some cases you almost need to be a chemist to figure out if the label shows a soap or a detergent. Since the soaps can make hard water scum, and the detergents can't, most manufacturers supply detergents, even though many people (and even sometimes the ads for the products themselves) mistakenly call it soap.

Nobody really knows if there are any harmful effects on the environment from sulfate containing detergents. All we know is that no harmful effects have ever been found, although lots of studies have been done looking for them. But, that historic event, in which manufacturers switched to phosphate detergents, which caused an unexpected nasty environmental issue, (along with other nasty environmental consequences, from things like DDT for instance, introduced into the environment) has led to what is now known by scientists as "The Law of Unintended Consequences." The law is a natural law, not one passed by any governing body, but by the universe itself, like the law of gravity. The law of unintended consequences can be stated something like this: "Any change to, (or addition of a chemical to) a biological system, whether an organ, a whole organism, an ecosystem or a planet, WILL have unintended consequences. This is because we do not understand EVERYTHING about ANY bio-system, so we cannot predict the outcome on parts of the system we do not understand."

No one knows if the sulfate detergents will turn out to be harmful to the environment, all we know is that we haven't documented any harm yet. But we do know that using soaps with hard water doesn't work so well, since it ruins the clothes and potentially also the washing machine (that waxy solid gets into everything and is hard to remove), so we use detergent because we don't know of any harm it causes, and we don't know of any substitute that doesn't cause other harm.

I personally use unscented detergent in the laundry, use GooGone and Shout for stains, and wool dryer balls for softening the clothes, with a dryer that has a moisture sensor, which we always use, which shuts it off before the clothes are over-dried. The clothes come out dry and soft, never smell burned, and I don't have to hang them.
Beth G. March 22, 2019
Well, that's good to know if I ever live where there is hard water.
jlw August 15, 2019
After reading about soap and detergent, I am not certain what to use or how much to use.
Beth G. March 21, 2019
Years ago I learned a trick from the medical field: when you get blood on clothes drip a few drops of peroxide on it (or dab with a soaked cotton ball or cotton swab) and watch the stain disappear. This has come in handy when I got dressed or into bed without noticing that I cut myself shaving.
My mom taught me you only really need a portion (about 1/3) of the recommended laundry soap to do the job. And especially when there are towels, thick blankets or fleece in the wash, add a dose of white vinegar to the rinse (or in an extra rinse cycle) to get all the soap out. Soap left in your fleece and towels makes them stiff while the vinegar rinse keeps them fluffy like new and makes them last longer.
In my local Walmart, I can find a bar of laundry soap called Fels-Naptha that's been around for more than 100 years. The reason it's still for sale is because it's like a magic wand for laundry stains. I have a penchant for finding grease spots on my tshirts after I take them out of the dryer. I put the folded shirt back in the laundry basket and the next time I do laundry, I know the folded shirt is the one with stains. I rub Fels-Naptha into the spot and run through the process again. If I miss some, I repeat the process. It doesn't matter how many times I wash and dry the grease stain, Fels-Naptha eventually gets it out. And I don't stress anymore about grease spatters on my clothes. (I do use aprons, so don't be judging.)
Meg O. March 19, 2019
Years ago, when my son went to sleep with a ball of silly putty in his hand, and which melted by his body heat into the fiber of his sheets, pillows and blankets, at a time in our lives when I could not afford to replace those. So, I spent several days working on researching and experimenting to try to get that out. It turned out that freezing it, hardened it, and made it chip off, at least partway. Then I found that a product called GooGone, original, will remove oils and adhesives, and I tried it. It took the silly putty out, and then left an oil stain. So then I treated the oil stain with shout, which has not only strong soap which will remove oil, (as Dawn would) as well as specific enzymes to remove grass stains, fruit stains, protein stains, tomato stains, wine stains and various others that are specific enzymes (derived from those your body uses to digest these in food) for other things, which Dawn doesn't. That worked, and since then, I bought a empty spray bottle at WalMart, which I keep filled with GooGone, and it will remove any oily stain, and often will remove them even if they have been through the dryer, followed with the shout spray, to remove the GooGone and launder as usual.
I also have white vinegar in the laundry room. Here in Wisconsin, our water is very hard, and even though we have a water softener, there are enough components of hard water that aren't removed by the water softener, left to gradually grey the whites, or in some cases, gradually brown them. Our well water has a sulfide component which leaves a brownish residue. Using white vinegar in the fabric softener compartment in the washer, will keep the clothes from discoloring over time. So I always use vinegar in the rinse cycle.
And btw, as a chemist I can tell you that while soaking your rubber gaskets in vinegar would be really bad for them, I have used vinegar in the fabric softener container for years with no problems. The thing is, soaking the rubber gaskets in the vinegar non-stop for weeks on end, would gradually start to soften and weaken them, I've never had a problem, because the gaskets don't sit in the vinegar non-stop. It drains away into the washer. If you are worried about it, you could add distilled water to the fabric softener container after each wash to rinse off the vinegar, but I never do, and have never had a gasket dry out from the vinegar. The motor will die after 15-20 years, and the gaskets are still fine. You may not be aware, but vinegar is only 5% acetic acid, so is mostly water anyway, so it would take constant contact with the vinegar to ruin the gaskets.
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Ella Q. March 19, 2019
GooGone + Shout sounds like a winning combo! Also good to know, re: the vinegar.
jlw August 15, 2019
Do you treat with Goo gone and then immediately on top of the goo gone, Shout? Thanks
Rhonda35 March 18, 2019
I only got half of the love-of-laundry gene, Amanda. I love to treat stains and throw laundry in the washer/dryer, but the hanging, folding, putting away is such a drag! Grandmom always used a splash (about 1/4 c) of white vinegar added during the rinse cycle to get rid of any soap residue and to help soften fabrics.
Martha M. March 17, 2019
I have used vinegar often to soften laundry. Once it dries it doesn't smell like vinegar.
Love the no white line in your jeans trick!
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Ella Q. March 19, 2019
Wow, vinegar! I'm so excited to try that.
Wini March 17, 2019
If you take out sheet before completely dry the will smell mildewy. If you mean let them continue to dry outside the dryer, to much time wasted
Suzi O. March 17, 2019
I agree on the air drying! Saves on dry cleaning too. For virtually anything that can go in the wash but seems to delicate, I use mesh laundry bags. Before drying, I give them a 5 minute tumble on the regular cycle in the dryer to help remove the wrinkles (the most commonly used app on my Apple watch is the timer), then hang and stretch out any remaining wrinkles. Works like a charm and again, extends the life of garments. I've even taken to doing this with my better socks!
Amanda H. March 17, 2019
Will have to try the 5-minute tumble!
Anne B. March 17, 2019
I thought everyone did this. Shaking items before the transfer from washer to dryer significantly cuts down dryer time. I also use those wool dryer balls.
Lindsee March 17, 2019
My grandma taught me to do laundry, she was a nurse for 30 years and is famous for her white whites. (Uniforms used to be strictly white in her day.) She is a laundry legend.
But the best thing I learned from her is to give everything a shake when you take it out of the washer before you put it in the dryer. All the clothes are rigid and plastered on the inside of the washer from the spin cycle, so I take each individual item and give it one big shake before I toss it into the dryer. Just to release it from it’s deformity and bring it back to its own shape and form, but also to reduce wrinkles. It is the first step in wrinkle prevention, all other steps occur in the dry cycle, like making sure you don’t overdry items, and of course removing them before the dryer stops, but this one step has the biggest impact in reducing wrinkles. It’s step one, and yet I’ve never known anyone besides my gma and I who do it!
Amanda H. March 17, 2019
My mother does this too (both the shaking out and removing clothes before the dryer stops) -- sounds like we come from similar laundress dna :)
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Ella Q. March 17, 2019
I can't believe I've never tried this. Will have to incorporate into my own routine. Sounds like a well-tested tip!
sf-dre April 8, 2019
I'd love to know more about white whites, especially since I have to go to a laundromat. I shake out clothes before putting in the dryer. Everything that's not sheets, towels or underwear gets five minutes on the lowest heat setting and goes on a drying rack in the bedroom. I miss the clothesline at my old house but I live in a foggy neighborhood now.
laurenshapiro March 17, 2019
I often find letting the laundry soak in the washing machine tub before the jiggling starts gives me a nicer result
Amanda H. March 17, 2019
Great tip -- it's probably not that different from letting a pan soak before scrubbing it. Thanks.
Meg O. March 14, 2019
I too had my kids help with laundry as soon as they were old enough to understand what was wanted. (they've all been adults for more than a decade) The first laundry chore that I gave to each child was to mate socks. My eldest, a girl, mated socks perfectly. My second, a boy, could not mate socks to save his life. He'd put the same styles together, but couldn't correctly match navy blue, brown or black socks, except if the styles were different. He did the styles perfectly. After a few weeks of the chore, he refused to do it again, because I always had to correct his errors, For a couple of years I thought he'd just been being obstinate but when he was about five, we found out he is color blind. He's not able to see the differences between navy, brown and black socks. I'd misjudged the situation completely.
Something to keep in mind if your child can't do some basic task. Maybe he or she actually can't do it for some unrealized reason. Trust your kids. They don't generally refuse to do chores especially when they'd be rewarded for doing the chore correctly.
Amanda H. March 16, 2019
Thanks for sharing your story and appreciate the good life advice -- "Trust your kids." Hear, hear.
Bonnie M. March 14, 2019
I too love doing laundry. The sorting: Towels, jeans and heavy socks, whites and darks.
A bit of laundry soap, always something that is easy on the environment. Drying in the sun if possible then a quick dip in the dryer to soften things up. Folding Marie Kondo style to fit in the drawers/shelves they inhabit. The beauty is pleasing and my clothes and other washables are happy!
Author Comment
Ella Q. March 17, 2019
I feel calmer just reading this! :)
HStamm March 13, 2019
My stain remover for several years has been Dawn ultra dish soap. I noticed that it was used to clean waterfowl after oil spills. I decided that if it could clean oil off of birds and not harm them it had to be good! I keep a small squeeze bottle close to my dirty clothes basket and simply squeeze a bit on stained clothes before I drop them in the basket. Ready to go on laundry day. I never have had to repeat!
Author Comment
Ella Q. March 13, 2019
Great tip! I have some spare Dawn around, will give this a go.
Jennifer B. March 14, 2019
We use Dawn as an eyeglass cleaner too. No streaks and just a tiny bit works. We put it in the little spray bottles that they give you with new glasses.
Noreen F. March 14, 2019
Especially if the stain is oily, Dawn is great!
Amanda H. March 16, 2019
Such a great tip -- thank you!
Noreen F. March 13, 2019
If I had the space to hang everything to dry, the only things that would go in the dryer would be cotton underwear and fluffy towels. My condo had an outdoor clothesline, and I miss it so much!
Author Comment
Ella Q. March 13, 2019
There's nothing better! My fire escape doesn't quite cut it. :)
Amanda H. March 13, 2019
Totally agree -- I grew up with mom and grandmother hanging clothes, and especially sheets, and have very fond memories of running through the damp sheets as they hung over our lawn!
Leigh March 13, 2019
I miss clotheslines! I don't have one now and the last house I rented, I strung the lines between 2 pine trees! :) I use little folding racks in front of the floor heat vents in my bedroom for most items, only bed sheets and heavy items go in the dryer.
Cj34668 March 17, 2019
Ha, I moved from Cali to Chicago in trying to dry something outside overnight by putting on fire escape I ended up with a still wet but frozen dress! Thing could stand on its own. Lesson learned.
Amanda H. March 17, 2019
Annada R. March 13, 2019
Ella, I particularly like Amanda's two tips about sorting and folding and air drying your best clothes. I tend to do the latter too for my silk, sarees and traditional Indian clothes.
But I digress .. I once met a lady in a mall and I don't remember how our conversation turned to laundry. And she told me something that I'm never going to forget. She said while deciding your laundry mix apart from the colors, you should also pay attention to how heavy the clothes are. Because the heavy clothes are going to mess with the light clothes in the dryer and not let the latter dry completely.

What do you think of that, Amanda & Ella?
Amanda H. March 13, 2019
Hi Annada, I have noticed this but never made enough of a connection, so thank you. Sometimes, I'll dry my husband's jeans with socks and his t-shirts and the lighter items do come out a bit beat up.
K B. March 13, 2019
My top laundry hack: to avoid a white love running along the seam of jeans, turn them inside out before drying. Also, when I realized I was getting reactions from fabric softener, I started using a white vinegar rinse instead (with essential oils added to eliminate the vinegar smell). This, combined with balled up foil in the dryer, means no softener or dryer sheets.
K B. March 13, 2019
Should read "to avoid a white line running along the seam of jeans.". Edit button please!
Author Comment
Ella Q. March 13, 2019
That jeans trick is genius! Will be trying it out myself ASAP.
Amanda H. March 13, 2019
My mother does this -- thank you for reminding me! Also, I never heard of the balled up foil idea before. Some people use tennis balls. Here at Food52, we're big fans of the wool dryer ball (spoiler alert: we're soon launching a new set and style of them! :) ).
Leigh March 13, 2019
I love the idea of vinegar(how much?) and essential oils in the rinse cycle. How many drops, what scents do you use?
bmallorca March 17, 2019
I think we're all on the same page, or at least similar. I have a little bottle of Dawn (used to be in my camping gear) and use the flip up nozzle top to scrub the soap into any stains.

I'd used vinegar with lavender oil in the softener dispenser for about 5 years when I read somewhere some pretty strong opinions about vinegar being detrimental to the rubber gaskets, etc, inside the washer. So since then, I haven't been using vinegar or anything else, and seem to be doing fine. I do miss the lavender smell, though.

I always sort the clothes into flat piles by person first out of the dryer, and let hubby do his own folding and putting away.