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The Secret to Not Ruining Your Delicates in the Wash

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After recording a recent episode of my podcast, Ask a Clean Person, on the subject of laundry detergents, my guest commented to me that if he had his own laundering facilities, he would have "like, eight different detergents for all my different laundering needs." I understood him completely.

You see, I love laundry detergent. But not just any laundry detergent! I love laundry detergents designed for cleaning very specific things, like dark jeans, or extraordinarily expensive brassieres. So today, we shall talk about specialty detergents and what you might benefit from knowing about them.

When in doubt, or if you only ever want to worry about one detergent, which a tremendously reasonable life choice to make for yourself, opt for a product that bills itself as 'green' or 'eco-friendly' such as Seventh Generation. Those detergents will be gentle enough that they can pull double duty on delicate clothing and accessories like bras, bathing suits, and scarves.

But that's not as much fun, provided you and I have similar ideas of fun, as having a whole suite of detergents to choose from to ensure that your clothes — your beautiful, beautiful clothes! — are laundered under optimal circumstances.

Detergents for Darks

Where my jeans girls at? Ah, there you are, right next to the black opaque tights girls. Do I see the leggings girls in the back there? Yes, good good. You're all here.

You lot, the ones who are very interested in keeping the color of your dark jeans, tights, and leggings as pristine and unfaded as possible, will want to know about detergents formulated specifically for use on dark clothing. A few other tips for keeping darks nice and goth-like: Always (always, always, always!) wash in cold water; avoid using detergents with optical brighteners, which are great on white and light colored clothing but can cause fading in darker garments; turn dark clothes inside-out before washing to reduce the effects of color loss over time and use a no- or low-heat drying cycle, as heat will lead to fading.

Brands to look for are Cheer Dark; Perwoll Black Magic; Woolite Darks.

Detergents for Whites

Detergents that are designed for use on whites generally contain optical whiteners, which are added to detergents to make them look brighter. That makes them a great choice for keeping your white t-shirts looking their best, and for staving off that ugly yellow cast that light-colored bedlinens can take on over time.

It's worth noting that there is some controversy over the relative ecological safety of optical brighteners, but the studies are old and therefore the science may not be sound. The jury is still out, basically.

Brands to look for are OxiClean White Revive; Tide Boost Vivid White + Bright; The Laundress Whites Detergent.

Detergents for Sports Gear

Athletic gear like yoga pants and sports bras present two distinct challenges: First, the material those garments are commonly made of, which generally contains Lycra, doesn't love to be over-handled when it comes to washing. Second, your gym gear gets really stinky because, well, you sweat in it.

Detergent formulated for use on athletic clothing is designed to address both of those problems, and is a great choice for people who spend a lot to look good at the gym or along the marathon route. Just like with dark clothing, use a cold water wash cycle and avoid drying workout gear using high heat.

Brands to look for are WIN Sports Detergent; Hex Power+ Laundry Detergent; SportSuds.

Detergents for Delicates

This is the big mama, which is why I saved it for last. Those other specialty detergents? They're nice to have, but you can live without them. However, if I can get you into just one specific-use detergent, it would be a gentle one designed to be kind to your delicate items like bras, swimsuits, silks, and cashmeres.

We've already talked about how to hand wash your clothes, and in future columns I'll go into more specifics about the proper care and handling of bras and swimwear. For now, I want to build on those handwashing instructions by offering a selection of delicate detergents for specific needs.

Bra and shapewear detergent brands to look for are Tocca Casa Laundry Delicate; Eucalan Delicate Wash; Forever New.

Swimwear, including wetsuits, detergent brands to look for are Swim Mate; Slosh Cleaner/Conditioner; Suit Saver.

Silk detergent brands to look for are WinterSilks Silk Wash; Ecover Delicate Wash; Le Blanc Silk & Lingerie Wash.

Wool and cashmere detergent brands to look for are The Laundress Wool & Cashmere Shampoo; La's Totally Awesome Wool Wash; Mitchell's Woolly Wash.

One last delicate detergent to mention is SOAK Wash, which is a no-rinse formula. I have no idea how it works, but I've used it, loved it, and very much appreciated being spared a step or two in my hand laundering cycle. Give it a whirl and see what you think!