Clean laundry, fresh from the washer.
Clean laundry, fresh from the washer.
© Bilic

Most people hate doing laundry. It's a tedious, time-consuming event, especially when you can't see -- or smell -- that much of a difference in your clothes after they've been through the machine. If your detergent seems to be just scraping by, your whites never come out quite as white, or you're breaking your wallet just to get things starched at the dry cleaners, it's understandable that you hate laundry day. Plus, everyone knows you're down to your last pair of underwear -- yikes! Not the ones mom gave you for Christmas!

But the days of tedious laundry are over. We've got a few tricks up our sleeves not only to make laundry easier, not only to make clothes look cleaner and smell fresher, but also maybe to make laundry day a little bit fun, because you've never seen a magic trick until you see how bright our secret whitener can make your fabric.

So strap on your most embarrassing pair of undies and lug your bag down to the laundry room. With our 5 tricks to boost your laundry power, your clothes are going to soar to a whole new level of clean. Let's start with kicking your detergent up a notch.

Supercharge Your Detergent

If your detergent cleans your clothes okay, leaves them smelling okay and gets stains out okay, stop settling for mediocre laundry. You don't have to go out and buy any special brand to make each cycle more powerful; just add a little something to your "okay" brand.

To boost the cleaning and deodorizing powers of your usual laundry detergent, add 1/2 cup borax to each load -- you can usually find borax in the laundry aisle of your local grocery store.

If you don't have time to run to the store, grab something that's probably already in your pantry: baking soda. Add 1/2 cup baking soda to top-loading machines or 1/4 cup for front-loading machines, along with the usual amount of detergent, to give the detergent a boost. The baking soda actually helps the detergent work better and acts as a deodorizer for some of those rougher-smelling clothes -- like a teenager's sports gear and socks.

Safely Wash Delicates and Dry-Clean-Only Fabrics

The powerful, spacious washing machine may seem too intense for your delicates and unmentionables, but you can safely wash them without having to slave over a sink and washboard. Delicate washables can be safely and effectively laundered in the washer with warm water to which you've added a small amount of mild dishwashing liquid (not the fancy antibacterial variety).

Also, in some cases where an item says "dry clean only," you may actually be able to clean the item at home. Some fabrics can be cleaned using a solution of 4 tablespoons baking soda in cold water. First, test a small, hidden area of the fabric to make sure it can handle the water and to see how colorfast it is. If it proves up to the challenge, go nuts. This way, you don't have to go anywhere but your laundry room to pick up your dry cleaning, and you'll save money.

Whiten White Linens

To really brighten a white tablecloth, fill a large pot with water to which you've added a sliced-up lemon, peels and all. Bring the water to a boil and then remove the pot from the heat. Add the tablecloth to the pot, let it soak for about an hour, then remove it from the pot and launder it as usual. You might consider hanging the tablecloth outside on a laundry line to dry, as well, since sunlight naturally bleaches white fabrics.

To brighten smaller, white-linen items, such as napkins and handkerchiefs, first wash them as you usually do, then soak them overnight in a sink or tub of water to which you've mixed in a small amount of cream of tartar. Rinse the linens with plain water and, if possible, hang them in the sun to dry (or simply dry them as usual).

Don't Use Fabric Softener

Who wouldn't want to use something called "fabric softener" in their laundry? Based on the name, it simply makes your clothes softer and cuddlier, which sounds irresistible.

Fabric softeners, however, contain undesirable ingredients, such as fragrances and dyes, which can irritate skin and cause other health problems. Plus, they can build up in clothes over time, which ultimately reduces clothes' longevity.

The sole purpose of fabric softeners is to eliminate static cling, but there's a much better (and safer) method for reaching this goal. Make your own irritant-free fabric softener just by using 1/4 - 1/2 cup vinegar in your wash water. You can add the vinegar directly into the liquid softener cup, if your machine has one, or add it on top of the clothing during the rinse cycle. Now you can be soft and cling-free without having to worry about side effects.

Make a Spray Starch

If you love the crisp, clean look of starch on your clothes, but your wallet doesn't leave much room for such a luxury, worry not! You don't have to go to the dry cleaners or buy any expensive sprays just to get crisp clothes.

You can make your own quick spray starch at home by slowly adding 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch and 1 and 1/2 teaspoons wheat starch to 1 cup cold water. Stir until all of the starch is dissolved and then pour the mixture into a clean spray bottle. Use it as needed to spray fabrics lightly when you iron them.

Adapted from "101 Old-Time Country Household Hints," © 2008 Publications International, Ltd.