16 surprising things you can clean in your washing machine

My washing machine is churning right now, busily working on a soapy load of jeans. It’s one of the most active appliances in our house, dutifully returning my daughter’s winter jacket to snowy white, rescuing that pair of socks my husband foolishly wore outside without shoes, or just whirring its way through another endless pile of dirty T-shirts.

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16 surprising things you can clean in your washing machine
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16 surprising things you can clean in your washing machine

Stuffed animals

My daughter’s stuffed-animal buddies look like sweet little softies, but most of them are tougher than they look. From Beanie Babies to Barbie clothes, the washing machine’s gentle or delicate cycle can handle many of them. Note on Barbie: I wouldn’t put the doll herself in the washer, and to keep her tiny clothes from getting lost or snagged, I slip them into a small mesh lingerie bag that zips shut. And any absolutely precious dolls — such as Grandma’s beloved Raggedy Ann — should be washed delicately by hand, perhaps with a soapy toothbrush. Hello, Dolly!

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Tennis shoes

Whether you call them tennis shoes, sneakers or, as the Brits do, “trainers,” we all know athletic footwear can get filthy. To wash in a machine, first take out the laces and zip them inside a small mesh lingerie bag. Toss the lace bag in the washer along with your shoes and some old towels (the towels will balance the load and minimize the annoying banging noise). Oh, and if the shoes are super-muddy, rinse off the mud in a utility sink or brush it off with a wet paper towel before washing. When they come out, your sole will be heeled.

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Mop heads

Mops are great for cleaning, but what happens when the mop heads themselves get dirty? Removable mop heads (not sponge mops) can be taken off and tossed in the washer by themselves, perhaps with a little bleach. When the cycle’s over, squeeze out any excess water and just hang them up somewhere to dry.

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Cloth and silicone oven mitts

Oven mitts protect cooks’ hands from the oven’s heat, but cloth ones also soak up stains from cake batter, bubbling lasagna or anything else they accidentally touch. No fear, it’ll all pan out if you give the mitts a good wash. If stains are especially bad, work on them with a small soapy brush before handing the job off to your washer. Silicone oven mitts won’t soak up liquids as you cook — most are waterproof, nonporous and stainproof. So in addition to having superior heat resistance, since they’re made of silicon, you can just wipe them off — or, if you prefer, toss them in the washing machine or even the dishwasher!

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Small toys

Kids’ toys can get filthy — and germy, too. Small toys, such as especially dirty plastic blocks, can be tossed into a mesh laundry bag and washed (again, throw in some old towels to even things out and make it less noisy). Bath toys can also be washed this way if the suds from the tub don’t clean them. Warning though: The kind of bath toys with holes in them so kids can squirt water often get moldy inside no matter how careful parents are. Thankfully, they’re cheap and easy to replace if this does happen.

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Shower curtains

Shower curtains and their plastic liners can get kinda gross. Toss them in a warm-water cycle and let them take their own shower. (Really, the biggest headache about doing this is standing there and patiently unhooking the curtain and liner from all the hanging hooks, then doing it in reverse when the curtain is clean. Still, it’s worth it.

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Yoga mats

Stay calm, yoga fans: Your yoga mats can usually go in the washer on the gentle cycle with some mild detergent. Unroll it first so all the little angles get clean, and wash it separately from your clothing. If the mat just has some small stains, you can of course just tackle those by hand with a few squirts of detergent and some elbow grease. Lay your mat flat to dry so it doesn’t curl up, which might harsh your next yoga session.

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Sports padding

Here’s a new one to me: Your family’s sports padding, such as roller-skating knee and wrist pads or soccer shin guards, can get sweaty and dirty, but thankfully such pads are often machine-washable. Toss them in a mesh laundry bag or zip-up pillow case — their straps and buckles might bang up your machine otherwise.

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Patio furniture cushions

Size does matter. If your patio-furniture cushions fit in your washer, while still leaving room for the machine to spin, go ahead and wash them there — again, unless tags on the material warn you off. If your washer is too small, you can try the industrial-size ones at the laundromat.

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Pet beds

Fluffy and Fido may love their soft, snuggly beds, but doggone it, they can stink them up something awful. Good mews: Cat and dog beds can often go right into the washer. If the bed is too large for your washer, you can take it to a laundromat — or better yet, check to see if the cover is removable, and just wash that. PetMD.com recommends that all pet bedding you launder should be washed at a high temperature to kill germs. If your dog or cat has sensitive skin, use a natural detergent and give the bed an extra rinse cycle. Purr-fect!

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Nylon pet collars and leashes

While we’re talking furry friends, their collars and leashes can get as grungy as a Seattle radio station. If the items are made of nylon, as many are, you can scrub the stink away in your washer (put the items in a mesh bag first, and take off the ID tags for best results). Leather collars are different of course — a simple mild soap of mix of baking soda and water is recommended, with an old toothbrush to give them a scrub. (Don’t put leather items in the sun to dry, as it could cause them to crack.) It’s the leashed you could do for your pets.

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Pillows

Whether you use them for pillow fights or just snoozing, pillows can get dirty quickly. Consumer Reports recommends washing them twice a year. While you’ll want to wash down or feather pillows by hand, most foam-filled or synthetic pillows can handle the washing machine’s gentle cycle on the shortest time you can give them. Remove the cases to wash separately, and throw one or two naked pillows in at a time (two helps balance the load). Sweet dreams!

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Baseball caps

Three strikes, and you might think your athlete’s baseball cap is out. Caps get a real workout thanks to sweat and dirt on the diamond. (And even those worn by non-jocks can soak up sweat, especially on sunny days.) An owner of Americap, a cap-manufacturing company, told the Chicago Tribune that washing machines are OK for most caps, but check it out and read the tag first. If it’s a cheapo cap — look for flimsy stitching and a cardboard visor — it’s likely to fall apart faster than a rookie pitcher’s composure.

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Reusable canvas grocery bags

Three strikes, and you might think your athlete’s baseball cap is out. Caps get a real workout thanks to sweat and dirt on the diamond. (And even those worn by non-jocks can soak up sweat, especially on sunny days.) An owner of American, a cap-manufacturing company, told the Chicago Tribune that washing machines are OK for most caps, but check it out and read the tag first. If it’s a cheapo cap — look for flimsy stitching and a cardboard visor — it’s likely to fall apart faster than a rookie pitcher’s composure.

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Backpacks

One of my daughter’s favorite kiddie songs used to be Bill Harley’s “Down in the Backpack,” which tells of the disturbing debris left in a school kid’s bag. (Yogurt! Tuna fish! “Something covered in mold!”) If your kid’s backpack resembles a petri dish, give it a wash. Turn the pack inside-out first, and if possible, throw it in a mesh bag or pillowcase that you then tie shut. This will keep the straps from getting twisted or tangled. (And if your kid has a paper ID tag or other identifying mark hanging from the pack, remove it first.) Line drying is usually recommended. The pack will be back to school in no time.

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Cloth lunch boxes

In ye olde days (OK, the 1970s and earlier), lunch boxes were made of metal, all the better to crack the fifth-grade bully over the head with. Manufacturers switched to plastic, and now many are insulated sacks and boxes made from cloth. And they’re not as easy to clean as their forebears. Smushed peanut butter and jelly goo works its way into the cloth and stays there like a kid stuck in detention. Fortunately, most of these cloth sacks and lunch boxes can go right in the washer in a warm-water load. If possible — this is easier with the sack-shaped variety — turn them inside-out first, to get at the grimy areas for A-plus results.

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I usually just empty our regular clothes hampers full of standard dirty clothing into the washer and don’t think twice about it. But over the years, I’ve also thrown everything from car mats to pillows in the washer, and they’ve all come out fine.

Two tips to avoid disasters: Check individual items first to make sure they’re not labeled hand-wash only. If an item is absolutely irreplaceable, best to hand-wash it in a sink with some Woolite rather than risk the washer.

Now, here’s a look at 16 items your washing machine can handle. Soon, you’ll be cleaning up big-time.

 

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