I’m a fan of clean towels. So are most of the people I know. However I’ve noticed over the years that no two human beings agree on how to wash textiles.

Consider, for example, this piece of handmade lace to the upper left. It’s made of cotton, which is a natural fiber that breaks down when exposed to excessive light, heat, or water. The more you wash cotton, the more it breaks down. So if you have something with lace on it and it’s stained, it makes sense to pre-treat the stains and gently scrub them out. In fact, lace should be washed by hand and then hung or laid flat to dry, because if you put cotton in the dryer and add heat, it will shrink. Wool and specialty yarns such as angora are even worse for shrinking.

Generally I prefer dark colors for clothing, so I tend to wash my belongings in cold water. I also like to read care labels. Clothing that has a lot of Spandex or other elastic, such as leggings or lingerie, generally needs to be washed in cold water and then hung to dry. Hot water is extremely hard on cotton and on anything that’s supposed to stretch. So is a great deal of drying heat. In fact, if you wash a brand-new set of running shorts in hot water and dry them on the highest heat available, they will generally wear out completely after the first half-dozen washings. However if you do as I do and follow the care instructions, you can enjoy the same garment for years.

When I buy clothing for work, although I try to find discounted items that are available for less I generally head for the discount rack of a higher-end department store. There, I consistently find high quality items that will last for more than one season. I pay about the same as I would pay if I were buying off the rack in a lower-end department store or a big-box store, except the quality is superior. I pay only a fraction of what a similar quality garment would cost in a boutique. The garment is built to last, so I take care of it to ensure it does. In this way, I find that I can consistently look good without having to re-purchase my wardrobe constantly. I’m a tightwad, so I seldom buy anything that has to be dry cleaned, but I’ve found that the Dryel product does a competent job of cleaning and steaming pants, blazers, and business attire. Also, with a little bit of work from my iron, I can keep clothing looking like new for a long time.

I separate my laundry by color. I wash reds, pinks, and oranges together, occasionally with purples. Blacks go with dark blues, grays, and other colors that won’t be harmed if something runs. Whites and extremely pale colors go together. I likewise separate the laundry by type. Heavier items such as towels, jeans, and bedspreads generally require more vigorous washing and a longer dry time, possibly on a hotter cycle. Casual knits such as socks, underwear, or T-shirts need not dry as long. I’m not a fan of putting light knits or delicates together with heavier items. If I absolutely must wash, say, a piece of something lacy, I isolate it in a lingerie bag and then hang it or lay it out to dry.

After I finish my laundry, I hang it up and put it away so that it doesn’t get dirty before I wear it. This is something not everyone does, but then again I’m not the only person living in my home. I have an uppity Chihuahua who loves to burrow (and shed) in warm piles of laundry. I also live in a very windy, dusty city. Clothing not put away needs to be washed again in short order. So I find it best to stay organized. I have enough clothing to last a week or two so that I don’t wear the same outfit twice in one week at work, but there are some pants and jackets I like to wear every week. I own two pairs of towels and an extra. This means I have to do laundry at least once a week. The advantage to living this way is that I can identify and repair (or discard) worn clothing quickly, and I never have to do a lot of laundry: I can fit it in around other chores.

My attitude toward clothing is not universal. Some of the young people I know truly believe that clothing is expendable. They buy items expecting to use them two or three times and then discard them. Yet if I spend $15 on a shirt and wear it fifteen times per year for an average of two years or thirty wearings, I pay about 50 cents per wearing. The person who pays $5 for a shirt and discards it after five wearings pays twice as much. Yes, there is turnover when they replace the clothing they trash by washing it on too hot of a cycle or not taking the time to get the stains out. Yes, the turnover allows (I should say “requires”) them to go clothes shopping more often and to have what appears to be a larger and more varied wardrobe. But they spend three or four times more than I do.

Another way your tenant may be accustomed to spending more is in the act of washing the laundry. I have it on good authority that to wash an average-sized load of laundry at a commercial laundromat in my city costs $6, and drying costs extra. The minimum wage is less than $8. So it’s plausible that a person could easily spend an hour’s worth of take-home pay doing a single load of laundry. It’s very probable, then, that your tenant has gotten into the habit of combining loads of laundry by not separating colors or textures. If your tenant dresses shabbily with clothing that shows a lot of wear, at least some of it is probably showing signs of being badly laundered.

Having easy, free, in-house access to laundry machines is a luxury. Many of your tenants will appreciate it and regard it as a perk of renting from you. It definitely beats carrying a basket or two down to a central building at the apartment complex or to a laundromat some distance away. But your tenant’s level of laundry satisfaction doesn’t mean it’s wise to combine laundry unless you’re increasing the rent enough to make it worthwhile for you to do all the work yourself. I’ve just spent several paragraphs explaining why your tenant most likely isn’t going to be able to do the chore well enough to suit you, so¬†don’t let your tenant do your laundry. If you’re letting your tenant barter labor, choose something besides laundry.

Your odds of teaching your tenant how to do laundry are about 0%, unless you’ve got an elderly upper-class woman, an elderly man, or a student who has just left home. People in these categories are accustomed to having other people do their work for them. The upper-class woman had staff, the elderly man had a wife, and the student had a mom. (That’s a sexist but unfortunately mostly true way of describing things.) A person who genuinely has never learned how to do laundry may be receptive. Everyone else thinks they already know it all.