06 Sep 2023

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Smarter took a break last week, but this week we’re back in full force. For this issue, I’m examining which items you shouldn’t be tossing into your washing machine willy-nilly. 
Also in this issue: whether you really need to walk 10,000 steps a day, and our tips on how to eat healthy on a budget.
Growing up, my idea of what I shouldn’t put in a washing machine was often informed by an intervention that came at the very last second. That is, urgent cries from my parents when I was about to dump a delicate piece of their clothing straight into the appliance. 
While I’ve never caused a complete disaster doing laundry, I’ve also never gained a full understanding of what is off-limits with washing machines. To stop you—and me—from putting something in a washer we’d later regret, here are the items experts say you should avoid.
Leather, suede, silk, and linen.
These are all items that should be dry-cleaned and not machine-washed to protect the fabric, says Sarah Armstrong, new product brand manager at the home appliance maker Maytag.
Leather, wool, velvet, silk, and shoes with cork soles or any kind of beading on them would be damaged if you put them in a washing machine, Sarah says. 
It’s also probably not a good idea to wash your specialized running sneakers in a washing machine either, because it could loosen the adhesives in the shoes or deform the structure of them, says Rich Handel. He leads CR’s testing of washers, and his professional expertise grew out of years of being the laundry point person at home.
Memory foam pillows.
They will probably break apart if washed in a washing machine, says Nelly Martinez, senior brand manager at the home appliance company Whirlpool. Other pillows are typically machine-washable, but always check the care tag first.
Baseball caps.
It’s best to hand-wash and air-dry them to help preserve the color and shape, Sarah says.
Open zippers. 
You should fasten any zippers to prevent them from snagging or tangling your clothes.
Items covered in pet hair.
The mixture of water and pet hair can result in clumps that stick to the sides of the washer drum and clog drain pumps. 
Pet hair can be pretty tricky to remove. Here are our tips on how to get it off your bed.
Items covered in dust, soil, and other powders.
Excess dirt and sand could abrade other fabrics. Dust and powders such as flour, lime dust, milk powder, etc. can build up on the inner parts of the machine and cause damage. Make sure you shake it off your laundry the best you can before you place it in the machine.
Laundry stained with flammable liquids.
Don’t wash anything that has been previously soaked in or spotted with gasoline, dry-cleaning solvents, vegetable or cooking oil, or other flammable or explosive substances. That’s because they give off vapors that could ignite or explode, according to the appliance maker LG. 
That includes putting vodka in your washing machine to get rid of any odors on your clothes. Alcohol, while a great disinfectant, is highly flammable, Rich says. Instead, if you want to remove smells from your clothes, here’s what he suggests.
Also, you should always empty the pockets before you put your clothes in a washing machine. Things like coins, pens, and paper clips could damage your clothing and the washer itself. Yes, yes, I know most of you would already know this, but you’d be surprised by how often people forget this step. 
But there are certain things you can put in a washing machine if you do it with extra care. 
Wool and cashmere.
Check the label first to see if it’s machine-washable. If it is, you might want to use a delicate or cold-water cycle, and turn the clothing inside out to keep it from pilling, Rich says.
It can be washed, but an activewear or delicate cycle is recommended, says Ken Rudolph, senior director of product management for clothes care for GE Appliances.
Waterproof items.
For waterproof, water-resistant, and bulky items, bulky or delicate cycles are recommended. Using other cycles can make the load unbalanced during the spin cycle, causing excessive vibration, Ken says.
It’s also best to not mix waterproof and non-waterproof items in a washer.
Weighted blankets.
While some weighted blankets can be machine-washable, Nelly recommends not washing them if they’re made with things like sand, rice, or beans.
Laundry items with metal attachments.
Underwire bras, belt buckles, and metal buttons might damage the machine or other items in the load. So make sure you remove the metal pieces or put items with them in a mesh laundry bag or pillow case.
Small, lightweight items.
Place things like infant’s socks and nylon stockings in a mesh bag so they don’t get stuck.
Delicate laundry.
You can put more delicate clothing like slips, underwear, and camisoles in a mesh bag. Turn them inside out. 
And as a general rule, it’s always safest to follow the instructions on the label of your laundry item and the washer’s owner manual to guide you before you decide to toss something in a machine, Rich says.
Bonus link: Does your washing machine and dryer make the most compatible set? Here are our recommendations for the best washer and dryer pairings.
You’re reading Smarter, a newsletter that answers consumer questions with useful tips from our experts. Sign up to get Smarter in your inbox or check out more Smarter issues here.
When we asked our Twitter and Instagram users to share the things they’ve accidentally put in a washer, wool and cashmere sweaters that shouldn’t be machine-washed or clothes marked as cold-water-only washed in warm water were some of the most common things people brought up.
And there were other things people mentioned that left an impression. One Twitter user, for example, mentioned accidentally leaving tissue in the washer. The result was shredded tissue everywhere, on the clothes and inside the washer tub. 
And on Instagram, more than one person said they once left a diaper inside the washing machine. I’ll leave you to ponder that image on your own.
In one of the latest Smarter newsletters, I wrote about why it’s important to dry your hands after washing them. Several people had questions about hand-drying, including this one from reader Elizabeth Palombo: How often should you change a hand towel at home that is used for drying hands?
It comes down to the level of soil, or how dirty the towel is, so to speak. If you’re living alone and you’re the only one using the hand towel, you can wash it every few days or weekly, says Alexandra Seguin, MSN, an infection preventionist at the Rush University Medical Center. 
If you’re living with a lot of people and everyone is sharing the towel, then you should wash it more frequently. And if someone in your household has a stomach bug, then you would want to wash it as soon as possible.
Wash towels in warm water in a washer, then tumble-dry on low heat, says Heather Viola, DO, a primary care physician at Mount Sinai Doctors Ansonia, a healthcare practice in New York City.
Photo: Parachute. Graphic: Alisa O'Connor/Consumer Reports. Photo: Parachute. Graphic: Alisa O'Connor/Consumer Reports.
One of the best things to cap off a good bath is a soft, fluffy bath towel, but it can be confusing when you don’t know what to look for when buying one. So here are a few tips from our experts.
Don’t get swayed by weight.
Many towel brands like to hype the weight of their towels as a sign of quality, but the material a towel is made of is more important than its weight.
Look for high-quality cotton.
A cotton towel can have better water absorbency than towels made with synthetic or blended fibers. The most high-quality cottons include Egyptian, Supima, and Pima cotton and, to a lesser extent, Turkish cotton.
Ringspun and combed cotton are a plus.
Ringspun means the fibers have been twisted into a long, durable rope, which makes for a particularly comfortable fabric. Combed cotton has gone through an additional “combing” process that removes short fibers and debris.
And which towels do we recommend? We recently tested seven bath towels to see which offered a luxurious experience. Our favorite pick excelled due to its flawless construction, despite having muted colors. In the words of Anna Kocharian, a CR shopping editor: “It’s cushy and feels luxurious.”
Read here (available to CR members) to see which towel it was that won us over.
🦶 Do You Really Need 10,000 Steps a Day?
Is it a goal that’s suitable for everyone?
💻 How to Wipe a Computer Clean of Personal Data
It’s an important step you need to take before you get rid of your laptop or desktop.
🍪 Best Girl Scout Cookies
The new Raspberry Rally cookies are all the rage, so much so that people are selling them at resale markets for as much as five times the original price. But are they any good?
Photo: Yiu Yu Hoi/Getty Images Photo: Yiu Yu Hoi/Getty Images
In response to rising food costs, our experts have a few suggestions on how to eat healthy on a budget.
Snap a photo of your pantry. That, along with taking photos of your fridge, freezer, and spice cabinet before you go grocery shopping, can help you avoid buying duplicates you don’t need.
Shop in person. People tend to spend less money when they shop at grocery stores compared with shopping online, according to research published in 2021 in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.
Don’t sleep on discount stores. You might find lower prices at price-conscious chains like Aldi and Lidl.
Read here for five more ways you can keep food costs down while eating healthy.
“What’s your favorite Girl Scout cookie?”
Thanks for reading Smarter! If you want more tips that will make you a little bit smarter, sign up to have the newsletter delivered straight to your inbox every week.
Pang-Chieh Ho
I’m a newsletter writer who likes looking into the different ways we can live smarter. The topics I cover typically explore unanswered questions we have about the products we use every day and bridge the gaps between what owners’ manuals advise and what we actually do. In my spare time, I like to take photos, critique movies out loud while I watch (at home!), and take care of my ever-increasing plant "children." 
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