Now let's tackle green ways to clean those mucky clothes! Luckily, baking soda works as well in the laundry room as it does in the kitchen. Not only is it harmless to the environment, but it also has mild alkali qualities that help it dissolve grease and dirt. Baking soda can be especially helpful in areas served by hard water: Adding baking soda to a washing machine's rinse cycle will result in clothes that are better rinsed, and they will resist the stain buildup that can sometimes come with hard water. They'll also feel softer -- another bonus!
When you use laundry detergent, 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.
If you want to use bleach on some of your clothing, baking soda will help boost the bleach's whitening power so much that you'll be able to use less bleach -- a good and green thing, indeed.
Salt, vinegar, and lemon juice also have roles to play in the laundry room. For starters, a basic mixture of half water and half vinegar makes a good pretreatment for just about any common stain. We suggest that you keep a spray bottle of this mixture in your laundry room. Just spray it onto the stain a few minutes before washing and then wash as usual.
Salt can also be a good stain remover in clothing, especially when the stain is still fresh. Salt's magic qualities also help maintain and restore bright colors, reduce yellowing, and eliminate mildew in fabrics. We'll get into the detailed instructions for these tricks a little bit later.
Like baking soda, vinegar can serve a lot of different purposes in the laundry room. When using vinegar in the laundry, use distilled white vinegar, which generally can be found in gallon jugs near the baking or laundry aisles in the grocery store. Apple cider vinegar will also work, but it usually comes in smaller containers and costs a little more.
Vinegar makes a great pretreatment for many stains, and it softens the water, helping to prevent soapy residue in homes that are served by hard water. It can also add a kick to both regular laundry detergents and some of the green commercial cleaners. To soften a standard load of wash, add 1/2 cup vinegar during your machine's last rinse cycle. In addition to softening, vinegar added at this time will help reduce lint buildup, and it tends to keep pesky pet hair from sticking to fabrics.
But among the Fantastic Four, lemon juice really takes the leading role for some laundry tasks. Add 1/2 cup of it to a regular load of laundry during the wash cycle, and it will make the whole load smell fresher. Add it to a load of whites, and the whites become whiter. Combine lemon juice with cream of tartar and you have a very powerful stain remover. We'll get into all that in more detail in a minute.