There is a smell in the tiny dorm room and it is growing. After emptying the trash and scouring your roommate’s desk for old food, it starts to dawn on you. It’s coming from the pile of jeans, sweaty gym socks, wet towels and t-shirts. As you near the bottom of your drawer, forced to wear that free shirt they handed you at freshmen orientation, you realize the day has finally come. It is laundry day, my friend. If it is your first time, grab those quarters, follow the kids with the baskets and head to the communal washers and dryers for a little laundry lesson.

    First things first ‹ Sorting

    While it is possible to throw together all dirty laundry into one stuffed load, this method is not recommended.

    Clothes should be sorted first by color. Darks and lights are washed separately to avoid color bleeding. If you are feeling particularly confident in your laundry abilities, put whites in their own load and use bleach. Don’t worry, the use of bleach will be explained shortly.

    If certain items are very soiled, do not wash them with your less dirty items, even of the same color. In addition, reading the tags is always a good idea, as some materials have special needs. Some items require gentle cycles or shouldn’t be put in the dryer. If something says ³Dry Clean Only,² then dry clean it. No one wants a doll-sized sweater at the end of the wash.

    Above all, check the pockets before washing. The damage one forgotten lipstick or an old movie ticket can inflict on clothes is extensive. This is a painful lesson you do not want to learn the hard way.

    Loads of fun ‹ Wash cycles

    Loading the washer properly is an important step that often gets overlooked by laundry beginners. The washer shouldn’t be stuffed too full or the clothes will not be able to move and get fully clean. So spring for the extra $1.50 and avoid globs of detergent on your clothes. Also, distribute the load evenly so the washer tub will stay balanced.

    It is now time for the detergent. Pour the suggested amount, usually a full cap or scoop, into the detergent receptacle. Most of the resident hall washers have this, but in other models, the soap is placed directly into the tub with the clothes. Bleach should only be used with loads of whites. Pour a small amount of bleach in with a hot water cycle.

    Place the quarters in the machine and choose the appropriate cycle for your load. Follow the instructions on the tags, though cold cycles are generally a safe bet if you are unsure. Most washers require a couple selections, which determine water temperature, duration of wash and speed of the spinning. It all sounds a bit complicated, but really, it’s not. Plus, if you press the wrong button, you can immediately press another and it will switch to that cycle.

    You now have about 40 minutes to kill. Set a timer so you know when to come back for the laundry.

    The switch ‹ Transferring from washer to dryer

    Once the cycle is finished, move clothes to the dryer. Be sure to get there on time or you may find your wet clothes have been pawed by a stranger and thrown on the table so they could use your washer. Again, be sure to read the tags ‹ do not put it in the dryer if it says ³lay flat to dry.² There is a reason they make those tags, so pay attention.

    After taking out your delicate items, throw the load in the dryer with a dryer sheet. This adds softness and helps eliminate static. While you can opt to skip dryer sheets, be aware that your clothes will not be as Downy fresh as your mom always kept them. Put in the quarters and shut the dryer door before selecting a cycle. These are based on temperature, so keep the tag instructions in mind.

    In 45 minutes, you’ll have fresh clothes once more. Hang up immediately to avoid wrinkles ‹ or just toss them on the floor where they will be easily accessible and wait for laundry day to come again. You’ll know it by the faded t-shirt in the bottom of the drawer.

    Stains and such ‹ Get it out fast

    There are ways to treat stains you think will never come out, but try to get them before they dry. Here are a few common ones.

    Coffee: Saturate the stain with a pretreatment stain remover. Rub the stain with a heavy-duty liquid detergent and launder in hottest water safe for the fabric.

    Ballpoint Pen Ink: First, saturate material with an alcohol-based hair spray. The alcohol content in the hair spray will break up the ink. Be sure to place an absorbent paper towel or rag under the stain to catch the excess. Then blot the stain with a rag. Repeat the process until the stain is removed, then launder as usual. A word of caution before trying this method: some fabrics may be damaged by hair spray. If in doubt, test on an inconspicuous area first, or consult with a professional dry cleaner.

    Mud: Start by scraping off whatever you can. Soak and agitate in water to remove any more material. Soak tough stains in water mixed with detergent for about 30 minutes. Soak old stains for several hours. Launder normally, rinse and inspect before drying. If the stain remains, soak again before washing.

    For more stain removal tips, visit

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