Along with detergents, the list of laundry products designed for more specific uses is growing: all-fabric bleaches, softeners and boosters, for example. At least one century-old product — blue — is making a comeback, too. Here’s a look at some laundry extras.
1. Chlorine Bleach
Chlorine bleach, sometimes labelled as sodium hypochlorite, is the most effective whitener and sanitizer, but we all know how strong chlorine bleach is. It can fade or alter the colour of fabrics and can weaken fibres.
As a general rule, never pour full-strength liquid chlorine bleach directly into a washing machine load. Always dilute it or dispense it through a machine’s bleach dispenser, following the instructions found on the bleach container.
Don’t soak cottons in a bleach solution for more than 15 minutes. (If the stain remains after 15 minutes, that means it’s not going to go away.)
Don’t use chlorine bleach on silk, wool, spandex, polyurethane foam, rubber or anything with rubber or spandex elastic in it.
2. All-fabric bleaches
These are not as harsh as chlorine bleaches and may be safe for colours.
At the same time, they are not as powerful or fast-acting as chlorine bleach.
3. Enzyme pre-soaks
These pre-soaks are good for loosening and removing troublesome stains, especially protein stains (milk, egg, urine and feces), before the wash cycle.
When added to the wash cycle, they act like boosters to improve the washing ability.
4. Pre-wash stain removers
These are often spray products containing some combination of concentrated detergents, alcohol, mineral spirits or enzymes.
These products are especially good for removing oily or greasy stains from synthetic fibres.
This is an old-fashioned product that is used to make whites appear whiter.
It’s not a bleach (so it’s environmentally friendly).
In effect, blue is just that — blue dye. When white fabric is new, it contains blue colouring (invisible to the naked eye) that makes the white brighter.
After repeated washings, the blue colouring is removed, leaving whites with a yellowish tint. By adding blue to your wash, you replace the microscopic blue pigment, and your whites look new again.
6. Detergent boosters
As the name suggests, these boosters help detergents do their job by increasing stain- and soil-removal action, altering the pH of water and brightening clothes.
7. Water softeners and conditioners
These are quick fixes if you have hard water.
When added directly to the wash or rinse cycle of your machine, both of these products will soften the water, making the detergent work more effectively.
8. Fabric softeners
Fabric softeners come either in liquid that you add to the final rinse cycle of your wash load or in sheets that you add to the dryer.
These products make fabrics softer and fluffier, reduce static cling and wrinkling and make ironing easier.
However, if overused, fabric softeners can reduce the absorbency of towels and diapers.
Dryer sheets, if overused, can leave oily looking splotches on medium-coloured items.
9. Starches, fabric finishes and sizings
These products are used either in the final rinse or after drying.
They stiffen fabrics, making them look crisp and fresh.
They also tend to make ironing easier and fabric less susceptible to soil and stains.