We all know that once you become a parent your laundry volume goes through the roof. Even pregnancy seems to be a precursor for the greater amount of laundry with maternity clothes generally being larger then our pre-pregnancy wardrobe and more frequent wardrobe changes. More body temperature changes and generally running at a higher temperature leads to increased sweating and often greater body discomfort (or fussiness with the way our clothes look on our changing body) which all lead to our laundry bins filling up quicker.
Taking care of a newborn just adds to the laundry pile with babies spitting up on their clothes, blowing out diapers, drooling and generally getting messy as they begin to crawl. Also we all know it is fun to change those cute baby clothes several times a day and show off our newborn in cute clean clothes to friends and family. It can often feel like we are raising a movie star as we shuffle our baby through multiple wardrobe changes gifted from baby showers before they outgrow the outfits in the next week.
As every new mom knows, staying ahead of the laundry can quickly become a fulltime job that never seems to end. If you are like me and most moms out there you probably feel just putting the clothes through the laundry machine with the right amount of detergent is getting them clean. You are also probably patting yourself on the back when you finally get through the overflowing bin of dirty clothes and have returned them nicely folded to the respective shelves and drawers.
It seems we are mistaken. Recent research by the American Cleaning Institute (ACI) indicates that we may not be doing the laundry right. If we are using cold water with antibacterial detergent we are not getting our clothes as clean as we think. We are in fact putting dirty clothes right back on our body and even worse, on our babies.
First when it comes to the water temperature we are washing our clothes in, we need to go hotter. “If you’re putting clothes in cold water, you aren’t getting rid of bacteria,” Marcelle Pick, an ob-gyn and pediatric nurse practitioner at the Women to Women health care center in Yarmouth, Maine says. “For babies, their clothes tend to be more contaminated, so you should definitely wash using hotter temperatures.”
Cute onesies and adorable stuffed animals may look clean and you may hesitate to inflict a hot water machine wash on them, but there’s a good chance that they contain bacteria (and often the really bad kind, from feces). Of course you cannot throw all stuffed animals in the wash, but at least wipe with warm soapy water and make sure they thoroughly dry before you hand them back to your baby to cuddle.
According to the ACI’s recommendations for laundry procedures, cold water can be used to presoak items that have been heavily soiled (especially of the pee and poop variety). However we should use hot water in addition to detergent and bleach, if necessary, to thoroughly sanitize and disinfect dirty laundry.
The second step is using an effective detergent. Ed Osann from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) senior water policy analyst, explains, “Warm or even hot water is not hot enough to sterilize clothes exposed to fecal matter. If detergent is formulated for comparable effectiveness in cold water, then no extra benefit would be expected from warm water use.”
Contrary to what many of us would consider common sense, Osann advised avoiding antibacterial detergents as they actually promote growth of resistant bacteria. He also recommended thoroughly drying clothes in the dryer.
How frequently should we wash our clothing? It depends on what it is. The ACI recommends washing clothes more frequently that are tighter fitting and more likely to carry more bacteria. In our baby’s case, that would be just about everything but jackets, extra layer sweaters or flowy dresses that are not soiled. For ourselves and older children, items like underwear, socks, tanks and T-shirts, tights and even jeggings should be cleaned after each wear. Other items such as jeans and khakis can get 3-4 wears before they need to be cleaned. Towels should be hung to dry after each use and should also be washed every 3-4 days, especially if they are used by kids. Bed sheets should be washed at least every two weeks and more frequently if you sweat a lot, which is common during pregnancy and postpartum.
The next step is maintaining a clean washing and dryer by setting up a regular sanitizing routine. Clothes will get only as clean as the machine allows. Every week, or more if you do tons of laundry, you should run an empty cycle with your washer using hot water along with bleach and detergent to disinfect the washer (some washing machines have a sanitizing cycle labeled on the machine). Next be sure to run an extra rinse cycle to make sure the bleach is completely flushed out. After that it is a good idea to start off by washing your whites with hot water and detergent as there still may be some bleach remaining in the machine from disinfecting. After washing, dry your whites on high for 45 minutes to sanitize your dryer. This way your laundry machine and dryer are sanitized for the rest of your laundry.
When the weather is nice and sunny, you can be more eco-friendly approach to save energy by washing in warm water and line-drying in the sun. The good news is that as your children get older and out of diapers, there are less of the particularly bad bacteria types to contend with, so washing in warm water may do the trick most of the time.
Remember husbands and older kids can do the laundry too, so don’t hesitate to train as needed and delegate. Just make sure they know the laundry for optimal cleanliness.