If you feel like your clothes aren’t coming out of the washing machine quite as sparkling clean as you expect, there are a few adjustments you can make in order to ensure your clothes look (and smell) fresh. Consumer Reports recently listed a few tips for boosting your machine's efficiency, discovered by its washing-machine testers:

1. DON'T STUFF TOO MANY CLOTHES IN.

It’s tempting to shove as much laundry as possible into one machine (especially if you’re at a laundromat or using a shared machine), but it will come back to bite you. If your clothes don’t have enough room to move around in the drum, they won’t get as clean. Refer to your owner's manual for the maximum load weight and stick to it. Exceed it, and the detergent won’t be able to distribute evenly throughout the load, and some stains might be left untouched.

2. PICK THE RIGHT DETERGENT.

If you feel like your clothes are coming out dirty, more detergent probably isn’t the answer. For one thing, clothes need to rub against each other in the wash to get clean, and too many suds can get in the way. Instead of using more detergent, use better detergent, like Tide Plus Bleach Alternative HE Liquid, which The Sweethome found to be the best at removing stains of the 29 detergents they tested. (Consumer Reports has its own list of best detergents.)

3. USE THAT HEAVY-DUTY CYCLE.

While a regular wash setting is good enough for most loads, if you do have muddy clothes, you might want to choose the heavy-duty option. The heavy duty or heavily soiled cycle has a longer cycle and agitates your clothes more quickly to get as many stains out as possible. This rapid agitation rubs your clothes together and gets that water sudsy for a deeper clean, making it ideal for muddy work clothes—but be warned that it could damage more delicate fabrics.

4. PRE-TREAT YOUR STAINS.

To truly fight stains, you should treat them as soon as possible. Stains are chemical reactions between the staining substance and the fabric, so it’s best to stop those reactions as early as you can. A spray-and-wash option is a good start—the review site Your Best Digs recommends OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover—but it’s also important to know whether to pre-soak, rinse, or rub stains. Different stains require different approaches because the molecules of oils, proteins, and dyes all interact with fabric fibers differently, meaning that some require a warm water soak (grease stains) while others should be rinsed in cold water (blood or dirt).

5. USE THE STEAM FEATURE.

While Consumer Reports has previously said that steam settings are a waste of money in terms of wrinkles, its tests have found that they do clean stains slightly better than a regular wash. If you already have a machine with a steam-clean setting, don't let it go to waste.

No matter how aggressive you want to be in washing your clothes, though, make sure to check the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions first.