Are you laundry-lost? It can be a challenge to keep your clothes fresh and clean. You don’t want to throw away your money on dry cleaning if you don’t have to, but you’re not sure how to wash and care for all the different types of fabrics and garments in your closet.
This article will give you everything you need to know about caring for your daily fabrics. By knowing the proper care techniques, you’ll save money and protect your favorite clothes from damage.
We’ve listed cotton and denim first because they’re the most common fabrics in your closet. The rest will be in alphabetical order so you can quickly and easily find the fabric you need to care for.
Cotton is the most common fabric in your closet. From T-shirts and tanks to shorts and sweats, cotton is “the fabric of our lives.” It’s cool, soft, comfortable, and durable. However, it holds moisture and perspiration, so it usually needs to be washed after each wear. Consistent washings can wear down and shrink the fabric, so it’s important to wash cotton clothes correctly. Always sort your cotton by color, as cotton dye runs in the wash easily.
Denim is a tightly woven cotton, which makes it heavier and more durable than traditional cotton.
Acetate is a synthetic material that often looks like silk and feels like cotton. It’s made from the wood pulp of trees, and it’s a crisp and sharp fabric. Acetate generally won’t absorb moisture, which allows it to resist mildew and shrinkage. However, because it is a synthetic material, it is best to dry clean only. You can iron on low heat without steam if you turn the fabric inside out to avoid iron marks.
Acrylic is a lightweight but warm fabric. It’s best known for its ability to retain its shape and bright colors. Because of this, it’s a common fabric in pleated skirts and dresses. It is also highly resistant to oils, chemicals, perspiration, and UV-rays, making it great for travel wear. Best yet—you can wash this synthetic fabric in the washing machine!
Flannel is thick, durable, and insulated. It can be made from either cotton or wool. Check to see which fabric your flannel is made of and then wash accordingly. If the tag is missing, you can usually tell the fabric based on the weight of the material: cotton is generally lighter and more breathable while wool is heavier and more insulating.
The leather is made from pig, lamb, or cow hide, and it is cured with specific chemicals. It’s a more expensive garment because of the cost of the hide and the treatments of the material. Although dry cleaning is usually safer for leather, it’s not necessary to spend that money in order to keep your leather clean. Better yet, leather doesn’t need to be cleaned often.
If you spill something on the leather, wipe it off immediately. Most leather goods repel liquids and stains. If the garment needs a good cleaning, you can hand wash it. Spot clean the leather with a soft cloth dipped in a solution of warm water and a few drops of dish soap. Then use a second, slightly damp cloth to rinse off. Let the garment dry naturally.
Never keep your leather in a hot or humid room. This includes attics, basements, and storage units. Moisture and sunlight can cause your leather to dry and crack, ruining your favorite leather jacket or boots permanently. In this way, you should also avoid ironing your leather. If you need to clear off wrinkles, use the lowest heat setting with no steam and iron through a heavy paper (don’t touch the hot iron directly on the garment).
Hemp is fabric woven from the cannabis plant, and it’s 3 times stronger than cotton. It’s one of the most durable fabrics and it can resist mold, mildew, rot, and UV rays. The only downside to hemp is that it wrinkles easily and it softens with each wash. In this way, you shouldn’t clean hemp after each use; usually, there’s no need anyway, because hemp won’t hold in smells or moisture.
Linen’s your summertime best friend. Derived from the flax plant, it has double the strength of cotton while still being lightweight and breathable. However, it wrinkles easily and doesn’t stretch well.
Nylon is a synthetic material that is strong, stretchable, and lightweight. The best part is that nylon is easy to clean and it dries quickly.
Polyester blends are common in today’s clothing because they’re durable, stretchable, and on the cheaper side. Polyester also doesn’t absorb moisture or wrinkle, which makes it a common fabric for workout clothes and sundresses.
Rayon is a soft, absorbent, strong material made from cellulose. It is generally used to imitate cotton, linen, wool, and silk. Despite its usual durability, it will burn at high temperatures and it loses almost half of its structure when wet. Thus, it’s generally recommended to only dry clean rayon and avoid washing machines and irons.
Seersucker is the ultimate summertime fabric because it is cool and breathable. It’s a synthetic structure of fabric usually made from cotton or rayon.
Silk is one of the most comfortable, breathable fabrics in your closet. It looks good on everyone, and it’s highly versatile. Nevertheless, its care can be finicky. It is easily weakened by sunlight and perspiration, and it’s both strong and delicate at the same time.
Spandex is popular for workout wear and beach wear because it’s stretchy, breathable, and wicks away sweat and moisture. This elastic, synthetic material will maintain its strength for years—unless submitted to heat. Always keep your spandex cool.
Take extra care the first time you wash your spandex. You should hand wash the garment in cold water with a half cup of salt. The salt and cold together will help set the color of the spandex so it will maintain its bright vigor. After the first wash, you should:
Suede can be one of the tougher fabrics to care for because it can lose its structure if washed incorrectly. You should always check the label for specific suede instructions. You can also use the below process for suede shoes, by gently hand washing with a damp washcloth. You may want to invest in a suede protector to keep your suede tops, pants, and shoes from being ruined in bad weather or humidity.
Terrycloth is made from woven or knitted cotton or linen, and it’s heavy and absorbent. It’s usually used for towels, but you may find it in some of your shirts or sweaters. Look to see if your terrycloth is made from cotton or linen and follow the directions for that fabric, as you’ll find on this list. Never iron terrycloth.
Velvet is a structure of cotton, silk, or rayon that’s plush, warm, and soft. It’s perfect for the holiday or winter season—and it’s been trending on the runway for several years now. Velvet shoes are even highly popular among designers. Taking care of velvet isn’t easy, though. Generally, it’s best to dry clean velvet, but certain types can be hand washed in cool water without detergent. You should never iron velvet because it can damage the soft surface.
Wool is incredibly durable and thick, and it functions like an insulator. It can even absorb up to 30% of its weight in moisture without feeling damp. This absorption can make it smelly, though—and wool isn’t easy to clean. Most wool needs to be dry cleaned in order to maintain the integrity of the fabric. If you need to iron a wool jacket or dress, turn the fabric inside out and use low heat and steam. Cashmere is made from wool, so it should be taken care of similarly.
If your garment has sequins, beads, or lace, you’ll want to take extra special care of it. Generally, spot cleaning is the best option for these garments so as not to ruin the special embellishments. However, if you need to wash the garment in full, it’s best to hand wash in cool water with a mild detergent. If you put it in the wash, put it on a gentle, cool cycle. Use a mesh “delicates” laundry bag so that the beads and lace won’t get caught in the machine. Air dry the garment since heat could loosen the decorations or unravel lace. Try to avoid ironing, but you can use a steamer on low heat to remove creases.
If you’re still not sure how to care for your fabric, take a look at the laundry label on the garment. There will be symbols that will tell you how to properly take care of that specific item. Take a look at Tide’s laundry symbol guide to help decode that label.
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