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Freshers' survival: laundry and washing at university

Washing powder or tablets? And what do all those symbols on the washing machine mean? Don’t get into hot water when it comes to laundry at uni...

If you've run out of socks or undies – and it's going to be a while until you can head home with a black bag of smelly washing – it's time to overcome that fear of turning everything pink. 

Read our guide to doing laundry at university and never be put in a spin by the thought of it again...

What are the secrets to surviving first year of uni? Here's what freshers’ students said.

Sorting clothes

Although it's tempting to throw everything in at once, don't! 
  • Separate your clothes by colour (whites, lights and darks) to prevent colours from running or bleeding.
  • Clothes made from the same material should be washed together to avoid them shrinking, losing shape or incurring other damage.
  • Check their label for washing instructions and group similar ones together, within the same colour load.
  • If you're overwhelmed by jargon like 'synthetics' and 'cottons', use the 'weight test' to group clothes together for the same load. Jeans and other denim items are usually the heaviest clothing, and should be washed together.
  • Delicates – like freshers' ball dresses or cosy woolly jumpers for marathon library sessions – should be washed separately, or even by hand, depending on what the label says. 
A quick sorting tip: get into the habit of separating dirty clothes into different bags within your laundry hamper, as you go; this can save time and help you see when you have enough clothes to warrant a load.

Loading the washine machine

It's important that you don't overfill the machine. Your clothes won't wash properly!

Aim for the machine to be roughly 75% full. If you're not sure, do a 'thumbs up' between your clothes and the ceiling of the tub. If you can't, the tub is too full and you should empty a few things.

Don't forget to check the pockets of your clothes for tissues, money, bank cards, gig tickets, drinks receipts etc. If you do miss something and it explodes into a thousand tiny shreds on your washed clothes, use the rough side of a washing-up spounge scourer to scrub them tidy.

The detergent debate

Washing powder, tablets or liquid? Unless you've been kindly sent off to university with detergent in tow, it's a tricky shopping decision that can leave you scratching your head in the laundry aisle.

Gel, liquid and powder are the main contenders, each with their own benefits. All types do the job, so just pick your favourite. Powder tends to be bulkier in size, gel tablets or capsules can be a bit pricier and liquid can be tricky to get the right dose.

Just don't go putting half a bottle of washing-up liquid in the machine, or else you risk a foamy flood!

What washing detergent to use | Which? University

Bio or non-bio, does it matter?

The biological variety contains live enzymes that are generally better at eating stains than non-bios. But, many bio detergents aren't suitable for washing delicate fabrics, like wool or silk – so keep an eye out!

Speaking of stains, we know how to easy it is to wake up after a night out to find your outfit adorned with drinks spillages or stains from a late night snack. Of the home remedies we've tested, good old soapy water was the best at tackling stains (not just on your clothes, but carpets too if you're worried about your rental deposit).

Can you leave fabric softener off the weekly shop?

It does what it says on the tin: makes your clothes feel soft to touch. It also smells great and reduces static. Plus, no more untangling socks and jumpers that have become glued together! You can buy special conditioners for wool, suede and other delicate fabrics, too.
Our tests show that paying a little more gets you a better fabric softener. Don't be suckered into buying a bottle simply because it's on offer.
Beware that putting conditioner directly onto clothes can stain the fabric. The detergent drawer for conditioner is usually marked with a flower on washing machines.
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    Washing machine speak: settings and symbols

    Washing machines can have up to 20 programmes for washing, rinsing and spinning. That's a lot of symbols to debunk!

    The good news is that these will usually match up with what's on the label of your clothes, to help you figure out which setting is best, such as if you need to use a ‘hand wash’ setting (and save you scrubbing).

    For a hassle-free wash – and to help your housemates out – stick a print-out of these symbols next to your washing machine. 

    Temperature: how low should you go?

    Washing at a lower temperature can have its benefits: it reduces running costs, helps the environment by saving energy, and preserves colourful dyed fabrics. In fact, some detergents are even designed to clean better in cooler water. 

    Sometimes you'll need to up the temperature to get the job done. Items like underwear and bedding should be washed at higher temperatures to prevent the spread of bacteria. Anything that's particularly dirty should be done on a hotter wash, too; we're thinking anything that's fallen victim to fancy dress face-paint or messy housemate pranks, for instance...

    Don't stress about shrinkage, as a lot of wardrobe staples can withstand the heat. As a rough guide, the majority of Which? members we asked said they wash clothes at 40°C.

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