You are out shopping with your best friend and you’ve just found the most beautiful piece of clothing to add to your wardrobe. Its versatile and completely you.The fabric on your skin, the color hue against your complexion, and the fit—as if it was made for you, ready to be off the rack and worn out the door. As you hold the textile up and see your reflection in the mirror, you hesitantly reach for the tag near the neckline. Three words stare back at you: dry clean only. Oh how three words so delicately printed and hidden in a garment can stifle the shopper in her tracks! And how quickly your decision to purchase the piece is swayed. All due to laundering.
Dry clean only may as well say “spend a fortune caring for me” while making some clothing articles seem completely not worth the purchase. And while some fabrics must take the occasional trip to the cleaners, so many others can be cared for at home—despite what a care label may depict. The trick is knowing how to care for those atypical fabrics, which really comes from a knowledge of fabric makeup. Passed from my grandmothers, mom, sister, and friends, here are a few tips conjured up to help you with your laundering know-how.
Silk holds shape well, is usually wrinkle resistant, and cool and light upon wear. Perfect in so many ways, yet a Catch-22, as most care instructions direct silk right to the dry cleaners. Crepe, chiffon, organza, voile, taffeta, and satin are all part of the silk family and tend to have instructions that recommend cleaning without water, because most silk dyes bleed or transfer color. Some silk can be hand washed however, so before making the dry cleaning trek, test a discrete portion of the fabric for colorfastness. Hand wash in lukewarm water using a mild soap, like dishwashing liquid. Knead the garment gently and let air dry, patting out excess water with a towel. Be sure to store silk away from sunlight as it can weaken the fabric. Never spot clean or use bleach on silk—leave major stains to the professionals.
Maxi dresses and baby soft shirts seem to all be made of rayon these days, and so the dilemma to wash this textile without warping or shrinking it from its original state is ever present. Dry-cleaning is recommended for most rayon items because the material is more sensitive, and most think this is the only route. Although its a man-made fiber, it is a natural material—wood pulp! Also known as viscose, rayon can be hand-washed with mild suds in cool or lukewarm water or machine washed on the gentle cycle. Because rayon turns very weak and flimsy when wet, reshape and lay flat to dry. Never twist or wring out a garment made of rayon.
This material is hydrophobic, meaning it does not absorb much water during the washing process, making it very easy to wash and dry. Wrinkling, fading, and shrinking are all nonexistent problems when it comes to polyester. However, the fabric pills easily when laundered with other fabrics. It also seems to love to attract oil stains and soiling from other fabrics in the wash. Hand-wash or machine wash polyester garments, inside out, to avoid exterior pilling. Drip dry, tumble dry low, or air dry polyester clothing. Also, if faced with an oily stain on a polyester garment, wash ASAP. Simply rub the stain with a wet bar of hand soap and a wet towel, rinse, and repeat.
Linen is very similar to cotton, but it is not as strong and colorfast as “the fabric of our lives”. Still durable in the fabric sense, and even better is that the quality improves with laundering. Follow the care instructions for linen fabric, and be sure to test a colored linens for bleeding before throwing them into the wash. White linens should be dried in the sun if possible—perk, the sunlight brightens and whitens them!
Modal fabrics tend to get softer with each wash. They do not pill and are resistant to shrinkage and fading. Wash modal fabrics by hand in cold water. Lay flat to dry. This fabric is basic, and easy to care for, as long as you do not send it through your dryer. Larger modal textiles, like sheets, can be machine washed on the gentlest setting.
Not all faux leather is the same, so its always best to look at the care label to see what type of faux leather you have on your hands. Polyurethane can be washed or dry cleaned. Mix luke warm water in a bucket with mild detergent, like dish soap or Woolite. Dip a rag in the bucket and use the rag to wet and clean the surface of the faux leather garment. Clean small areas at a time, and wipe clean areas with a dry cloth. For pestering spots, use a faux leather cleaner. Rinse well, drip dry, and reshape once damp. For other pleathers—spot clean and hand wash in lukewarm water, avoiding the washing machine all together as it can be too harsh for the fabric.
Spandex, or lycra, provides shape and elasticity. Hello swimsuits and gym wear! And although some blends may recommend dry-clean, hand washing and gentle machine cycles are preferable. Wash with cold water, mild detergents, and never use chlorine bleach or any detergent that contains it. Air dry or drip dry spandex, or even your dryer set at low temperature is okay, to make sure that shape and elasticity are not compromised.
“Types of wool include alpaca, angora (Angora rabbits), camel hair, cashmere (Asian goats), lamb’s wool, llama, mohair (Angora goats), and pashmina (Himalayan goat). Wool fabrics include jersey, gabardine, crepe, twills, and broadcloth” (Consumer Reports How to Clean Practically Anything 5th Edition). Always check a wool garment’s care label before hand or machine washing. Dry clean only means no wet washing and that water will ruin the textile, creating holes and causing it to felt—or giving you a brand new wool garment perfectly fit for a 4 year old, or your dog. Some wool garments may be hand-washed if not labeled otherwise. Washable wool garments—typically wool not containing angora or mohair—can be turned inside out and washed gently in cold water, with a mild wool washing product. Lay wool clothing on a dry towel and out flat, to dry. To remove excess water, roll the clothing up in the towel and then carefully unroll, reshaping the garment flat and on a new dry surface. Forgo machine drying all together, even if the care label says it is machine washer and dryer safe. Woolen items should never be soaked for long periods or agitated—for washable wool stains, simply soak no longer than 10 minutes to remove the stain.
Lace and Fine Delicates
Before laundering, sort out lace by synthetic lace (polyester, nylon, spandex) and natural-fiber lace (cotton and rayon). Also sort by color, so as to avoid any color transfer in the washing process. For machine washing, place delicate lace items in a mesh bag for fine washables, and wash on the delicate or gentle cycle. For hand washing, start with a bucket of cold water mixed with mild soap. Bring the clothing to the surface then drop the fabric in the bucket several times. Unless the fabric is rayon or the care label reads “do not wring or twist”, gently knead the delicate garment with your hands to remove soiling.
Tips in this article are a culmination of how-to’s passed down within generations of women doing laundry and with reference from Consumer Reports: How to Clean Practically Anything 5th Edition.
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