Great Looking Clothes all the Time: A little Work Can Save Your Wardrobe

Do you have clothes that you feel fantastic in, but as soon as you launder them, they lose all the magic? They become pilled, dingy, shrunken, impossible to iron, or misshapen... and an outfit you felt great in is suddenly a huge disappointment. Have you been frugal and bought cheap items, only to have your money wasted when they fell apart in the wash? If you have ever looked at a piece you love (or just needed to last, for the sake of your pocketbook), and been afraid to put it in the washer? Baby, I’m here for you. Let’s talk about doing laundry! The lives of your favorite items are at stake. 

            It’s important to know what happens in the washer and dryer, so you can make decisions for yourself when you have a specific item you’re not sure about. Also, you need to know what your garment is made of, to have good judgement about its care. 

            First off, heavy denim destroys everything. Do not wash your jeans with anything else. They are laundry’s wrecking balls. I’ll explain why.

            First, the washer and dryer are rough on your clothes. The lint in the lint trap is filled with the remnant of the fibers that have been destroyed, as your clothes are becoming more and more threadbare. The items you wash together can ruin each other by rubbing and twisting in the wash, and different fabric weights may dry at different temperatures and lengths of time, causing damage to items that dry more quickly while heavier items are still damp. Hence, the denim destroyer. Towels also take longer to dry, and are quite abrasive, so wash those separately, too. 

Think about the washer as a bathtub. If you put one dirty child in it, you may wonder how clean they are actually getting. So, you may do a clean water rinse on that kid. Now image 15 kids in one tub. If the tub worked like a washer, the water would rise up, swirl around, go down the drain, then the rinse cycle would fill the tub again before draining out. Think the kids are clean? Me either. Your clothes are like kids; they are filled with sweat, oils, dirt, and yes... sorry... fecal matter. Do not cram laundry into your washer. The clothes will release all this stuff into the water, and it will just settle into other clothes. Some fabrics release dyes or grease into the water that will be absorbed by some of your clothes, but not all. Here is why: fiber content.

            Most of our clothes are made of two types of fabric: cellulose and acrylics. Cellulose fibers are from nature, and have different resiliencies. Cotton is a fiber that will shrink and stretch only so many times before snapping. Rayon (from wood pulp) and linen (from flax plants) are less resilient than cotton, and require as little rubbing and drying as possible to avoid shrinkage and color loss. Of the 3, only cotton can withstand hot water... and only white cotton or the colors will leach out. Be aware that dyes will adhere to other cellulose clothes, but probably not to acrylic.  

That is how your whites get dingy. It’s not your sweat, it’s dyes from other clothes. Bright colors are dulled by the dyes from dark clothes. Try not to mix them! Cellulose fabrics don’t like hot dryers for prolonged periods, but can be ironed hot. If you tumble and hang up slightly damp, you can iron them when they are dry and they will look good as new (check the label- some satin-finish cottons will get iron-marks). Ironed cotton and linen will grow a size if you find them snug after washing. Letting cellulose clothes sit in the dryer and cool down results in massive wrinkles. Using the fluff setting to re-heat can result in shrinkage and damage. Best to hang up quick! 

Note: never ever wash wool! That is for the dry cleaner only! That would be cashmere, wool blends, pashmina, and the like. Any animal hair is a no-no for washing.

            Acrylics are fabrics made from plastic. They usually can’t release their dye as the thread was manufactured that color. They don’t breathe (unless it’s a performance athletic fabric that is expensive!) and they make you sweat. Unfortunately, they love oils, and oil bonds to them on a molecular level. So sweat, skin oils, and greasy food stains make your satin and faux-wool finishes look awful. Unlike cellulose threads, which are made of short fibers spun together (your lint trap is full of un-spun fibers), acrylics are one, long, machine-made thread. With heat and rubbing, they will snap, and the ends melt into a little pilled ball. That’s why your blended sweaters get those little balls. You want warm water with a cool rinse, a good detergent, and pre-treat greasy stains.  A note about dryer sheets- they are oily- use them sparingly with acrylics! Also, fabric softener is a coating that is hard to launder out when it traps oils into acrylics. Best to use softeners on towels and cotton sheets only.

Iron on low, as these fabrics melt easily. If your acrylics are embellished with lace or other trims (think bras here, too!), wash them in cool water with similar-weight items on a hand wash cycle, and toss with low heat until just damp, and hang up. Your bras and delicates will last years if treated kindly.

You can rarely go wrong if you have smaller loads with fabrics of similar weight and colors. You can mix fabric types in the wash when you know how each will react to different settings. If this seems like a lot of work, just think about how much money you are saving, and how great you will look in clothes that have been cared for. Happy washing! Here’s to you looking fabulous (and rich) for years!

Heather Bise




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