Can dishwasher powder clean socks?
London - Not only is my white washing pile generally rather more grey than pristine, but summer means I also have grass stains and mud to contend with - thanks to two sons and a husband who play cricket.
I’ve tried most stain removers on the market, but often find them wanting.
So, is there a miracle way of getting my murky laundry sparkling white again? According to various internet theories, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”
I enlisted the help of laundry expert Stephen Anderton to test a range of tips, using items from my family wash basket as well as a “control sock” - a new white one soaked in a puddle and smeared with ketchup and butter - to create the same conditions for each test.
CLEAN YOUR SOCKS IN DISHWASHER POWDER
The Tip: According to internet sources, good old dishwasher powder works on laundry, as it contains ingredients that break down food particles and stains.
Expert verdict: “This will work,” says Stephen. “Dishwasher powder contains oxidising agents, which remove the colour of the stain, though if you look at the item under ultraviolet light, you’ll still see it.”
The Test: Any white socks that manage to survive our sock-obsessed cocker spaniel end up filthy within a week of purchase. Partly because I’m rubbish at washing, partly because my six-year-old daughter likes going outdoors without shoes.
I take one of her little brown-soled socks and pop it into the washing machine with an M&S own-brand dishwasher tablet. After 40 minutes, it emerges significantly whiter - and the control sock is almost perfectly clean, too, though faint traces of mud remain on the sole.
DASH OF VINEGAR FOR PERFECT SHEETS
The Tip: It’s said the mild acid in vinegar acts as a whitener for dingy clothes. Apparently, it helps to dissolve detergent and fabric softener that may not have been rinsed away during the wash cycle, which can leave clothes looking dull.
Expert verdict: “Vinegar is a fantastic cleaning agent and has all manner of domestic uses. It’s acidic, so it neutralises alkaline food stains, and is antibacterial and anti-limescale.
“I recommend running the washing machine empty on the hottest wash once a month with some vinegar to keep it clean. I can’t see any harm in putting it in the wash, either.”
The Test: I put an ancient, musty-smelling sheet into the washer and slosh in half-a-cup of white wine vinegar (not brown, which I fear may stain further) and washing powder.
The sheet comes out much cleaner. Even better, it has lost its mouldy smell. The control sock is fabulously clean, too. Well worth a try.
The Tip: The theory is that neat lemon juice bleaches whites without the need for harsh chemicals. Mix 125 ml of lemon juice with eight litres of very hot water. Soak clothing in it for at least an hour. Pour the lemon mixture into the washing machine and wash clothes as usual.
Expert verdict: “While this is a mild bleaching agent, the emphasis is on mild. Bleaching removes oxygen and therefore strips colour - we all know lemon juice on hair in the sun makes it a bit blonder. But I suspect it won’t make a difference to clothes.”
The Test: I take a dirty white sock - this nasty-looking item has been worn for a child’s party in a forest and is as brown as the mud - and soak it in the solution overnight.
I then tip the whole lot into the washer and wash at 40 degrees. The results are disappointing - it’s cleaner, but not the sparkling- white I hoped for, and it’s very labour-intensive.
The control sock is cleaner, though the stains were less ingrained.
The Tip: Soaking flannels and dishcloths in a solution of bicarbonate of soda and water will, apparently, lift even the most ingrained of stains.
Expert Verdict: “Bicarbonate of soda is mildly alkaline, which is why it’s thought to work on washing. Most detergents contain some alkaline ingredients. In the presence of oil, these go through a process known as saponification - it turns greasy stains into soap, which then washes off. However, I think you’re better off using one of the standard specialist detergents on sale.”
The Test: I soak an ancient, greying tea towel in a bowl of water and bicarb. The water fizzes up most satisfyingly and turns a loathsome shade of grey within seconds. I leave it for an hour, then put the tea towel in the washing machine at 40 degrees with my usual powder.
But I’m afraid the tea towel comes out just marginally less grey, while the control sock is unimpressive, too, with some stains left behind.
GOODBYE TO GRASS STAINS
The Tip: Rubbing methylated spirits on grass stains can remove them. Dab the item with a cloth dampened with slightly diluted methylated spirits, then rinse, wash with soap and rinse again.
Expert verdict: “This will probably work, but you might burn down your house in the process! Meths is a solvent. It interacts with the chlorophyll in the grass and removes the stain by making it water-soluble, meaning it washes away.
“It’s also very useful for removing oil and grease stains.
“This is like dry-cleaning clothes at home. Just remember meths is highly flammable. Should you not wash it out properly and then put it in the tumble dryer, the item of clothing will combust in the heat.
“You must ensure you wash it out properly afterwards - if it still smells of meths, wash it again.”
The Test: I borrow my husband’s stained cricket whites, assuring him they will be so bright when I’m done that his team will win by blinding the opposition with the sheer glare.
I rub some meths into the knees of the trousers with a cloth, then rinse, wash with a little ordinary soap (as recommended) and rinse again.
The stains aren’t entirely removed, but are much faded. The control sock is nearly as bright white as new.
I heed Stephen’s warnings and put the trousers in the washing machine before drying on the line.
ASPIRIN FOR YOUR LAUNDRY HEADACHE
The Tip: Dissolve five aspirin tablets in eight litres of hot water. Soak the laundry for around eight hours, making sure that all the material stays submerged.
Expert verdict: “If you had put in 105 aspirin tablets, you might get a result. Aspirin does contain salicylic acid, but in such negligible amounts that nothing is likely to happen.”
The Test: I throw a grubby sock into a washing-up bowl as well as one of my specially stained control socks and watch the aspirin fizzing away, then later rinse it off.
The result? Both socks are cleaner, but not much - and presumably the soaking alone had some effect.
This is too time-consuming for the result and I wouldn’t risk it on, say, silk or cashmere - the only situations in which I can imagine being bothered enough to devote eight hours and precious painkillers to cleaning clothes anyway!
STUBBORN STAINS? SPRAY ON MR MUSCLE
The Tip: Spraying laundry with Mr Muscle Kitchen Cleaner, leaving for ten to 15 minutes and then washing at 50 degrees.
expert verdict: “This is designed to get tough grease and cooking stains out of an oven, so a grass stain is pretty straightforward for such a powerful product. It will wrap around particles of grass and soil to take them away from the material.
“Be aware that it’s so strong it will eventually damage materials such as polyester, nylon and cotton.”
The Test: I take an old pair of cricket trousers outside and rub them on the lawn, then spray some lemon-scented Mr Muscle on the new grass stains and the control sock.
I leave them for 15 minutes, then wash on a normal cycle at 40 degrees with standard washing powder.
The result is astonishing. Not only have the grass stains disappeared, but the trousers look much whiter overall and the control sock almost blinds me with its gleam.
Impressive - though I’m not sure I’d risk it on delicate fabrics.
REMOVE GREASE WITH WHITE CHALK
The Tip: Rubbing white chalk on a stain then washing as normal can, apparently, lift and remove grease.
Expert verdict: “The chalk acts like a blotter, absorbing oil away from the material - so this could work on a number of stains.
“But don’t wash whites with a colour detergent. You need a specific whites product, which deposits brightening agents onto the material. This gradually builds up and makes whites even brighter.”
The Test: Grease stains are common in my house. Rather than napkins, it’s so much easier to wipe little hands on your clothing, isn’t it?
I rub chalk on to the ketchup and butter stains I created on one of my control socks, leave for half-an-hour, then rinse and put it into the washing machine with my usual detergent on a 40-degree wash.
Afterwards, there are still some muddy stains on the sole, but where I applied the chalk to the butter stain, it’s bright white again.
Score: 7/10Daily Mail