Take a good look under your sink in your laundry room. Read the labels of any cleaning products you find. You're likely to discover ammonia and bleach are so commonplace in our everyday laundry cleaning products.
Now it's time to look at the products you should be using in your daily stain removal tactics: baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice and salt. These four, combined with elbow grease, hot water, and sometimes a few other household ingredients can give your laundry plenty of sparkle while being kinder to the planet, yourself and your family.
First up in the world of green cleaning special fabrics and situations -- yellowing!
White linen items, such as fancy tablecloths, are also prone to yellowing. If yours have yellowed while in storage, brighten them up before your next dinner party by adding 4 tablespoons baking soda to the wash water. You can also boil yellowed cotton or linen fabrics in a mixture of water, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1/4 cup baking soda. Bring to a boil and soak for an hour. Then launder as usual.
If you have linen, wool, or silk items that need to be hand washed, prevent them from yellowing by adding 1/2 cup vinegar to the rinse water.
It's easy to get that big wad of gum off an article of clothing, but the hard part is getting rid of the sticky residue the gum leaves behind. That residue can survive many a washing and live on to attract more dirt to the spot. To take care of this problem, soak the sticky spot in undiluted vinegar for 10 to 15 minutes before washing, then launder as usual.
Accidents happen. Your child leaves a crayon in a pocket and you fail to find it before throwing the clothes into the washing machine. If you have a load of laundry riddled with crayon streaks, don't despair. Rewash the load using the hottest water the fabric will allow, and add 1/2 to 1 full small box baking soda to the load. You can also pretreat a crayon mark by sprinkling baking soda onto a damp cloth and then rubbing it into the fabric. Afterward, just launder as usual.
But we can't always blame laundry accidents on kids -- sometimes it's our own doing. If you've managed to mix some colored clothes in with a load of whites, don't fret! You may not have done permanent damage. Before putting anything in the dryer, soak the damp clothes in a solution of baking soda and warm water to which you've added 1/2 cup salt and 1/2 cup detergent. Choose an earth-friendly detergent if you like, then wash as usual.
Chlorine in swimming pools can really do a number on your bathing suit. Soak your suit in a sink of water to which 1 tablespoon baking soda has been added to minimize the fabric damage beforehand.
Even with frequent washing, perspiration can build up in clothing under the arms and around the collar. This is especially true in homes served by hard water. The more minerals in the water, the harder it is to get stubborn residues out in the wash. Undissolved deodorants are often the culprits that contribute to the stains, so don't feel bad -- your underarm stains may not be your fault!
To help remove perspiration stains on light-colored clothing, make a baking soda and water paste and paint it onto the stains with an old paintbrush. Let it sit for an hour or more, then launder as usual. If stains persist, apply the baking soda paste again, but try painting on a bit of undiluted vinegar first.
Shoes and other leather items can also be cleaned with some of the Fantastic Four products. If you have dress shoes that need cleaning, try pouring a little lemon juice onto a soft cotton cloth and then sprinkling the cloth with cream of tartar. Use the cloth to massage the stained area lightly until the stain is removed. Lightly rinse the area and then buff it with another soft cloth. Light-colored shoes with black scuff marks can be shined with a baking soda paste. Rub the paste on with a soft cloth and then wipe it off. If you're going to apply a shoe polish, do it afterward.
If you happen to get ink on a leather item -- say a ballpoint pen gets loose in your purse -- baking soda can act as a mild scrubber. Just lay the item flat and sprinkle it with baking soda, lightly rubbing it in. Leave the baking soda on until the ink is absorbed, then brush it off. Repeat if necessary. The white rubber soles on those expensive athletic shoes can also easily get scuffed up. You can clean off scuffs and black marks by sprinkling a little baking soda on a sponge or washcloth and wiping the stained areas.
If you wash a cotton or other washable-fabric blanket in the washing machine, add 2 cups vinegar to the last rinse cycle. This will help to remove soap residue, and it will also make the blanket soft and fluffy.
If you wash sweaters and delicate items by hand, add 1 or 2 tablespoons vinegar to the last rinse to help remove soap residue, which can be difficult to get out entirely when you hand wash. Silks, however, require a special hand washing treatment. Add 2 tablespoons vinegar to 1/2 cup mild detergent and mix with 2 quarts of cold water. Dip the silk item into the mixture, but do not soak. Rinse well and roll it in a heavy towel to soak up additional moisture. It's important to iron silks while they're still damp.