Preparing to launder can be as important as the actual process itself. As you place items in the hamper, examine them carefully for stains and visible wear (a future post will also deal with mending clothing to get the most life out of it!). Pre-treat before throwing the item into the hamper, or, mark any trouble areas with a wooden clothespin. This will remind you that some pre-laundry work is required! Examine areas that conform closely to the body like the insides of collars, cuffs and armholes. These areas come in contact with body oils and with perspiration which may lead to staining and discoloration of the fabric.
Stains and discolorations should be handled as soon as possible. There are some great places to get information on stain removal, including: here, here and here! Even if you don’t see any obvious stains, a pre-soak can help to loosen dirt. Once stains have been treated and the item has been laundered, check it carefully BEFORE drying. If you use the dryer, the heat can permanently set the stain. If you need another try at stain removal, do it while the item is still wet.
Grandma was right: always, AlWaYs, ALWAYS separate colors! Whites stay whiter when washed apart from your colored clothing. Over time they may still begin to look dull or gray, but this can be remedied with a capful of hydrogen peroxide every few months.
Lastly, take the time to zip up all zippers, turn clothing inside out, and place delicates in lingerie bags. Zipping up helps to preserve the original shape of the garment in the laundry, as well as protect your washer from the metal pull. Turning things inside out helps to keep colors from fading and protect any embellishments that cannot be removed for laundering. And I just love lingerie bags. I have them in multiple sizes (available from Crate and Barrel). I use them for bras, nighties, hosiery, and even exercise clothing!