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Wash day

Doing the laundry can be a thankless chore, so you want to be sure you’re tackling the job in the smartest way. Here’s how to give your laundry – and your laundry habits – an easy makeover

Since 1892 we’ve had machines to help us out, but laundering is still an energy-intensive task, using up power, water and money – and not just on Mondays. According to the latest figures from Statistics New Zealand, New Zealand women spend, on average, over an hour a day on cleaning and laundry tasks.

But the washing will be less of a burden if your laundry is a well ordered and pleasant place. Here are 21 easy tips to ensure that doing the laundry is simpler, healthier and costs you less:

1 Clear the decks

Whether it’s in a dedicated room or inside a cupboard, the laundry tends to get cluttered with random bits and bobs – from coins and crumpled notices retrieved from pockets to hardware items that never quite make it back to the garage. Clear any surfaces and take a hard look at your working area. Can it be refreshed with a new coat of paint? Look for a bright, fresh or cheery shade and choose a low-VOC satin or semi-gloss paint for a non-toxic and easy-to-clean surface.

Often the simplest systems can make your laundry function more efficiently. If space allows, hang a small shelf above your washing machine for the laundry products you use most often and put everything else out of sight

2 Maximise your storage space

Are you short on room? Often the simplest systems can make your laundry function more efficiently. If space allows, hang a small shelf above your washing machine for the laundry products you use most often and put everything else out of sight. Make it easy to find your various laundry and cleaning tools by storing them in easily accessible containers or baskets. Alternatively, if extra cupboards or shelves are not an option, hang an implements rack over the back of your laundry door.

3 Get sorted

Hang a laundry bag or keep a basket nearby to collect orphan socks. Keep a small jar handy for collecting loose buttons or spare change from pockets. Try using a divided laundry cart to sort laundry into whites, colours, delicates, extra-dirty clothes and so on. If you have kids, save time by encouraging them into the habit of sorting their dirty clothes.

4 Stock up

Buying laundry products in bulk can save money and unnecessary packaging. Simply decant these powders and liquids into smaller dispensers for quick and easy use and to reduce spillage.

5 Reward yourself

Add plants, fragrant balls or an essential oil dispenser in your laundry area to purify the air and help keep it smelling fresh.

6 Power tools

Back in 1956, just over half of New Zealand households had a washing machine. And the fortunate woman with a fancy Hayman Combination Laundry Unit (a fandangled boiler, tub, wringer and ironing board combo) had a much easier washing day ahead than her neighbour with an old-fashioned copper boiler. And it’s the same today – getting the right equipment is a must. New Zealand’s handy star rating scheme makes it easy to figure out which machines are the most efficient, reducing power and water bills in the long run.

We’re pretty strict on our washing machines in New Zealand, grading them in three different ways before they even hit the shelves. The Energy Rating and Water Rating labels award between zero and six stars to each appliance – the more stars, the higher the energy or water efficiency. These also indicate how much energy or water the machine uses each year.

The hot cycle can use more than four times as much energy as the cold one, costing you around one extra dollar each time

7 Follow the stars

It’s an especially good sign if a machine also has a blue Energy Star label, as this is given only to the top 25 percent most energy-efficient appliances. Energy Star-qualifying machines use about 30 litres less water each cycle than those without the star, and are almost 50 percent more energy-efficient.

8 Mind your settings

If you’re not in the market for a new piece of whiteware, take a close look at the settings on your washing machine and switch to cold water for your usual wash. The hot cycle can use more than four times as much energy as the cold one, costing you around one extra dollar each time. Use a smart detergent – Live Simply’s recyclable laundry balls, for instance, let you skip the rinse cycle for each wash, and they’re also grey water safe, meaning you can reuse water from the washing machine to irrigate your lawn or clean your car.

Know what needs to be washed how – jeans, for instance, are best washed in cool water and on a delicate cycle. Save the hot water for when it’s most needed, such as for clothes your kids bring back from school camp.

9 Run a clean machine

It’s not rocket science to suggest that you can’t get a clean result using a dirty washing machine – but it’s amazing how we overlook this simple fact. Flush out any lint filters after each wash and make a habit of wiping away accumulated gunk inside the bowl (at least after every 20 washes – or following an extra grubby load). And remember, dirt residue builds up faster when you mostly wash in cold water.

10 Be stingy with the fabric softener

The primary purpose of fabric softener is to reduce static in the dryer and produce a softer result. Conventional fabric softeners can contain all kinds of nasties, and using them with repeated cold washes can clog up your washing machine. Try using ¼ cup of baking soda in your wash instead.

11 Deal to vampire power

You’d fix a leaking washing machine or a dripping tap, so don’t let your machine leak electricity when it’s in standby mode. Stop power being drained by switching off your machine between washes.

12 Wash ‘em less

You don’t have to tell anyone you wore that top twice – maybe even three times – before it hit the laundry basket. One Canadian student wore the same pair of jeans 330 times without washing them, and no difference was found between bacteria levels after 13 days and those after 15 months. (He dabbed away stains and left the jeans in the freezer overnight if they got a bit whiffy.) Without taking things to extremes, it’s easy to refresh an item without sending it through a full wash and spin cycle.

Natural fibres such as silk and wool are more odour-resistant than synthetic ones. Avoid anything that’s dryclean-only, as this process sees your garments dunked in perchloroethylene – a suspected carcinogen and all-round nasty substance

13 DIY dryclean

Spot-clean stains on clothing rather than chucking it into the wash, and don a bit of retro style by wearing an apron while cooking. Open kitchen windows to ventilate and prevent food odours settling into your clothes. Have home clothes, office clothes and gardening or exercise clothes and switch between them.

If an item of clothing smells musty, damp or stale, hang it on the washing line to air – this gets rid of the moisture it has absorbed from your body. Bonus points if it’s a sunny day, as the UV rays sterilise your clothes by killing the germs.

14 Don’t file by pile

Clothes dumped on the floor get smelly quickly, so get the kids to tidy up their floordrobe. Kids often put clean clothes in the wash to avoid putting them away. Solve this problem by giving them a ‘clean’ basket as well as a ‘dirty’ basket.

15 Shop with washing in mind

When you reach to check the price tag on that gorgeous jumper, have a nosy at the fabric composition and cleaning instructions at the same time. The smart shopper isn’t just looking for a bargain, but for something she won’t need to wash after every wear.

As a rule, natural fibres such as silk and wool are more odour-resistant than synthetic ones. Avoid anything that’s dryclean-only, as this process sees your garments dunked in perchloroethylene – a suspected carcinogen and all-round nasty substance. That said, many dryclean-only labels are just a precaution; unless it’s beaded, delicate or part of a suit, it’s probably fine to handwash.

16 Wear layers

In winter, layers of clothing will help you stay warm and save on washing. Wear an odour-resistant layer next to your skin and wash this regularly; it’ll save having to wash outer clothes so frequently – if these aren’t worn next to your skin they probably won’t pick up sweat and body oil – just don’t spill your lunch down the front!

17 Go for smart fibres

New Zealand’s own wonder fibre, merino, is particularly long-lasting, says Diana Kerr, manager of Merino Kids, because it’s quick to absorb and evaporate sweat. “Merino pulls all of the moisture away from the body and expels it into the air, so it doesn’t actually remain in the fibre. We say don’t wash it unless it’s actually been soiled.”

One wash every two to three weeks is often sufficient, even for sleeping bags that babies use regularly, says Diana. Airing a merino garment between washes allows any moisture it may have retained to evaporate.

Keep the ironing at bay by shaking wet clothing before hanging it out to get rid of wrinkles, then fold items as you take them off the line

18 Air dry

Using the sun and wind to dry your clothes will save you around $200 in electricity charges each year, says the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) – but this requires some creativity once winter arrives.

Set up an extendable washing line in your garage or carport to take advantage of the empty space when you’re out for the day, or rig up a pulley system and run a line under a sheltered porch or deck.

Alternatively, dry clothes outside on a clothes horse rather than a line – if it starts to rain, simply whip the whole thing back under shelter. Need an item quickly? Try hanging it in your hot-water cupboard or give it a short burst on the heated towel rail.

19 Dryer smarts

If you’re going down the dryer route, pick an uber-efficient model with a good moisture sensor. Pop a dry towel in with wet items – it’ll speed up the process by absorbing moisture from them – then set the dryer for a shorter time than you think is needed. Give it an extra buzz if clothes are still damp at the end of the cycle.

Avoid drying clothes inside your house if possible. Wet laundry makes the air moist, which results in a home that’s very difficult to heat – and that offers perfect growing conditions for mould. A damp indoor climate isn’t healthy for your home or your family.

20 Getting into hot water

Heating up water contributes to about a third of your household’s power bill. Cut this back by insulating your hot-water cylinder and pipes, or splurging on an efficient heating system, such as the solar-powered Solargenius by Leap – it’ll slash your water heating bill by up to 75 percent.

21 Don’t be an iron maiden

Who has time for ironing? Keep the ironing at bay by shaking wet clothing before hanging it out to get rid of wrinkles, then fold items as you take them off the line. Hang a lightly creased garment in the bathroom while you take a shower and let the steam relax the folds. And finally, for when you do need a perfect result, ironing shirts while they’re slightly damp will not just save on drying, it’ll also produce sharp creases your granny would be proud of.

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