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Laundry fact or fiction?

We bust some common myths about doing your laundry.

looking at laundry label hacks lead
Last updated: 15 March 2022

Chances are you've been doing your laundry exactly the same way for as long as you can remember. And that's probably fine – if it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?

But you may have picked up some less-than-desirable habits along the way that you've never thought to question. 

Never fear: CHOICE is here to separate laundry fact from fiction and help you lift your laundry game. 

Myth 1: You need to use fabric softener

It's pretty easy to believe this myth – after all, it's called fabric softener, so it must soften your fabrics, surely?

Well, our laundry experts are here to tell you that it doesn't. In fact, what fabric softener actually does is to coat the fabric with petrochemicals such as silicone that make the individual fibres feel more slippery and stand more upright, which makes your clothes feel softer and fluffier. 

What fabric softener actually does is to coat the fabric with petrochemicals such as silicone

Unfortunately these substances also reduce the water absorbency of your towels – which is kind of the sole purpose of towels! So unless you want waterproof towels, your best bet is to give fabric softener a miss.

fabric softener in laundry

Fabric softeners. Don't get us started.

Fire retardancy

Another side effect of fabric softeners is that they can reduce the fire retardancy of children's clothes. The oily compounds that make your clothes feel softer are also flammable, so using fabric softeners on children's clothes can reduce their fire retardancy. If you look at the label on the bottle, you'll see a warning not to use them on children's sleepwear for this very reason. Scary. 

Scrud, anyone?

And just in case you're still on the fence about fabric softener, know this: it can also contribute to 'scrud', which is a yucky name for a particularly yucky phenomena. Scrud is the gunky, waxy build-up in your washing machine that can leave marks on your clothes and cause problems for your washing machine. 

Still can't live without fluffy towels? We've got you: read our article on How to keep your towels soft and fluffy

CHOICE verdict: Myth busted! Fabric softener is expensive and unnecessary.

Myth 2: Using tennis balls in your clothes dryer will make towels dry faster

We're not entirely sure where this idea came from, but we suspect it's one of those urban myths that periodically pops back up on social media. 

Since tennis balls are pretty cheap and ubiquitous, somewhere along the line a marketing genius figured out a way to get people to pay money for a product that would do the same thing. And it worked. (The marketing idea, that is – not the dryer ball.)

We've tested dryer balls and found that they don't really do anything to decrease drying time – and in fact they'll cost you money rather than saving it because you have to pay for the silly things. 

Another option for faster drying

Some people swear by adding a dry towel to your clothes dryer to make your washing dry faster. The theory is that the towel absorbs the bulk of the moisture from the clothes, which reduces the amount of time your clothes take to dry. 

We asked CHOICE laundry expert Ashley Iredale about this. 

"While we haven't tested this, I'd believe it – throwing a dry towel in means it'll take up some of the moisture from your other laundry, increasing the surface area of wet material so it'll dry faster," he says. 

"One caveat is that clothes need plenty of tumbling and air circulating to dry properly. If shoving a towel in means everything's wadded up tight, it'll have the opposite effect."

CHOICE verdict: Myth busted! Don't add tennis balls, dryer balls, or any other sporting equipment to your clothes dryer. A dry towel is fine, though. 

Myth 3: You should always wash on hot

You might think you'll get better results with hot water, but it's just not the case – and especially in Australia, where our 'cold' water isn't usually particularly cold.

"In a recent comparison, we saw a three percent difference in soil removal between washing in warm water and washing in cold – certainly not enough to justify the extra cost of heating the wash water," says Ashley.

And some fabrics, such as wool, definitely shouldn't be washed with hot water – unless you're doing it on purpose to shrink something that's too big. 

CHOICE verdict: Myth busted! You can still get a great wash in cold water. 

using lots of laundry detergent

Most manufacturers' dosing scoops are way too big. Try using just a quarter of the full volume.

Myth 4: More detergent is better

Remember scrud, our disgustingly named friend from earlier? Well, it's not just caused by fabric softener: laundry detergent can cause it too. 

Even though it might seem like extra detergent will get your clothes extra clean, it's actually not the case – and adding too much detergent can actually leave your clothes less clean, as they'll end up with detergent residue on them. It can also contribute to scrud, causing your machine to lock up or sustain other damage. 

"Counterintuitively, using too little detergent can contribute to scrud buildup, but nowhere near as much as using too much," says Ashley. 

"And those handy little scoops detergent manufacturers put in to help you dose? Well, spoiler alert: that's way too much. We've found you can get a great wash with as little as a quarter of a scoop."

CHOICE verdict: Myth busted! More detergent does not equal cleaner clothes – in fact, quite the opposite. 

Myth 5: You must hand wash clothes labelled 'hand wash only'

Washing machines aren't always great for delicate items – the way they clean clothes depends on agitation and friction, which isn't good news for fragile fabrics, hooks and eyes, and other embellishments. But who really has time for hand washing? 

For most 'hand wash only' items, a laundry bag and delicates wash will be fine

For most 'hand wash only' items, a laundry bag and delicates wash will be fine. Delicate/gentle cycles use more water, less agitation and much lower spin speeds, so your fancy knickers and silk shirts won't be pulled out of shape as much. (Although you could shorten their life ever so slightly compared to hand washing.)

Of course, if you're washing something that's extra special to you, it's best to take the time to hand wash – just to be safe. But otherwise, choosing a gentle wash and hanging things out to dry (or laying them flat to dry) straight after the cycle finishes will be fine. 

CHOICE verdict: Myth (partially) busted! Don't throw your silk ball gown in the washing machine, but for some items a gentle wash is fine.

Myth 6: You don't need to clean your washing machine

We expect our appliances to keep on keeping on without complaint, but even cleaners need cleaning sometimes, too. Here's where our delightful friend scrud comes back into the picture. 

"Scrud can build up in your washing machine over time, causing all sorts of problems for your washer and your clothes, especially if you use fabric softener (have you not been paying attention?)," says Ashley. 

If you wash in cold you should run the occasional hot or very hot cycle to kill off any mould and bacteria, and help flush out the scrud

Ashley Iredale, CHOICE laundry expert

"Many washers have a dedicated cleaning cycle, but if they don't, and you wash in cold you should run the occasional hot or very hot cycle to kill off any mould and bacteria, and help flush out the scrud."

It's a good idea to wipe over the washing machine seals too, to prevent mould, and keep the washing machine door or lid open to let the washer air out. A smelly, musty washing machine isn't going to give you clean clothes!

CHOICE verdict: Myth busted! Cleaning your washing machine will extend its life and give you cleaner clothes. 

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.