10 Cheap(ish) Laundry Aids to Help Your Clothes Look Better
Jun 01, 2023
Our previous sweater comb pick, the Laundress Sweater Comb, is no longer available. We’ve replaced it with a new top pick, the Naadam Cashmere Comb.
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All clothes wear out—but you can breathe new life into tired duds and keep beloved staples looking better for longer with the right supplies and a little know-how. We consulted Patric Richardson, a textile care expert and author of Laundry Love, and Madeline Miller, a laundry specialist, for some advice. Ahead: the best products and tips for washing, drying, and maintaining your clothes so you can enjoy them for years to come.
In our tests, Tide Ultra Stain Release removed more stains than the other 16 detergents we tried, and it’s gentle enough to clean most fabrics.
No-rinse detergents gently clean clothes with minimal handling. Soak is equally adept with silks and woolens, so you can use it to pamper all of your fussy items.
If you want to really baby your wools, this no-rinse detergent has lanolin, which softens and protects knits (and smells great while doing it).
Because the rinsing, spinning, and shimmying of machine agitation can lift textile fibers and leave fabrics pilled, fuzzy, or dull—and doing it often exacerbates the damage—we recommend hand washing the clothes you treasure. For the most part, you don’t need a specialty detergent to do it; ordinary Tide, the top pick in our guide to the best laundry detergents, is mild enough for most fabrics and is highly effective against stains. But use it only on plant-based or synthetic fibers—it contains protease, an enzyme that might break down protein-based fibers such as silk and wool.
When washing those sorts of delicates, we recommend a no-rinse detergent to minimize handling. Of the 22 hand-washing detergents we tested, our favorite for the job was Soak, which is widely available and versatile enough to hand wash a range of persnickety fabrics, from gauzy silks to chunky wools. A small squirt is enough for a sinkful of water, so even with weekly use, a 12-ounce bottle lasted one Wirecutter editor almost a year. We particularly like the mild “celebration” fragrance, but it comes in a scentless formulation, too.
If you’re tasked with washing wool by itself, the no-rinse Eucalan Fine Fabric Wash cleans slightly better than Soak, and it also contains softening and protective lanolin, a naturally occurring wool wax. Keep in mind that lanolin can attract dirt and grime to non-woolens, though. For either no-rinse cleanser, the process is simple: Mix a small quantity into a basin of cool to lukewarm water, let your garment soak, then gently press out the water and lay it flat to dry. At first, it may feel odd to skip a rinse, but we’ve found that having fewer steps to do makes it more likely that we’ll actually bother to hand wash the items that need extra care.
Mesh laundry bags protect delicates from friction in the washing machine. These have a rugged mesh body that doesn’t snag and, unlike others we tried, elastic zipper covers that stay closed in the wash. They’re also half the price.
Although hand washing is the most careful cleaning method, it’s also more time-consuming. If you prefer the ease of a machine, a mesh bag can protect bras, swimsuits, and sweaters from at least some of the commotion. You have plenty of serviceable options, but we recommend the Muchfun Honeycomb Mesh Laundry Bags. In our testing, soap and water moved freely through the mesh fabric to clean our clothes—in our experience, bags with finer mesh can trap soap and prevent a thorough rinse. Though the weave was bigger than some we tried, we never worried about rips or snags—the robust polyester construction feels incredibly durable.
The Muchfun bags’ zippers are secured with snug elastic covers, which prevent accidental unzipping in the wash (a problem we encountered with The Laundress delicates bags), so your items stay safely contained. The Muchfun set has three sizes, perfect for containing a variety of garments. The small bag fits a few pairs of underwear or wool socks, the medium is ideal for a couple of bras or a delicately embroidered top, and the large comfortably contains a chunky knit sweater. At about $7 for three bags, this set also delivers an excellent value—it’s less than half the price of The Laundress bags, which come in a set of two and feel less sturdy.
Hang wet clothes to protect them from shrinkage and wear in the dryer. This durable, accordion-style rack holds a surprising number of garments and folds compactly for storage.
This horizontal rack prevents knits from stretching and warping with gravity. The OXO Folding Sweater Dryer’s secure mesh lets air flow around your garments for faster drying. It’s also easy to set up, stack multiples, and fold for storage.
Tumble drying, especially at high temperatures, is brutal on clothes. The heat stresses fabrics, causes natural fibers to shrink, and can even melt some synthetics. If you have delicate items (or if you just want your favorites to last longer), air-drying is best.
For most garments—from bras and socks to tees and blue jeans—an accordion-style drying rack is practical, compact, and easy to store. But you should keep one thing in mind. “Wet clothes can be quite heavy,” said textile care expert Patric Richardson, so you’ll want something sturdy, too. Most drying racks are pretty similar, but in testing, the Amazon Basics Foldable Laundry Rack did a great job at a lower price than others we tried. Its durable steel construction held the weight of a damp bath towel, a pair of jeans, and several shirts on clothes hangers without wobbling or buckling.
With 11 rods, the Amazon Basics Foldable Laundry Rack offers an impressive amount of hanging space in a modest footprint, and it easily tucks under a bed or into a closet when folded. But if you regularly hang-dry most of your laundry, consider a bigger rack. We like the gull-wing-style Songmics Clothes Drying Rack with Adjustable Shelves, which has 33 durable stainless steel rails that can readily accommodate a full load. It’s double the price of the Amazon Basics rack, and its larger size makes it tougher to store, so we only recommend it if you need the extra space.
Of course, some items shouldn’t be hung on a traditional rack. “Heavier, knitted garments and natural fibers like wool and cashmere are more sensitive when wet, and hang drying can cause fabric strain and fit distortion,” cautioned laundry specialist Madeline Miller. Instead, press out excess water by gently rolling sweaters, coats, and other heavy knits in a towel, then lay them flat to dry. In a pinch, you can spread your items on a fresh towel, but for much faster drying, we recommend the OXO Folding Sweater Dryer. In our tests, its mesh surface allowed air to flow around all sides of our clothes, and it didn’t sag under the weight of even our heaviest wool coats. If you have a lot of sweaters, multiple racks also stack easily and securely. And the mesh is taut on the frame, so heavy sweaters don’t sag and droop onto wet garments below. Other stacking racks we tried, such as the Storage Maniac Sweater Drying Rack, required finicky disassembly for storage, but the OXO rack’s feet collapse smoothly and the whole thing folds in half, making it a cinch to stash away.
A steamer is gentler on delicate fabrics than an iron. Our favorite, the Conair Turbo ExtremeSteam, quickly smoothed wrinkles without spitting water. Plus, it has two steam settings and a comfortable hand feel.
Though a standard clothing iron is the best tool for getting heavy creases out of fabrics and creating sharp pleats, it’s most appropriate for materials like cotton or linen, not for silks, cashmere, or other heat-sensitive synthetics. Laundry specialist Madeline Miller explained that the heat and pressure from an iron can crush and warp delicate yarns. “If you’re unsure whether to iron or steam,” she said, “steaming is typically the ‘safer’ choice as it puts less strain on fabrics.”
We tested 17 models for our guide to the best clothing steamers, and the Conair Turbo ExtremeSteam Garment Steamer was our favorite. Its powerful steam blasts quickly erased wrinkles without spitting water—a rarity among the steamers we tried—during both vertical and horizontal use. The Conair steamer’s aluminum steam plate glided smoothly to gently push steam through fabrics, and the mesh bonnet attachment provided extra snag protection when unwrinkling embellished pieces.
It also offers more dispensing control than other handheld versions: The steam setting freshens up lighter garments, and the turbo setting blasts wrinkles from heavier fabrics. At just 2.75 pounds when filled, the Conair Turbo ExtremeSteam Garment Steamer is among the lightest handheld steamers available. Its modest weight and ergonomic design make it more comfortable for prolonged use than any other handheld model we tried. (This is key—even with a lighter model, a garment steaming marathon can be a serious arm workout.)
And though the Conair Turbo ExtremeSteam Garment Steamer doesn’t have the largest capacity of the steamers we tried, its 7.3-ounce water tank is great for medium-size jobs: In testing, one tank produced more than 15 minutes of continuous steam, enough to get through a dress, jacket, pair of slacks, and three cotton button-downs with water to spare.
Our favorite electric fabric shaver has six sharp blades, a wide head, and intuitive controls. Of all the de-pilling tools we tested, it was the most effective at quickly banishing fuzz.
When it comes to de-fuzzing delicate natural fibers, a manual tool is the way to go. This luxurious metal sweater comb was the best one we tried, gently lifting pills from our cashmere sweaters.
A good fabric shaver or sweater comb can transform egregiously pilled garments. Of the two, fabric shavers are more ruthlessly efficient, cutting through fuzzies and chopping off annoying fabric balls with high-speed rotating blades. They’re so satisfying to use that it’s easy to get a little carried away.
To prevent snags or snips, go slowly and always work on a flat surface while holding the fabric taut. (We speak from experience when we say that sweater-shaving while you’re wearing the sweater, no matter how tempting, is a bad idea.) Indeed, our experts cautioned that electric shavers are sometimes too effective—“they can thin out fabrics and lead to rips and holes,” said Miller—so it’s safest to reserve the motorized version for thicker, more-durable synthetic materials. Leggings are especially prone to pilling, and this tool worked wonders to make the worn inner-thigh area on one editor’s old pair look nearly new.
The six blades of the Homeasy Fabric Shaver were more effective at removing pills than blades on similar fabric shavers we tried from Magictec, Beautural, and Conair, which only have three. The wide head helped smooth and flatten fabric, and it made quick work of larger swathes of fuzz.
Fully charged, the Homeasy Fabric Shaver delivers 3 to 6 hours of battery life, depending on which of the three speed settings you choose. That’s plenty of time for nearly a full season of whirring: We de-pilled two pairs of leggings and a sweatshirt in just 15 minutes. It’s also relatively quiet and comfortable to hold, and it comes with two sets of replacement blades.
According to textile care expert Patric Richardson, a metal sweater comb or sweater stone is safer than a shaver for finely woven wools or cashmeres. Our favorite is the Naadam Cashmere Comb. Although it costs more than the combs we tested from Comfy Clothiers, Dritz and Quince, it’s a worthwhile upgrade. Compared with the competition, the Naadam comb was gentler and more effective at lifting pills. And its slightly larger size makes it more efficient with each swipe and easier to hold than other combs we tried.
The Nadaam Cashmere Comb is also the most refined-looking of the bunch, with a solid cedar handle and neatly attached black metal mesh. This might sound silly, but a more elegant tool can elevate the experience of caring for your favorite sweaters—which means you may actually use it more often. The comb from Quince is nearly identical to the Nadaam, but it’s not as nicely constructed—there were visible blobs of dried excess glue where the mesh meets the wood, and the mesh itself was a little uneven—and we think that, for around $5 more, you might as well treat yourself to the sturdier, more attractive comb.
To use, lay your knits flat, then gently glide the comb over pilled areas while pulling fabric taut. Unlike some of the other models we tried, the Nadaam comb holds onto the pills it loosens, meaning that you won’t need to lint roll large shoals of shorn fuzz when you’re done combing. You will want to remove fluff balls from the teeth of this comb as you work to keep it moving smoothly, but they come out easily thanks to its spaced-apart mesh tines.
As a possible alternative to combs, we also tested sweater stones from Dritz and The Laundress, neither of which we recommend. Both shed pumice flakes, smelled sulfuric, and ultimately didn’t accomplish much. In fact, we don’t suggest buying a sweater stone at all—a comb will do a better job with less mess.
This lint roller’s super-sticky paper picks up lint, hair, and dust with just a few swipes. It was the least expensive roller we tried and the most effective—but we don’t like that the refills for it are as expensive as a new roller.
A lint roller is the quickest and easiest way to refresh tired clothes, lifting errant hairs, dust, and fuzz with a few satisfying passes. But not all lint removers are created equal—in our testing, sticky cylinders were more effective than brush- or comb-style tools. They’re also gentler on delicate fabrics, since you don’t need to apply as much pressure.
Our favorite roller was from Scotch-Brite: Its easy-to-tear perforated sheets are supremely tacky, and the smooth rolling action doesn’t jag or skip. It handily outperformed the sleek-looking Flint lint roller, which underwhelmed us with weak adhesive and shabby sheet perforations. Plus, at around $5 for a roll of 95 sheets, the Scotch-Brite Lint Roller is the cheapest lint remover we tried.
The Scotch-Brite’s refills, however, forced us to do a confusing math problem. You need to keep a careful eye on the sheets per roll to get an accurate price, but we actually found them to be more expensive per sheet than the original roller, which is a bummer. Still, you can get plenty of mileage out of a single roll—about two sheets is enough to spiff up an entire outfit.
We interviewed two clothing care specialists for this piece: Patric Richardson, author of Laundry Love and the expert behind The Laundry Evangelist blog, and Madeline Miller, a laundry specialist. We’ve also been testing items for washing, drying, and maintaining clothes at Wirecutter for years.
Zoe Vanderweide wrote Wirecutter’s guide to the best clothing steamers and drew on expertise from our guides to detergent, cashmere care, and more for this guide. As a staff writer covering style, she’s consulted with textile experts, conducted weird laundry experiments, and cleaned, steamed, and freshened her way through countless garments. De-fuzzing fabrics is one of her great passions.
Dorie Chevlen wrote Wirecutter’s blog post on how often you should wash your bath mat. She is the staff writer for the home section, and a hobbyist ballerina, so she’s had a lifetime of experience hang-drying her tights.
We began by polling Wirecutter colleagues about their laundry experiences: Which items did they use, and what techniques did they prefer? We combined these insights with knowledge from expert interviews and compiled a list of gear for consideration. Cross-checking reviews on Amazon, Walmart, and other retailers helped us to flag repeated complaints and narrow the pool.
We decided to only test stuff with over a four-star rating, comparing between two to four models in each category. We didn’t retest detergents and steamers, since we have already extensively researched and tested guides.
In each category, we evaluated specific attributes.
If the Amazon Basics Foldable Laundry Rack that we recommend is out of stock, the Honey-Can-Do DRY-03053 Expandable Drying Rack is another fine option. It’s similar to our pick but slightly more expensive, and it felt a bit less sturdy in our tests.
The Storage Maniac Sweater Drying Rack looks and functions similarly to the OXO rack we recommend—and at about $40 for a set of four, it’s about half the price. But it’s much harder to disassemble and fold for storage than our pick, and it feels wobbly.
We tried two hanging sweater racks—the Snomel 3-Tier Folding Clothes Drying Rack and the JY Living Large Folding Laundry Drying Rack—but we didn’t love them. You need a place to hang them, so if you (like me) don’t have a shower curtain rod, they’re not particularly convenient. (And unless your bathroom has a window, it’s not an ideal setting for drying laundry anyway.) Both were also maddeningly hard to fold for storage.
If our top pick is unavailable, the Conair CompleteCARE Rechargeable Fabric Shaver is a good option. It’s comfortable to hold, and the lint trap is easier to empty than the one on our pick, the Homeasy Fabric Shaver. But the Conair model is considerably more expensive—and less effective at removing pills.
The Magictec Lint Remover was not as powerful as the others we tried, and its small size made it slower and more of a slog to use. We did like that it came with a tiny brush for clearing fuzz out of the blades, though you can repurpose any small brush for this.
We preferred rechargeable models to battery-operated de-fuzzers like the Beautural Fabric Shaver and Lint Remover. Not only was it less powerful than other rechargeable options, but we also noticed its performance markedly declined as the battery wore out.
The Dritz Sweater Comb and Comfy Clothiers Cedar Wood Sweater Comb were more difficult to use than our top pick from Naadam. They have finer teeth, so you have to press harder to remove pills, which increases the likelihood of snagging your garment. They’re also somewhat smaller, so it takes longer to cover the same amount of surface area. And the Dritz comb in particular, with its cheap plastic build, felt less sturdy and refined.
The Quince Cashmere Comb is virtually identical to the Naadam comb, our pick, but it’s not as well-made. Our test model had visible blobs of glue where the metal mesh attaches to the wooden handle, and the mesh itself was a little uneven. While we think this makes it less appealing to use and could make it less durable over time, it didn’t affect its performance in our tests, so if you want to save around $5, this may be a decent option.
We tried two (virtually indistinguishable) sweater stones—The Laundress Sweater Stone and the Dritz Sweater Stone—but we don’t recommend either. Both shed flakes of pumice onto our knits, smelled sulfuric, and weren’t effective.
The insta-ready Flint lint roller comes in a rainbow of hues and certainly looks cute. But its allure is more about branding and aesthetics than performance. The Flint’s adhesive is weak compared with the ultra-sticky sheets of our pick, the Scotch-Brite lint roller, and we found its sheet perforations frustratingly difficult to tear.
We wanted to like a reusable lint-lifter. Although they’re more expensive than disposable rollers, you don’t need to buy refills (or add more paper to landfills). Unfortunately, the OXO Good Grips Furlifter (which OXO mainly suggests for removing pet hair rather than lint), was disappointingly less effective than the sticky rollers we tried.
Of all the tools we tested for this guide, the LintRolled Lint Cleaner Pro was the one that caused the most damage. Even using a light touch, it immediately snagged and frayed a linty sweatshirt. (Luckily, it was possible to mostly fix the resulting rough patch with the aid of our trusty fabric shaver pick, the Homeasy Fabric Shaver.)
This article was edited by Ingela Ratledge Amundson and Jennifer Hunter.
Patric Richardson, textile care expert and author of Laundry Love, email interview, February 9-10, 2022, and October 18-19, 2022
Madeline Miller, product specialist at The Laundress, email interview, March 3, 2022
Zoe Vanderweide is a staff writer reporting on style and accessories at Wirecutter. She has been wearing things for over three decades, and she has spent years covering streetwear, luxury, art, and design. Off the clock, you can find her painting the town rainbow with her (devastatingly stylish) daughter.
Dorie Chevlen is a staff writer from Youngstown, Ohio, now living in Los Angeles. She has worked as a copy editor, fact checker, and sandwich maker, but this is probably her favorite gig. Her writing has also been published in Science, Slate, and The Wall Street Journal, among others. She has been called—both flatteringly and not—“a lot.”
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