Ask The Clothing Doctor

Welcome to the Mac-Gray laundry forum! I am Steve Boorstein, The Clothing Doctor. I will be your clothing care expert. I spent 20 years in the high-end drycleaning business, but I've also written four books on laundry and hosted two DVDs on clothing care, so I know about dirty laundry! Write me about caring for everything made from fabric; washing, cleaning, stain removal and storage.

Before I begin answering questions, let's get a few facts straight:

Before you treat a stain, make sure you know if it's watery or oily!

  • Water-based stains contain water, NO oil.
    • You can identify water-based stains such as coffee, wine, beer and blood because they have a ring around the outside (like a road map).
    • Water-based stains need water or club soda (and an occasional "stain stick").
  • Oil-based stains contain oil, but NO water, so water and soap will not help to remove them!
    • Oil-based stains such as butter, mayonnaise, and olive oil will look blotchy and have NO ring around the stain.
    • Most oily stains require drycleaning.
    • Oily stains that do not come out in the wash will look blotchy after washing.

Know a few first aid hints:

  • Never rub a fabric — blot only with a dry white cloth or napkin.
  • Be careful about putting water or club soda on dryclean-only clothing, such as silk and acetate, because they can bleed the dye and cause rings.
  • If in doubt, blot with a dry white cloth and STOP, until you can write me or show the garment to a professional.

Click on a category below to see frequently asked questions along with my helpful hints to keep your laundry clean!

Clothing Care
Color Bleeding

Hi! At home, I usually washed my clothes in cold water on the delicate cycle. But at college, the delicate cycle automatically uses warm water. I noticed that the woolen cycle uses cold water. Is the woolen cycle an acceptable alternative to delicate, but just with cold water?
- Amelia

Answer: Hi Amelia,

Yes, the woolen cycle uses cold water and will work as an alternative to the gentle cycle. However, if you have ground-in stains or specific soil, then consider pre-treating the area before washing.

Steve — The Clothing Doctor

I am currently involved in a debate over cold-water usage for sustainability reasons. Is laundry detergent less efficient when used with cold water? What is the coldest water temperature that will still wash laundry effectively?
- DW

Answer: Thank you for your question. It is true that cold water cycles are much more environmentally-friendly than traditional hot water or warm water cycles. This is because most of the energy exerted by your washer (70 – 90% depending on washer type) is dedicated to heating the water. Cold water cycles effectively clean normally soiled clothing when used properly. Laundry detergent disperses more slowly in cold water, so it’s best to avoid powder detergent, and if possible select detergent specially formulated for cold water washing. In some cases, cold water cycles can be even more effective at cleaning clothes than hot water cycles since certain stains are actually lifted more easily when treated with cold water. For example, cold water assists in removing protein stains like blood or egg, but hot water is likely to set this stain in the clothing. If you have any stains, especially oil-based stains, it is always best to pre-treat it before washing it in cold water just to be safe. Remember that many organic oil stains (food oils) are more difficult to remove than machine oils, and may require dry cleaning or very hot wash water.

Finally, you bring up the important point of water temperature. Water temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit are not as effective at cleaning clothing. Generally-accepted cold water guidelines vary, but as long as you take the appropriate steps for your cold water wash, your clothing should be effectively cleaned at 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Be aware that wash temperatures vary with the seasons (water temperatures can hit the 30s in winter), so you may need to consider using a warm cycle if you live in a very cold climate. In warmer parts of the country, this isn’t typically an issue.

Can I dry whites and darks together?

- Joanne

Answer: Hi Joanne, thanks for writing! This is a loaded question, but it really depends on the fabric, the type of dyes — your comfort zone — and whether you are talking about "black and navy" as dark items. I assume you want dry dark and white together to save time? In most cases, a dark pair of blue jeans can be dried with lighter colors, but if the jeans are Indigo dyed — like many of the 7 for All Mankind — you may still have some dye bleeding or "rubbing" occurring during the drying cycle. I dry "darks and lights" together all the time, but rarely WHITE and dark. However, if you still want to do this, then rub a white cloth against the dark items before putting in the dryer. If dark dye comes off on the white towel, then it may be risky. By the way. we now sell a a product called Dye-Lock that "seals" dyes in the washer, so reds don't bleed onto white, etc. You can get this on if you are interested.

Good luck!

Steve Boorstein - The Clothing Doctor

Hi, I have a question about the washing machine. We have 6 functions: Hot, Perm. Press, Colors, Delicates & Knits, Quick Cycle, and Brights. I have clothing that requires cold water - not fast spin cycle. I've used Normal or Wool functions for this, but our machine does not have that option. I think Delicates & Knits is a fast cycle, but that is warm wash. Brights is a cold wash, but a slow spin cycle. On which function can I wash my clothing best: Brights or Delicates & Knits? Thanks,

Answer: Hi Laura,

Thank you so much for your question!

To start, you are correct that most clothing would benefit from being washed in a cold water cycle. Not only does cold water clean just as effectively as warmer water - it preserves colors and fabrics as well. And, it's green! Since up to 70% of the energy exerted by the washer is used to heat the water, choosing cold water cycles saves energy and our planet!

To answer your question: the cycle options on different washing machines vary slightly - but the cycle settings on our newest High-Efficiency Front-Load Maytag machines are as follows:

Whites - Hot - Medium Speed
Colors - Warm - Medium Speed
Bright Colors - Cold - Fast Speed
Delicates & Knits - Warm - Slow Speed
Perm. Press - Warm - Medium Speed
Quick Wash - Warm - Medium Speed

Depending on the type of clothing and the amount of colors, you should choose between the Bright Colors and Delicates & Knits cycle. And remember: extremely soiled clothing may need a hotter cycle to clean completely.

Hi! Can you tell me how many degrees is warm wash (Delicates and Knits) Is that 30 or 40 degrees? Thanks!

- Lisa

Answer: Hi Lisa,

Thank you for your question!

A warm water wash is typically 85-105 degrees Fahrenheit. (30-40 Celsius)
A hot water wash is typically 120 degrees Fahrenheit. (Approximately 50 Celsius)
A cold water wash is typically 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit. (20-25 Celsius)

In winter months, in regions where it tends to get colder, these temperatures may drop slightly, so please keep that in mind when choosing your wash cycles.

I wash all my clothes in cold water. I dry them on the lowest setting. But still all my husband's t-shirts and button downs shrink! I don't have space to hang and air dry everything, so what do I do to further prevent all of his clothes from being too small? I use an LG front-loading washer and dryer which are less than 2 years old. Could there be a problem with my equipment?

- Mandi Lynne Barrett

Answer: Hi Mandi, unless the shirts are 100% cotton, and have not been stabilized, then they should not be shrinking from cold water and low heat. However, I need to know where they are shrinking; collar/neck, girth (around the body), sleeves ... or all? Are the shirts a poly blend or 100% cotton. Are other shirts shrinking, too?

Best, Steve — The Clothing Doctor

Hi, I'm trying to wash a few tops that have just a tiny bit of olive oil on them. I have spot treated them, and will air dry them afterwards. However, I can't remember if I should wash them in cold or hot water. Thanks!

- Abigail

Answer: Abigail, I will be somewhat surprised if the oil comes out in the wash, but I would pretreat and then wash as hot as the label allows. Good for you for remembering to air dry ALL stained items. If it doesn't come out, or looks blotchy after air drying, then I'd take them to the drycleaners!

Good luck, The Clothing Doctor

Hi, I normally wash my clothes on the gentle spin-cold water cycle to prevent shrinkage and damage. At my dorm this year, there is no option to do that on. I can only do a gentle spin-warm water wash or a high spin-cold water wash. Which of those two cycles would be the best/least likely to shrink or otherwise ruin my clothes? I won't feel comfortable washing my clothes here until I know which cycle will clean them without ruining them. Thanks for your help, Shannon

Answer: Shannon, warm warm water may contribute to shrinkage, but hi-speed extraction usually "beats up" clothing over time. I would go with the gentle spin and warm. If there's something more delicate then spin and then air dry the rest of the way if you can. You can also buy some mesh wash nets at to reduce the wear on clothing.

Best — The Clothing Doctor

I have a new tennis uniform that is 92% polyester and 8% spandex. The directions on the tag say do NOT tumble dry, I'm guessing this is to prevent shrinking. However my uniform is a little to big and I would like It to shrink! Is it safe to tumble dry if I do want it to shrink?
- Natalie McNitt

Answer: Natalie, It's tough to know the answer to this without seeing and inspecting the outfit, but I can tell you that heat from drying could, over time, affect the elastic and lycra and stretch memory. However, if the outfit cannot be altered, and you won't wear it unless it shrinks, I would try tumbling it on a low temperature to see if it helps. If it does help, then do it again, and maybe increase the heat a bit. It's always best to take it slowly, one step at a time.

Best - The Clothing Doctor

I know that heat sets stains, but I have a whipped cream stain on my cotton polyester shirt. The care instructions say to wash warm so is there any way to avoid setting the stain while washing it?
- Jonathan Boyd

Answer: Jonathan, should not be a problem with warm or hot water on polyester. However, after applying a stain remover and washing, be sure to AIR DRY the shirt, so the heat of drying does not "set" the stain.

Best - Steve, The Clothing Doctor

Didn't find the answer to your question? Click here to Ask The Clothing Doctor.