Coming out in the wash: Cool facts on water temperatures, laundry stains

Posted: Sunday, February 02, 2003

The two most common types of questions we receive in the Extension Office related to laundry problems are stain removal and water temperature.

Because stains should be treated right away, it is a good idea to have stain removal supplies on hand. You may have more useful products around than you thought. Some products affect some dyes. Always check for colorfastness on a hidden seam. Here are a few stain removal products:

Rubbing, denatured or isopropyl alcohol can dissolve some stains and remove color in others such as ink.

Detergents -- dry and liquid -- are more convenient and effective for pretreating stains. Pour a small amount directly on the stain and rub briskly with your hands. Launder as the care label recommends. To pretreat with a powdered detergent, mix a small amount with enough water to form a thick paste. Place directly on the stain and launder.

Enzyme presoaks works well on protein stains such as eggs and milk. Clothes should be allowed to soak 15 to 30 minutes.

Glycerin sometimes is helpful in removing ballpoint pen ink.

Rust removers are poisonous. Observe all warnings on the label and follow the manufacturer's directions carefully.

Waterless hand cleaners are especially effective on greasy stains such as cosmetics and salad dressing.

White vinegar works well for mud. (Keep that in mind for breakup.) Soak garment in a solution of 1 quart warm water, 1/2 teaspoon detergent and 1 tablespoon white vinegar for 15 minutes. Rinse with water and launder.

Now, about our cold water, have you measured your water temperature lately? I checked mine and cold water right out of the faucet going into the washer is 48 degrees. We have some c-c-cold water in Alaska and that can cause some annoying laundry problems.

The care label on your garment reads, "Cold water wash." Care labels usually define cold water as 80 to 85 degrees. Even though the label on the detergent container may claim to, "Clean in all temperatures," water below about 60 degrees is too cold for most detergents to be effective. What this means is if you are using straight cold water for some of your laundry loads, the detergent may not be working. And, if you are using a powder detergent with this very cold water, it may not be dissolving.

Solution? Check your water temperature. Chances are you will need to run some warm water in the washing machine to bring the temperature up to above 60 degrees. It is best to dissolve powder detergent in warm water before adding clothes or linens.

Most detergent labels list a toll-free number for consumers to use to inquire about the product. You may want to give them a call and find out what temperatures are recommended for their specific formula.

If you are interested in checking your water temperature, hot tub thermometers work well. While you are checking the temperatures, check the warm water which the Soap and Detergent Association defines as about 85 to 105 degrees and hot is 120 to 140.

For in-depth information on stain removal, request the Cooperative Extension publication, "Stain Removal Guide for Washable Fabrics."

Linda Tannehill is an agent at the Alaska Cooperative Extension Office. She is a home economist and involved in the 4-H/Youth Develop-ment programs. The Kenai Penin-sula District Extension Office is at 43961 Kalifornsky Beach Road, Suite A, Soldotna, AK. The phone number is 262-5824 or toll-free at (800) 478-5824.

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