Chore wars: Answers to three big arguments about household tasks |

Chore wars: Answers to three big arguments about household tasks

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One sure way to start a quarrel with your partner is to claim there is a “right” way to do certain household chores. So, for the sake of argument, we chose three and asked an expert how she does them. Jan M. Dougherty, long-time owner of a residential cleaning company and author of “The Lost Art of House Cleaning” had plenty to say.

This is the way to wash your clothes

If you always sort darks and lights, Dougherty says you may be wasting your time. “Modern fabrics are almost all color-fast, so there’s no need to sort light and dark colors.” There are exceptions of course, such as dark denim, Indian cotton prints and unstable dyes – red and orange being the primary culprits.

But that doesn’t mean you should toss T-shirts in with your cords. Dougherty maintains it’s best to organize loads “by the weight of the fabric. I do this because then everything in the load will dry at the same rate.”

To prevent bleeding and help clothes last longer, wash everything in cold water. The only items Dougherty washes in hot water are bath towels, sheets and kitchen linens, using bleach when needed. Pre-treat stains as soon as possible. She uses a Rust-Oleum spray called Krud Kutter and then washes the item with the rest of the load. 

Delicates (bras, tights, lacy items) should be put in a lingerie bag so they don’t twist up and get stretched. That bag goes in with the rest of the load. Dougherty says, “Being old school I don’t put them in the dryer at all, but hang them from a line.”

She eschews fabric softener, instead putting vinegar in the softener compartment. “It’s an old-school laundry trick that makes sure all the soap rinses out.” And rather than softener sheets, Dougherty uses wool dryer balls, which reduce lint and static and last for years.

To prevent wrinkles, remove clothes from the dryer as soon as it stops. Hang them up or fold them while still warm. “I haven’t ironed in years except for a half-dozen items that I know absolutely must be ironed before being worn. If the clothes cool before you have a chance to remove them, rerun them on low heat for 10 to 15 minutes.”

And if you’re lazy about the lint trap, Dougherty has one final point. “About 2,900 home clothes dryer fires are reported each year. Clean the lint filter.”

Dishwasher dos and don’ts

There are a few inarguable dishwasher rules. Don’t put anything wooden in the machine. Cutlery tines should point up. Plastics go on the top rack. Dishes should face towards the center, leaning inward. 

Beyond that, Dougherty has a relaxed attitude about her dishwasher. “I don’t rinse my dishes before I put them in. Typically, I just scrape whatever is left into the sink or trash. In my experience, how you load doesn’t make as much difference as what cycle you use. I run the ‘heavy’ cycle for all loads, and everything comes out clean. If I have a really full load I run the ‘pot’ cycle. The only difference between the cycles is the amount of electricity used, which is so small you would have difficulty measuring its impact on your bill.”

Water usage, on the other hand, is measurable. “Just washing a single glass by hand takes about 4 gallons by the time the hot water gets to the faucet, you wash it and then rinse it. A small dishwasher load takes 4 to 8 gallons, total.” It’s almost always more water-efficient to wash dishes in the machine than by hand.

How to organize the fridge and keep it clean

Experts generally recommend putting items that need to stay coldest — dairy, meat, fish — in the back and on the bottom shelf. Dougherty says that, “For me, organization is best dictated by the user. If you are short, load everything to accommodate your height and reach. Same if you are tall, like me. And if you’ve got kids, it might not be a good idea to have milk, for instance, in the back if they can’t reach it.”

Quick-to-spoil items get the Sharpie treatment. “I date items that don’t have a very long shelf life after opening. I use a thick black Sharpie, which is next to refrigerator, to put the day’s date on them. Then, when I do use them, I know how long they have been in there. I do the same thing in my spice cabinet.” Regarding fruits and vegetables: “I don’t wash produce before I store it because it needs to be absolutely dry or will turn into a soggy mess by the time you use it.”

Although she says she’s never cleaned her entire refrigerator at one time, except when moving, Dougherty is assiduous about regular upkeep. “Keeping the refrigerator clean is probably the best way to prevent odors. Wipe up spills or debris as they happen. Typically, I’ll also look for them when the unit is almost empty, just before I go shopping. Baking soda also helps, as does not leaving any unlabeled science experiments hiding on the back of a shelf.”

She says she has one refrigerator pet peeve. “Nobody ever cleans the coils, which are underneath the unit and can become very dusty.” It only needs to be done once a year — twice if you have pets — but your electrical bill will thank you.  

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