How to Iron: A Home-Ec 101 Guide

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Stephanie says:

Let’s work to iron out the wrinkles.

I love ironing. I do. Roll your eyes. Scoff. Mutter, “whatever, who loves ironing?” I do. There is something satisfying about taking a pile of clean clothes and one by one getting all the wrinkles out, then putting them away. I don’t iron every morning. Heavens no. I need my beauty rest, and more importantly a cup of coffee and an egg sandwich that I can eat at a pace that will not force it to repeat on me. I iron on Sundays. You see, during the week, I do laundry, usually Thursday’s and Friday’s, and anything that I would like to be ironed goes in the “ironing basket.”

How to iron

I hope you are reading this, Husband, the only thing that goes in the “ironing basket” is clean, un-ironed clothes, not your nasty socks or bath towels.

Set aside a time for ironing – or it won’t get done.

Once all the laundry is done, or as done as it’s going to get, I iron. In my house, ironing happens on Sunday afternoon.

Sometimes I pull out all the hangers and say, “once these hangers are full I’ll be done,” and there’s other times where I will put a time limit on the ironing. I may say, “from 4:00-5:00 I will iron.” And whatever gets done gets done, anything that’s leftover gets ironed next week.

You just need to make sure you have an enough clothes for the week.

What do you need to iron?

  • Sizing
    A laundry product that adds body to fabric. Sizing is most often used for synthetic fabrics and makes ironing at low temperatures easier. The spray also helps clothing to be more stain resistent by reducing it’s ability to absorb soil.
  • Starch
    Made from vegetable cellulose starch adds body and stiffness to fabric. It works best on clothing made from natural fibers like linen and cotton as it needs to be ironed at a higher temperature than sizing
  • Water
    Using distilled water will prevent mineral build up on the soleplate of the iron -that’s the part that comes in contact with the clothing.
  • Iron – the linked iron is just one example. If you iron regularly you may want to invest in an iron with a self-cleaning setting. This will eliminate the need for hot-iron cleaner
  • a padded ironing board.

There is a debate in my family, starch or sizing? I’ve always sworn by starch. I like my clothes stiff and pressed. My parents use sizing, which gets the wrinkles out but still allows for some body and movement to your clothes. Here’s the deal, on linens, non-knit cotton, wool, durable fabrics, use starch. Things like knit skirts, or like my husband’s polo’s, use sizing. Why? Because if you use starch on these fabrics the iron sticks to them and creates more wrinkles that you will just need to use sizing to get out.

How to iron

First, fill your iron with water. There should be a fill line on the side. If you overflow, no big deal, your ironing board will just get a little wet, but it’s water, it will dry. I would suggest using distilled water if you have invested in a really nice iron because the minerals in tap water can end up shortening the life of your iron.

Second, do a quick spray of starch on the piece of fabric you are starting with. There is a technique. It involves a little dance, spraying from side to side in time with the rest of your body. Make sure you shake the can well before you use it because whatever magic is in that can settles and you don’t want that on your clothes. Give the sizing or starch time to absorb, if you begin ironing too quickly, the starch may flake rather than coat the fibers that make up your material.

Button down shirts are easy, start with the front panel that is on the side in which the rest of the shirt will be hanging off the back of the board Then just work your way around until both front panels and the back panel have been sprayed with your starch or sizing. You’ll follow this routine for the ironing, too.

Expect to move the shirt four times. I love a nice, crisp sleeves. You can button the sleeve if it is not already, if you don’t want to mess with it, just fold the cuff as if it were buttoned and lay the shirtsleeve flat on the board. When you lay the sleeve on the board line up the rest of the shirt as if you were buying the shirt. You know when you buy a new button down shirt and it looks like whoever is going to wear it walks around with their arms at a 45-degree angle? Iron sleeves like that, use the seam in the sleeve as a guide for where to make the crease. If a previous crease exists, try to match the fold along it or you may create a second crease

With button downs, the collar is easy, lay the shirt face down with the collar “popped” and spay and press it. Once it’s done, fold it over, and hang up your shirt. Time to move on.

Polo’s are next. Grab your sizing. You will  want to put the shirt on the board as if you were putting it on your body, the bottom goes on the end of the board first. Situate the shirt like you’re going to move it 4 times again, just like the button down. I usually do the front left first then rotate the shirt away from me until all four “panels” are done. Remember, every time you move the shirt, spritz it with some sizing and give it a moment. Make sure you shake the sizing well too. Collars on polo’s are a little trickier because you can’t lay them flat, so like you did with the rest of the shirt, “pop” the collar and putting the shirt head-first on the end of the board, work your way around. Now sleeves. Depending on the size of the individual wearing the shirt, you can either get the sleeve on the end of the board or just lay it flat, try not to create a crease.

What do you want to do next? Shorts? I love ironing shorts. And I love wearing nice pressed shorts. I feel so preppy in my crisp white khaki Gap shorts with a gingham button down. *sighs* OK! Shorts are different than pants for ironing. Shorts you can put on the board, pants you cannot, typically. Shorts are easy, depending on the size, you can put them on from the top or from the bottom, spray them down, and press. Work in circles until both legs are done. Pay extra attention to pockets. If there is a flap pocket, they are notorious for getting all bunched up in the wash, if this happens, get it with the starch, and carefully help the fabric lay down while you iron over it. Once you have the whole pocket under the iron, hit it with the steam. You did make sure your iron had water, right?

Pants are another beast. You want to do these in sections. You can’t probably “dress” the board like we have been depending on the size of the pants. So you will need to lay them flat on the board. Well-made pants you will be able to flatten in no time, on both sides. If where ever you got your drawers cut some corners you may end up with some creases on one side. It’s the price of doing business. I usually do the front right leg first and if I can’t get up toward the top of the pants, I scoot them down and quick press that portion. Then I flip the leg of the pants over, and move to the next side.

Some special stuff with pants: pleats and creasing. Both of which are a wee outdated, but we will cover them here just for the sake of being well-rounded.

Pleats, not necessarily just with pants, I should correct myself, I have tunics with a back pleat. The key to ironing a pleat is to lay the item on the board as you want the pleats to appear and then press the pleats.  If you try to navigate that big old iron in those little creases, you will just drive yourself insane, so just don’t.

Creasing, my dad, up until like 2009 creased his jeans. It wasn’t until one of his golf buddies took him aside like, “dude…you don’t iron jeans, and you certainly don’t crease them.” My mother was overjoyed knowing that she didn’t have to iron my dads jeans anymore.

To iron a crease you want to hold the pants like you’re looking at them from the side and you want to turn in the front flaps, like where the button and fly are, until you look like you have the crease where you want it. Then lay both legs piled on top of each other on the board and press. You will want to use steam here to really get a sharp crease.

Some final thoughts and quick tips:

Make ironing as enjoyable as possible.

  • I have an ironing playlist in Spotify that I listen to when I iron. It gets me pumped up, it’s actually what I am listening to as I write this. Put your favorite songs that will get you dancing and singing along, it makes this boring task go much faster.
  • Don’t get distracted, especially if you have kids. I’m guilty of this, it seems like everyone I have ever met wants to talk to me during “ironing time.” Draw the line. Scorched clothing = more work.
  • Try not to feel overwhelmed, I find if I separate my clothes from my husband’s on the bed and take one from each pile, it seems to go faster and I don’t feel guilty if I get burned out half way through and he has no shirts for the week.
  • Think ahead, check the weather, if you have multiple seasonal clothes in your basket, plan out that you may need long sleeves and short sleeves during that week, iron a few of each.
  • Finally, stay dedicated, ironing everything at once is actually a time-saver. Would you rather spend an hour on a Sunday and save all that time every single day of waiting for the iron to heat up, and adding water, and setting up the board then ironing? Knowing that everything in my closet is ironed and ready-to-wear any day of the week is very comforting, especially on mornings where I can’t seem to get moving.

Happy Ironing!

Stephanie Coccaro is married to @jaredwsmith and lives with him, and their 3 dogs in West Ashley.  She is currently enrolled for the rest of her life at the College of Charleston majoring in English.

Bleach Spots Appearing on Khaki Shorts

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Dear Home-Ec 101,

I have been puzzled by this mysterious pink / red stains on my khaki shorts for years. Whenever I get new khaki shorts, it will get these red / pink stains on them whenever I wash them. I don’t use bleach or fabric softener. I only use powdered detergent, cold/warm water and that’s it. Whatever I do, it will only create new red/pink marks across the khaki shorts. What is truly bizarre is that I tried not washing one of my new khaki shorts I bought and the stains still appeared! It looks like it has something to do with the water in the home I live in. It only occurs on my khaki shorts and not anywhere else. I need help with this as I have google searched for months without any answer. I’m afraid to buy new khaki shorts now.

Signed,

Shorted on the Shore

Heather says:

The stains you describe sound like bleach stains. Bleaching agents -not necessarily chlorine bleach- can appear in many innocuous forms in our modern lives. However, acne creams, whitening toothpaste and mouthwash are the usual culprits. Some dyes are less able to resist these bleaching products, which is why you will only notice this on some fabrics. After giving this some thought, my guess is splatter from vigorous toothbrushing landing on the bathroom counter or the shorts, themselves. Then, all it takes is a lean in for a close look in the mirror and voila, bleach stains on khaki shorts. The would appear either as a dot or a smear depending on the contact method.

In all likelihood you wouldn’t notice the tiny spatter or rub for several hours until that pink / orange / reddish spot appeared.

To prevent bleaching stains like these in the future, be extra careful with your bleaching products. Try to get in the habit of wiping off your bathroom counter and washing your hands thoroughly after applying acne creams or medication.

For what it’s worth, some people’s sweat seems to oxidize the dyes of some fabrics leaving mysterious stains. However these stains would be in very specific areas, prone to sweating. Since you mentioned spots rather than blotches -these would appear where the shorts crease when sitting- my money is on one of the previously mentioned products.

On an unrelated note, getting to the bottom of these mysterious bleach stains has felt like an episode of House the Domestic Edition and heck, I’ve been cranky enough to play the lead.

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

The Great Washing Machine Debate

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Dear Home-Ec 101,

What washing machine is better top or side load?

Signed,
Wishy-Washy in Waseca

Heather says:

Isn’t it fun when someone answers your question with “It depends?”

The front-load vs top loading washing machine debate has been going on for years, about ten in the US. High-efficiency front loading washing machines hit the mainstream back in 2004 or so. Some of the lower end models of front-loading washing machines had major problems that frustrated their owners. The good news is that there have been improvements, but Once Bitten Twice Shy and people were reluctant to give these washers another chance.

So let’s take a look at where things are today.

Should you buy a top-load or front-load washer

Front-load clothes washers are still more efficient than standard top loading machines but not that much more efficient than high-efficiency top-loading washers.

Efficiency isn’t everything or we would all be driving hybrid cars, right?

Some front loading washing machines are stackable, so if you’re super tight on space, this may be an option for you.

High-efficiency top loading washers are generally easier to load and unload, unless you’re of small stature. The ease of loading and unloading can be improved for a front-load machine by placing the appliance on a pedestal.

Front-loading washers tend to remove more water during the spin cycle than their top loading counterparts which reduces the amount of energy used to dry the load of clothing. This factor won’t matter at all, if you prefer to hang your clothing to dry.

Front-loading washers are still slightly better at stain removal than the top loading variety, but it’s pretty marginal and I am willing to bet that pre-treating makes a big difference.

Top loading machines still use more energy to agitate the clothing, use more water, and require more detergent for loads of comparable size, but the gap has been shrinking over the last few years.

And of course, the final comparison is cost.

Standard top loading machines are the cheapest, but least efficient appliances. High efficiency top loading washers come in second in both terms of cost and efficiency. Finally front-loading machines are the most expensive, but most efficient machines.

When you’re making your appliance choice, factor in the long term cost of electricity and water use. If your water is heated by natural gas or propane, you’ll find your clothes washer likely has less of an impact on your overall energy costs than if you’re stuck with an electric water heater like me.

Which of these factors matter most to you?

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

Hard Water and Dark Laundry

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Dear Home Ec 101,
I am very careful about how I wash my darks in order to avoid fading – washing them only in cold water, air drying or drying on the lowest setting. Despite this I feel my darks are fading much sooner than they should. Any suggestions?

Signed,
Dull in Duluth

Heather says

I wrote back to Dull in Duluth and asked her a couple of questions:

Q: What detergent do you use?  Do you have hard water or soft?

A: I have 3 boys ages 4, 2 and 11 months so I use Dreff for everything – their clothes as well as ours. We have hard water.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner, I know exactly why her dark clothes are fading more quickly than expected.

In addition to the faded appearance of the dark clothing, jeans will feel stiffer and even soft cottons may feel scratchy.

Why?

Hard water mostly contains calcium and magnesium ions, but other fun minerals and chemicals can get in on the game, too. Hard water is measured in grains per gallon and the unit grain is about a kernel of wheat. (I just learned that little factoid and had a major duh of course it is moment).

Slightly hard water starts about about 1 grain of minerals per gallon with very hard water containing 10.5 or more grains. (Areas with very hard water also tend to have more problems with kidney stones -looking at you Tennessee).

If your water contains less of hardness per gallon, you may find that using more detergent per load may help. Once you hit the 15 grains point, you simply cannot add enough detergent to bind the minerals AND clean your clothing. It’s time to start looking at non-precipitating water conditioners and household water softeners.

Non-precipitating water conditioners grab the minerals and make it so they can’t attach to your clothing, they stay in solution. (When particles in a solution are no longer able to stay in solution they precipitate)

The problem with this type of water conditioner and automatic washers -which I imagine you use, but feel free to correct me if I’ve found one of the few people who chooses to use a wringer style washer- is that while the conditioner doesn’t precipitate the laundry detergent does. The foam resulting from the combination of minerals and detergent is sticky and can cause buildup in your washing machine and lines which over-time can cause clogs.

Consider investing in a water softening system for your home or the laundry room alone. (Water softeners can add sodium content to the water and those with heart conditions and circulatory issues will need to take further steps and filter the water they intend to use for drinking and cooking.)

Soft water doesn’t leave residue on shower doors, in your toilets, or tubs. You’ll find your hair rinses cleaner and your skin feels less dry when using soft water to wash.

Without the residue left by minerals, your laundry’s colors will stay brighter, the dark colors won’t appear to fade as quickly, and your whites will stay… whiter.

Neat.

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com

Get Clothing Clutter Under Control

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Dear Home-Ec 101,
I have a dilemma. I find my bedroom becoming cluttered very quickly with clothes that are “too clean to wash” yet “not clean enough to put away”. I was a single mom for many years, going to school or working, sometimes more than one job, and as a result, I didn’t want to spend more time on laundry than I had to. I’d wear clothes until they were visibly dirty, overly wrinkled, or they became… umm… odiferous.

When I was a single parent, that didn’t take as long as it does now! Now, I’m married and have one teen at home (who is responsible for his own laundry). I work at home caring for my elderly parents, and the piles of “not clean, not dirty” clothes are overwhelming in our bedroom and my parents’! Sometimes, items in the pile have to be washed simply because they have been there so long, they’ve become wrinkled.

What do other people do with their clothes? Do they wash every item, every time they wear it? Do they wear the same thing until it needs to be washed? Do they hang up or fold and put away slacks and jeans and tops that have been worn but aren’t dirty?

Help me get out from under this heap! If you need something cleaned, I’m your girl. I’m not a very physically organized person, and “stuff” is my great foe.
Signed,
Clothes Horse

get clothing clutter under control

Heather says:

I’ll let you in on a secret, I’m a bit disorganized, too. Ok I struggle a lot with organization, but I do try.  I tend to be a perfectionist control freak -no comments from the peanut gallery, thank you very much- about my own space, which in a weird cruel twist of fate means stuff often piles up as I wait for the “right” time to take care of something. It takes a huge amount of -wait for it, I’m about to say a dirty word- self-discipline for me to do the daily upkeep that organization requires.

When I read your dilemma my first thought is that perhaps you have too much clothing.

Generally speaking those of us who live in relatively affluent Western cultures have too much stuff and that stuff causes misery. If we aren’t careful we tend to enter a cycle where we work to buy things and then work to take care of our things and then work to buy more things to replace the things that fell apart due to neglect. I’m tired just thinking about it.  (You all know that this is where some people are going to tell me that they live with exactly 3 pieces of clothing not including their underwear and that they have no idea what I’m talking about, right?)

So outside of those people who claim to have 3 items of clothing, what are you to do?

Don’t pile your clothing. 

Piles are the enemy.

Hang everything you possibly can, ESPECIALLY the items that have been worn but aren’t ready for washing. If you can’t hang everything, then you must find storage for out of season clothing and I don’t mean a pile in the corner of your room. Space saver bags, a box under the bed, a box in the attic, anywhere except a pile that’s going to get knocked over and them trampled on.

Hanging allows clothing to dry thoroughly, preventing that musty now I have to wash it condition.

Go into your closet(s) right now and hang everything backwards on the bar.

As you wear items and wash them, hang them the normal way on the leftmost side of the bar. Just keep shoving the stuff hanging backwards toward the right. Over six months or a year (depending on your climate) you’re going to get a better idea of the clothing you actually wear. Donate or consign the rest and do not feel guilty about it.

Just let it go. Someone else needs that item much more than you.

Don’t hang onto items for “when I lose ten pounds” and certainly don’t hang onto items “in case I gain ten pounds.”

Just let it go.

bedroom and closet cleaning

Click the picture for more tips!

While you’re undergoing the great clothing weed out, do not buy more clothing. If there is an item you cannot pass up, something in your closet has to leave the house before that item can be introduced to your wardrobe.

This isn’t an overnight fix, but over time you will notice a significant reduction in the amount of laundry done in your home.

Good luck!

 Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.