Everyone loves to take a little bit of vacation home with them, but the bit they’re thinking of usually isn’t sand. Unfortunately, sand that’s migrated into shoes, pockets, and hems is the sneakiest post-vacay tagalong. While the right gear can help (one beach must-have: a mesh tote bag for towels!), you can’t avoid carrying home at least a few errant grains after a day on the dunes. 

Here’s how experts purge grit from their clothes and prevent it from popping up in unpleasant spots — including the washing machine.

Use fabric softener as a preventive measure.

A brief science lesson: Sand is hydrophilic, which means it’s attracted to water, says Jessica Ek, one of the experts at the American Cleaning Institute. That’s why it covers every millimeter of your feet as soon as you step out of the waves. Fabric softener, however, is hydrophobic — that is, it repels water. Wash items like your tote in fabric softener before you go to the beach, and less sand will stick to them while you’re there. (Just don’t use the technique on your towels, Ek says — fabric softener makes them less absorbent.)

Make your new mantra “dry and shake.”

Let your swimsuit and other wet items dry completely before even attempting to get the sand off, Ek says. (See above, re: how much sand loves water.) Ideally, hang them outside so you minimize the debris you bring into your home. If that’s not possible, drape the pieces above the bathtub, which will be much easier to vacuum (when dry) or wipe down than, say, an area rug. Once the fabric is dry, shake it until you’ve removed as much sand as possible.  

Of course, despite the mightiest shakes, sand still often makes its way into hidden pockets, creases, and folds. If that’s the case, Ek suggests soaking items in cold water mixed with a small amount of detergent for about 10 minutes. “That will help release the sand,” she says. Allow the fabric to fully dry before giving it another jiggle. This works for sneakers, too — just check the care label first to make sure you can get them wet, and then after the soak, crumple a little newspaper inside to help them dry faster. “With any of these things, if at first you don’t succeed, try again, and it will get a little bit more out with each step,” Ek says.

Whatever you do, don’t put wet, sandy clothes in the washer.

“That is the key, key, key, key, key,” says Shirley Hood, an appliance specialist with Abt Electronics. “It is almost impossible, depending on the amount of sand, to get it out of the washing machine completely.” A gritty washer is more than just a nuisance: It can mix with detergent residue that’s already in your drain lines and, over time, further gunk them up. Then you’ll have no choice but to call in a pro to clean them. 

If it’s too late, grab the vacuum.

Say you’re reading this because you already tossed in a load of soggy bathing suits. Don’t totally despair. First, be patient and let the machine dry before attempting to get the sand out, Hood says. Then, use the hose attachment on your vacuum to suck out as much sand as you can, and wipe up what’s left with a microfiber cloth. If your washing machine has a drain pump in the front, clean the filter. Look for a little square opening by the door, pull out the filter, and dump it. You’ll probably find some wadded-up tissues and pennies that were left behind in pockets during previous loads, too.

Apartment Therapy’s Laundry, Sorted vertical was written and edited independently by the Apartment Therapy editorial team and generously underwritten by Samsung.