Thursday, March 16, 2017

Laundry tips.

Probably the first problem that most people have trouble with is getting the odor and stains out of laundry, when you're caring for someone with incontinence.

First, let's talk briefly about fabrics and colors. The worst fabrics to use are polyester, polyester blends, rayons, spandex, etc. Basically the worst are man-made fibers. Even cotton blends can turn colors because they are not fully cotton.

Many 100% cotton fabrics will claim that you cannot use chlorine bleach and that's usually because it's dyed and bleach will stain them. Try to go with lighter colors and try to stick with pure cotton or natural fibers. It is really unreasonable to believe that your loved one cannot wear anything colorful, it just may not clean up as well.

There are some drawbacks to cotton though. Cotton is famous for shrinking so if buying new clothes, be sure to adjust sizing. Another problem is wrinkling. Cotton often needs ironing.

Another thing to remember is that if you let clothes sit, they will stain permanently. It's best to tackle them early on. In many cases laundry piles up quickly, so try to be as diligent as possible. It can be a tough job and we all know it.

For laundering clothing, sheets, blankets and towels, you'll need five different items:

  • Gloves (always wear these when handling soiled laundry)
  • A good laundry detergent.
  • Baking soda
  • White vinegar
  • Chlorine and perhaps non-chlorine bleach.
You can buy these in bulk online. I have several 5-gallon utility buckets that I fill and keep in the laundry room and in each is a laundry detergent scoop (I collect them by the bazillion). You don't have to have either, but it helps me do things a little faster. 

How much you use of any one product depends on how dirty the items are. Also, you have to keep in mind how much your washing machine can take. The worst thing to ever happen to laundry for senior care are HE machines. I have one and it makes washing tedious and I end up using a ton of more water than it was designed for. I care for the environment but I am disgusted that they push it on everyone when they do not wash properly.

My own mother has urine that smells terribly bad, even though she is well hydrated. She suffers from colitis and so diarrhea is a common problem so needless to say, it's a mess many times per day. Keeping her clothes clean and smelling fresh is a serious problem.

The first rule is a good soak. No matter what fabric you use (except for delicates which I do not recommend your loved one wear), you can soak them all the same. This is the recipe I use for my soak (how much depends on how soiled they are):
  • 1-2 cups of vinegar.
  • 1-2 cups of baking soda
  • 1 scoop (the amount you use for your machine) of laundry detergent. 
The vinegar and baking soda creates a chemical reaction and will foam and sound like acid. Do not be alarmed by this. Unless you're laundering a very delicate fabric, it will withstand these chemicals. Vinegar and baking soda are natural chemicals and your laundry detergent may also be natural, if you so choose.

Let them soak in as hot of water as the fabric can take, for a good hour. If it's really bad, try for two. I would not recommend leaving them overnight because I have found that they lose their beneficial cleaning and deodorizing after a couple of hours and that kind of defeats the purpose. 

After the soak, then you can just move along to the next step. Which step you take next depends on the fabric. 

Use the above recipe but add:
  • Either 1 cup of chlorine bleach OR the package directions of non-chlorine bleach. 
  • Use 1 additional cup of vinegar in the final rinse cycle. 
Remember to dilute your chlorine bleach with a quart of water, if you don't have a special bleach dispenser in your washing machine. Also, don't worry about the smell of vinegar in the rinse. It will not have that scent at the end. 

Now wash these on one of the longest cycles you have. My HE machine does not handle sheets and blankets well unless I use their special "bedding" cycle so I'm forced to be a slave to that, but for everything else, I use a "deep wash" cycle. 

I also recommend a second rinse. That's a lot of soap and other things and you want to make sure it's all rinsed out. 

Now, as you move each item to the dryer, smell it in more than one place. The most stubborn odors are usually located in the seat of the pants and in the middle of the sheets, or blankets. Towels and washcloths can be all over. If you find that some odor remains, even though they look clean, wash it again in a light cycle, with only laundry soap. If they still look dirty, then you'll need a longer cycle. 

Occasionally, a piece of clothing or something that has a stubborn odor gets past me and ends up in the dryer. It can create an odor in the dryer that will extend itself into all other laundry and it can be a powerful smell. There are two steps I use when this happens, to rid my dryer of this scent. 
  1. Completely immerse a washcloth in vinegar, hand-ring it out (you don't want it dripping wet but you don't want it slightly damp either) and put it in the dryer. Do not put anything else in the dryer with it. Once the washcloth is dry, carefully open the dryer without leaning in front of it, else you'll get a strong hot whiff of vinegar which will burn your nose. 
  2. Next put a dryer sheet in the dryer and run it for about 10 minutes. This helps freshen the dryer and pushes the vinegar scent out.
That's it! For a washing machine, you'll do something similar. You also immerse a washcloth in vinegar and wipe down the inside. Let it air dry and that's it. You can also run a cycle with just bleach and detergent by itself, but the vinegar usually works fine and HE machines will often not allow a cycle without anything in it. 

Yes, that's a lot of vinegar and a lot of baking soda. (not inside the store itself, but online only) sells 5 and 12 lb bags of baking soda for a nominal price. One 5-gallon bucket will hold a little over 3 of the 12 lb bags. I usually buy them by the half-dozen, but I keep 2 of the 5-gallon buckets going. When one empties, I go ahead and order so I can fill the next bucket. This way I never run out. 

Plain Great Value vinegar at Walmart can be bought online for less than $3/gallon. A 5-gallon bucket holds... wait for it... 5 gallons! ;) I also buy 6 of these, but it would probably make more sense to buy 5. I do the same thing as the baking soda with the two 5-gallon buckets, so I don't run out of this either. 

It's a real job but I manage somehow. My biggest problem is containment and I've found that no pull-ups or adult diapers fully contain anything. There will be leaks! 

One final comment I must add as a kind of disclaimer is to always check for color fastness and launder according to the label on fabrics, even if their label may be wrong because they're afraid of lawsuits. 

Do you have any other tips to share? Have you tried this and gotten good results? 

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