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?
Dull in Duluth
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 Dreft Detergent 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.
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.
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