Mistake 1: Rubbing Stains Furiously

This can make the stain worse and possibly wear away the fabric. Instead, be gentle and methodical. Treat the stain as soon as you can; the less time that elapses, the more success you’ll have. And always use a white cloth so that colors can’t transfer. Dab, rather than rub, working from the outside in to keep the stain contained.

Jars of laundry detergent

2 of 12 William Abranowicz

Mistake 2: Using Too Much Detergent

Excess suds can hold dirt pulled from clothes and get caught in areas that won’t always rinse clean, like under a collar, leading to bacteria buildup. The remedy: Use only half the amount of detergent that you normally do, then gradually increase that amount if your clothes are not coming out as clean as you would like. An exception: If you have hard water, you may actually need more soap than you are using. Check the recommendation for hard water on your detergent bottle.

Delicates in a washing machine

3 of 12  Christopher Griffith

Mistake 3: Filling the Washing Machine Incorrectly

When washing in a top-loader with liquid detergent, you should first fill with water, then add soap, then add clothes, right? Well, no. This protocol from the past was meant to prevent residue on the fabric and the machine. But modern detergents are phosphate-free and not harmful to clothes the way old formulas were. As long as you’re not using bleach, don’t add clothing after the water (a pain, because clothes can float). Instead, use this order to distribute detergent best: clothes, then water, then soap.

Shrunken sweater in dry cleaning bag

4 of 12 Levi Brown

Mistake 4: Washing an Item That Has a “Dry-Clean” Label

This isn’t necessarily a blunder. Most items that say “dry-clean” can be hand washed and air-dried. This includes natural fibers, such as linen and most silks. First check for colorfastness; moisten a cotton swab with mild detergent and dab it on a hidden seam to see if any dye comes off. If not, go ahead and dunk the garment in soapy water just once or twice, then rinse and immediately roll it in a towel to extract moisture. However, you should stick with dry-cleaning for certain categories: leather, suede, silk dupioni, anything with embellishments, and structured pieces (like blazers).

Zipper on jeans

5 of 12 Photodisc/Getty Images

Mistake 5: Not Zipping Zippers All the Way to the Top

Metal teeth can snag delicate and woven clothing that’s being washed in the same load.

White collared shirt

6 of 12 Grant Cornett 

Mistake 6: Washing Shirts All Buttoned Up

This seems like a good idea, but it can stress buttons and buttonholes and lead to premature poppage. Take the time to unbutton before tossing clothes in the washer (or the hamper).

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