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 or whirring its way through another endless pile of dirty T-shirts.
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 into the washer, and they’ve all come out fine.
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 more than a dozen items your washing machine can handle. Soon, you’ll be cleaning up big-time.
1. Stuffed animals
My daughter’s stuffed animal buddies are sweet little softies, but most of them are tougher than they look. From Beanie Babies to Barbie clothes, many of them can be handled in the washing machine’s gentle or delicate cycle.
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.
Any absolutely precious dolls — such as Grandma’s beloved Raggedy Ann — should be washed delicately by hand, perhaps with a soapy toothbrush, and then carefully rinsed with a damp cloth.
2. Tennis shoes
Athletic footwear can get filthy. To wash them in a machine, first, take out the laces and zip those inside a small mesh lingerie bag. Toss the mesh bag in the washer along with the shoes and some old towels. The towels balance the load and minimize the annoying banging noise.
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.
3. 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 hang them up somewhere to dry.
4. 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. Never 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. Since they’re made of silicone, you can just wipe them off. Or, if you prefer, you can toss them in the washing machine or even the dishwasher!
5. 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 some old towels in the load to even things out.)
Bath toys can also be washed this way if the suds from the tub don’t clean them. Warning: The kind of bath toys with holes in them so kids can squirt water or make a squeaky noise often get moldy inside no matter how careful parents are. Thankfully, they’re cheap and easy to replace if this does happen.
6. Plastic shower curtains and liners
Shower curtains and their plastic liners can get kinda gross. Toss them in a warm-water cycle and let them take their own shower.
7. Yoga mats and sports padding
Stay calm, yoga fans: Your yoga mats can usually go in the washer on the gentle cycle with some mild detergent. Unroll the mat first so all the little angles get clean, and wash it separately from your clothing.
If the mat has some small stains, you can 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.
Your family’s sports padding devices, such as roller-skating knee pads 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.
8. Patio furniture cushions
Size does matter. If your patio-furniture cushions fit in your washer and still leave 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-sized ones at the laundromat.
9. 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 of the pet bedding you launder 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!
10. 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, 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 — a simple mild soap or mix of baking soda and water is recommended, using 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.
Whether you use them for pillow fights or just snoozing, pillows can get dirty quickly. Consumer Reports recommends washing them at least 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 those separately, and throw one or two naked pillows in at a time. (Washing two at a time helps balance the load.) Sweet dreams!
12. 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.
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.
13. Reusable canvas grocery bags
We’re so much more aware of waste these days, and some stores have done away with plastic or even paper grocery bags, asking shoppers to bring their own reusable bags. But groceries can leak or spill, and the dirty bag can carry that residue to your next shopping trip.
If your bag is made of canvas or nylon, just toss it in the washer on hot (turn inside-out for best results) and run it through the dryer when done. Is your reusable bag made of plastic, or is it insulated to carry temperature-sensitive items? Wash those by hand, then go ahead and shop till you drop.
Turn a backpack inside-out before washing, and if possible, throw it into a mesh bag or pillowcase that you then tie shut. This will keep the straps from getting twisted or tangled.
Line drying is usually recommended.
15. Cloth lunch boxes
Lunch boxes once 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.