Solve Your Laundry Problems

Here are smart ways to deal with common laundry problems such as grayness and yellowing, fading and shrinking, and pilling. Even better, you can avoid them altogether by taking these preventive measures.


We've all done it. We've rushed through a load of laundry to get to other urgent items on our to-do list or to something we enjoy more. And we end up with clothes that are discolored, faded, or shrunk. Many of problems can be avoided by following these basic guidelines:

  • Properly sort the laundry. Divide by texture (materials that produce lint and those that attract it), fabric (clothing items of similar fabric go together), level of soiling (separate heavily soiled from lightly soiled), and color (whites, lights, darks, items that bleed color). Click here for a fabric care guide.
  • Always follow product instructions regarding the correct amount of detergent for the type of laundry load you're doing. 
  • Use the most appropriate water temperature for the fabric you're washing.

After the fact and when attempting to avoid common laundry issues, take these steps.

Laundry Troubleshooting

Dealing with Overall Grayness

Overall laundry grayness is caused by an insufficient amount of detergent, low water temperatures, or incorrect sorting. To reduce grayness, increase the amount of detergent, use a detergent booster or bleach, or increase the wash temperature.

Before beginning a load, however, sort heavily soiled items from lightly soiled items, and carefully sort by color to prevent grayness. 

Dealing with Uneven Grayness

Uneven laundry grayness is caused by an insufficient amount of detergent, the water temperature being set too low, or improper sorting. Sort garments by color, and rewash with an increased amount of detergent, using the hottest water safe for the fabric.

To prevent uneven laundry grayness, use a sufficient amount of detergent and wash in the hottest water safe for the fabric.

Editor's Tip: Finding the right amount of detergent can be tricky. Too much detergent creates as much of a problem as too little. To determine the proper amount of detergent, start with the product's recommended quantity. If it leaves a residue or creates too many suds, test for the right amount in subsequent loads: Reduce the detergent you add to a load of laundry in increments until you find the appropriate measure for your clothing type, load size, and cleaning needs. Mark the detergent measuring cup with the appropriate level. Mark individual lines or several measuring cups for different kinds of loads.

Dealing with Yellowing

Yellowing is likely caused by a buildup of body soil. Increase the amount of detergent in your wash load, or use a product with a detergent booster or fabric-safe bleach. If you like, try both methods at once.

To prevent yellowing, always use a sufficient amount of detergent.

Dealing with Blue Stains

Detergent or fabric softener that doesn't dissolve or disperse might cause blue stains. If detergent is causing the problem, immerse the garment in a solution of 1 cup white vinegar to 1 quart water. Soak for one hour, then rinse and launder. If fabric softener created the stains, rub the stains with a bar soap, then rinse and launder.

To prevent stains, add detergent and turn on the washer before adding laundry. Dilute any fabric softener with water before adding it to a wash or rinse cycle or to the dispenser.

Dealing with Powder Residue

Powder residue is usually caused by undissolved detergent. Run the laundry through an additional rinse cycle to remove the residue. Avoid the problem by always adding the detergent before turning on the washer and adding the laundry.

Dealing with Stiffness or Fading

Hard water might cause stiffness or fading. Use a liquid laundry detergent, or add a water softener to your granular detergent to reduce the problem.

Dealing with Lint

Lint is likely caused by a mixed load of laundry that contains items that give off lint, such as terry cloth, napped velour, or corduroy. Other possible culprits include facial tissues left in pockets, a clogged washer lint trap, or a full dryer lint screen. Pick off the biggest pieces of lint or shredded tissue before putting clothes in the dryer. Remove the garments while they're still damp and shake off any lint that you can. Use a clothes brush or lint roller to remove any remaining debris.

Help prevent future lint with these steps: Check all pockets for tissues and other debris before putting garments into the washer. Wash lint-producing items separately or only with like fabrics. Clean the washer lint trap at least four times a year. (Look in the owner's manual to find the lint trap location, or look along the top rim of the tub). Clean the dryer lint screen after every load.

Dealing with Pilling

Pilling is caused by wear and is a characteristic of some synthetic and permanent-press fabrics. If necessary, use a lint brush or roller with masking tape to remove pills. Adding a fabric softener in the washer or dryer might also help. When ironing, use a spray starch or fabric finish on collars and cuffs, using a medium setting to avoid scorching delicate synthetic fabrics.

Dealing with Shrinking

Shrinking can't be reversed, so avoid the problem by following care instructions on labels. Shrinking is less likely if you reduce the drying time and remove garments when they are slightly damp -- which is especially important for cotton knits.

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