I cannot wash that many items by hand every week.
February 22, 2012 9:23 AM   Subscribe

Handwash Only?! How do I manage the increasing tendency for professional women's clothing to demand very special, labour intensive treatment?

Like many young people starting out, my washing facilities are the laundromat's industrial grade, rugged built, three temperature (hot, warm, cold) washers that look contemporary with the ones in Across the Universe; my bath tub and a very tiny apartment that's um... Japanese in its scale, if not location; and my friendly neighbourhood dry cleaner. However I am finding that an ever increasing quantity of the clothing I buy in emblazoned with "hand wash only" and "hang dry" or even more dreaded "dry flat". Many of these items even give stern instructions about ringing them out.

In the summer I sort of limp along by using my balcony as hanging space, and in all seasons I'm adept at the washer woman stomp dance in my bathtub (growing up poor has it's advantages). Winter is cold and wet here, and I lose the balcony as hang space by November and don't get it back until April. However, doing what is now a load and a half to two loads (not counting occasionally kindly doing a companion's athletic and wool items, because I have sucker written on my forehead) of laundry by hand is really, really labour intensive, fills the whole apartment with drippy gross laundry that can take a day and a half to dry even when patted and wrung until my arms ache, and resists cheating and ignoring the tags. Washing or drying this stuff by machine leads to burst seams and instant belly shirts being made of my business casual wear. Or if not that, looking like revenge of the lint monster, as it grabs a piece of everything it was washed with, even identical colours, and wears them like a nappy paean to texture unity.

Bras and tights needing hand washing I can sympathize with, but all the things for women seem to have stretch fabric, and from there, they demand I treat them like the heir to the fabric throne. My mother appears to have dealt with this by exclusively buying from her local big box store's boys' department, but that look leans to loose and casual. It's actually pretty hard for me to find women's clothing that is office friendly that doesn't need lots of love. Especially since I'm cheap (broke) and have really been enjoying buying Canadian manufactured stuff where I can, so I can't afford to test wash every item and throw 50% away.

So what's going on? Do modern, non-Vietnam era draft dodging washers have a faux hand wash setting? Are manufactures fucking with me as punishment for being a woman and a westerner who expects to own more than one change of clothing? Do I take these to the dry cleaner and assume that it's another secret adult expense or buy thirty lingerie bags, one for each shirt? Do I spend the $10 to tumble dry under no heat and hope for the best? Laundry costs a fortune, even for antique machines (or perhaps because of them, as I can easily spend $7 per normal load), and this problem is well past my ability to manage given that I'm not a full time housewife. I'm also noting that pants are getting more and more fussy by the year, and dread the day my work slacks and jeans announce hand washing (but not dry cleaning?!) too. Please hope me before I'm found in the parking lot behind my building trying to set a pile of wet laundry on fire.
posted by Phalene to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (41 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Depending on the fabric, I often wash on the delicate cycle, then hang dry even if it says dry flat. I bought nice hangers for this- I can then hang a lot of laundry over my bathtub.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 9:28 AM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

If it's something that's very important to me, or seems very delicate, I do handwash it. However, the majority of my nice clothing does just fine washed in cold water and hung dry. I almost never bother to dry flat. Since the washer does the spin cycle, it dries more quickly when machine washed rather than handwashed - but I wouldn't risk it in the dryer, even on no heat.
posted by insectosaurus at 9:30 AM on February 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

My front-loading washer does indeed has a 'handwash' setting, and I either hang on hangers in a corner of my closet or I lay garments flat on my spare bed. Back when I didn't have a washer or a spare bed, I just bought a lot of cotton clothes which can be washed on cold and tumble dried (or I threw away a lot of stretch fabric clothes). I really do sympathize.

If the machine has a delicate setting I would try that, and ignore the 'lay flat' instruction.
posted by muddgirl at 9:31 AM on February 22, 2012

If I am wearing something that needs to be hand washed, I either air it out when I take it off or else hand wash it in cold water as part of the undressing process. This usually involves a dunk in a sudsy pudding basin, followed by a couple of rinses and a drip-hang over the bathtub.

Most of the things that need hand-washing are silks, which I invariably find dry and crease-free the next morning. Cottons take longer.
posted by tel3path at 9:32 AM on February 22, 2012

To expand, my totally-unsourced theory of store-bought clothing is that the care instructions are assigned conservatively, and you can go up one level of damage without much harm. So if it says 'dry clean only', in most cases you can gently hand-wash and lay flat to dry. If it says 'hand-wash', you can machine-wash delicate and hang dry. And so on.

(This is assuming that we're talking more about rayon and less about silk. I wouldn't machine-wash silk but I would hand-wash it despite generally being labeled dry-clean only.)
posted by muddgirl at 9:33 AM on February 22, 2012 [9 favorites]

I read tags in the store and generally don't buy anything fussy, but any "handwash only" items that make it into my house almost inevitably end up in the wrong load and get machine washed on cold, then tumble-dried.

If they survive, mazel tov. If they do not, I figure it was Never Meant to Be.

(Exception: hand-knitted wool sweaters. I have enough hours in those puppies that they never get within five feet of the laundry hamper, and I baby then through one wash a year.)
posted by BrashTech at 9:35 AM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I coped with this by having lots of mesh bags - not quite 30, but getting there, in various sizes. More delicate items get tossed in mesh bags, then in the washer along with the less delicate stuff. Wash in cold water if possible, warm at most. I also wash bras and tights in the washer, inside mesh bags (obviously bras should be clasped closed, and tights not placed with any items that might snag). Then, other than bras and other 100% synthetic stuff, I put everything else in the dryer, but on low or medium setting, and take out the better stuff while still a bit damp. Stuff is hung on a drying rack to finish drying. (Something like this Antonius drying rack from Ikea doesn't take up too much space and holds an amazing amount of laundry)

It is a bit of a pain, especially if there are no laundry facilities within your building, because you will be hauling partially damp laundry back to your apartment.
posted by needled at 9:36 AM on February 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

The answer comes in three parts, most of which boils down to experimenting or learning about specific fabrics then making choices when to ignore labels, when to pay attention, and when to decide something is too much work and forgo buying it entirely.

*You can ignore some labels and wash/dry anyway, although usually the dryer has to be set on low (Home Comforts has a whole chapter on when one can ignore care labels). For what it's worth, the vast majority of my workout clothes fall here--including some SmartWool and high-tech synthetic stuff--as well as most cotton shirts and light sweaters that are not fuzzy or wool.

*Some expensive work pieces like nice wool slacks, blazers, or suits only need to be washed/cleaned extremely infrequently--I take care not to splatter food or coffe on them, take them off to air out immediately upon getting home, and use Dryel or the dry cleaner once in a great while when they start to stink. If you take careful care of your clothes then you really don't need to wash stuff every time you wear it.

*Start to pay attention to how tough something will be to clean when you shop. This doesn't mean pay attention to the care labels, but rather take the information you have started to pick up from the two steps above to screen your purchases for anything you know will have to be cleaned regularly (in other words, a bottom layer rather than an outside layer) and is made of a fabric you can't wash in cold and hang to drip-dry.
posted by iminurmefi at 9:36 AM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I machine wash on delicate and hang to dry safely. It does take forever to dry in the winter.
posted by jeather at 9:36 AM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Good front-loading washers have a hand wash setting. I am neither a woman nor an owner of many particularly delicate clothes, but I've always found it works just fine. Front loading hand wash cycle is a world apart from top-loading gentle cycle.
posted by ssg at 9:37 AM on February 22, 2012

Oh, if you have any fans, they can speed the drying process by quite a bit. When I lay shirts to dry in the winter, they take 2 days without a fan and 1 day with.
posted by muddgirl at 9:38 AM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I appreciate the suggestions. Other than mesh bags or affording a good washer, is there a less labour intense way to handle this?
posted by Phalene at 9:40 AM on February 22, 2012

There are manufacturers that make machine-washable business casual clothing. Buy exclusively machine-washable business-casual clothing and nip your problem in the bud.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:42 AM on February 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

There are no-rinse hand-wash detergents that make hand-washing much easier. I use Soak but I know there are others - nice lingerie or yarn stores usually carry them. I put some in my tub, fill it up just enough to slightly float the clothes, and let them soak for a half hour or so. Squeeze out the water, lay it all out on a towel then roll up the towel to get out more water, and hang it all up.
posted by kyla at 9:43 AM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is kind of a weird suggestion, but it has worked for me well in the past when living in small spaces. You know those hairdryer attachments with hoods for setting curls? I rigged something similar with a giant bag and hose to encompass my wooden drying rack, and then just left my hairdryer on low power and low heat for about 20 minutes. Electrically wasteful, yes, but better than having bras and nice cashmere sweaters that stink of mildew.
posted by elizardbits at 9:44 AM on February 22, 2012

Oh - and nthing the recommendation to hand-wash hand-knit sweaters, especially if they're wool. Handknit sweaters are A Special Case; machine-washing wool makes them shrink and felt, and that just plain ruins them. (Cotton yarn runs the risk of getting pulled into weird shapes.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:45 AM on February 22, 2012

And on preview after spotting elizardbits' idea for using a hair dryer - just fair warning that my mother apparently tried that very idea in college once, and nearly set fire to her dorm.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:47 AM on February 22, 2012

Have you looked around for a laundromat that has washers with better options?
posted by slidell at 9:47 AM on February 22, 2012

Also, a tidbit from Home Comforts that I was surprised to learn and might be helpful:
Often, it is what the care labels do not say that creates confusion. For example, when both dry cleaning and washing are safe for regular use on a product, the rules do not presently require the manufacturer say so on the care label. Rather, under the rule as it now stands, "the label need to have only one of these instructions." Thus, a label that says "Dry-clean" tells you neither that you can nor that you cannot also wash the article without harming it.

The words "only," "do not," and "no" are always warning words on a care label. Warnings meant that harm is likely to ensue, in one or more washings, if the care instruction is not followed. In addition, if the warning says "Wash with like colors" or "Wash separately," despite the absence of warning words, you are being warned that the article is not colorfast and may bleed dyes onto anything washed with it. For example, if a label says "Dry clean only," the word "only" makes this a warning against machine washing; and the instruction means that machine washing will be harmful. (Since this is a warning, the manufacturer has to have evidence that the procedures warned against really would be harmful.)
So, just because you're seeing "Dry clean" on your clothes doesn't necessarily mean you *can't* wash it--that's only if it says "Dry clean only." This may make you more adventurous in trying to wash and tumble-dry some things.

At some point I think you just get so sick of how delicately you think you need to treat anything that you will get to the point of starting to try cold machine washing and tumble drying low, knowing that you may shrink or destroy some stuff. When I started doing this with a bunch of my stuff, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that a lot of it survived just fine (and I was okay with the few things that didn't, because I was SO OVER taking that amount of time to wash clothes).
posted by iminurmefi at 9:50 AM on February 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

Oh, use a gentle detergent. I buy the stuff you can get at the lingerie department in the Bay. It's pink, and it is called something with the word gentle or delicate or something like.
posted by jeather at 9:51 AM on February 22, 2012

This might be idiotic, but if it is really an increasing trend then thrift shops could be a way to find clothes made according to slightly older standards.

Hair dryers might not be designed to run for hours, but space heaters are. Even just a regular (non-heating) fan would at least make drying time a little faster.

There are also these little spin-dryer machines. Or, buying a small-sized modern washing machine can pay off in the long run (laundromats being expensive) If you lack a hookup for the machine you might be able to connect it to your bathtub or sink. Even without a dryer, the spin cycle should work much better than wringing.
posted by trig at 10:08 AM on February 22, 2012

I try to wash my clothes as little as possible - how often you wash is more important than how you wash when it comes to the long-term survival of clothes.

So, I have a collection of full slips, half slips, and camisoles that I wear under basically everything. I take off my nice clothes the moment I get home and hang them immediately. I'm careful when I eat so as not to get food on my clothes (this is the trickiest part, to be honest). I probably wash most things (except for tights socks, underpants, etc) about every 3rd to 5th wearing. I have a fully-lined silk dress and a lined wool skirt that I've never washed in over a year, and unless they are actually soiled, I can't imagine I ever will. I think most people who don't sweat much or do physical labour for a living wash their clothes far, far more than they need to.

As for drying clothes, I live in the UK and people dry almost everything on racks . I have a dryer (most people in smaller houses and flats don't) but I ONLY use it for towels. I would never, ever, ever, ever dry so much as a sock. Dryers are death to clothes. If you have a radiator, hang your clothes nearby. If not, get a cheap space heater and hang your clothes next to it. If you run it for 30 minutes, it will give everything a good head start.
posted by cilantro at 10:15 AM on February 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

What the garment is made of makes a difference- something delicate that says "hand wash only" but is made of cotton might get machine washed in a mesh bag, but I have learned that Rayon can be cruelly unforgiving if you stray from the care label. On the other hand, I have a cotton item that says "hand wash cold water" that I have been cheerfully machine washing in warm, regular cycle for ten years and it still looks fine.

Like EmpressCallipygos suggests, consider seeking out machine washable casual wear. Land's End makes jackets and slacks that can go in the machine. They may not manufacture in Canada but maybe other Canadian manufacturers do.

Seconding using a fan to speed up drying time. Much better than a space heater.
posted by ambrosia at 10:34 AM on February 22, 2012

I just want to chime in that I've had issues with garments stretching when I've used a hang dry solution. This is especially true of jersey dresses that are heavy when they're wet. I've found that instead of putting all the weight in the shoulders, they are safer folded in half over a towel bar, the back of a chair, etc.

The space heater drying idea is genius!
posted by chatongriffes at 10:40 AM on February 22, 2012

I drop all kinds of clothing whose labels demand dry cleaning only or washing by hand in the same load with every other dumb cotton t-shirt and pair of jeans. Bras too. And yet somehow, everything survives just fine. Have allegedly delicate stuff that's stood up over years through this. Just saying, you may need to worry less than you think you do.
posted by whitneyarner at 10:42 AM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm just going to chime in that while there is a lot of advice here to hang things to dry anyway, you won't want to do this with cardigans. I think the only way to avoid the dreaded scalloped, wavy bottom is to press the bottoms of them with a firm hand once you've laid them flat to dry. I always put my cardigans in the wash on delicate and cold, but when they come out they have the beginning signs of wavy bottom (you know what I mean by that, right?) So far I have been able to reshape them using the method I have described, but I'm sure if I hung them up, it would be an invitation for the bottoms to stay like that permanently.
posted by to recite so charmingly at 10:49 AM on February 22, 2012

I have found that machine-drying clothes is harder on them than the washing. So if you buy a lovely drying rack like one of these (scroll down for a couple of cheaper options), then you can get away with washing a lot of fairly delicate stuff on cold-wash. You don't even need special bags for all of it, or most of it, depending on your wardrobe.

And since the washing machine generally wrings out a lot of the moisture for you, then all you have to do is lay all of your (non-dripping) clothes out on the rack and wait 12-24 hours, depending on the season and if you've got central heating, etc.

That's a relatively easy way to cut down the amount of work on your part.
posted by colfax at 10:51 AM on February 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Maybe one of these makes the handwashing go quicker and easier?
posted by chazlarson at 10:53 AM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I also really dislike hand washing items. The things I own that require this (to me) are hand knitted socks, bras, and silk blouses. Here's what I do. I wear each bra or pair of socks several times between washings. This cuts down on labor and wear immensely. Knitted sweaters I only wash if there is something noticeable going on, like a spot. They get aired out a lot between wearings. Anything like food or sweat on wool or silk must be taken care of immediately, or you get critters looking for a snack. It's not usually the fiber they want, but the sweat or food or coffee/cream/sugar.

Fill bucket/clean large sink/immaculate tub with room temperature/maybe slightly warm water. Add Soak Wool Wash, just enough so that the water feels almost slippery. You'll get a feel for this eventually. Dunk items. Give a little attention to any spots, walk away. Maybe swish once or twice before you go. Do not do that washboard beating your clothes up business that you see in movies unless you're handwashing rugged clothes with stinky armpits.

In about 1/2 hour, I gently get things out of the water one by one. For silk, or heavy knits, this means getting them out of the water in a ball so there are no hangy bits. Those hangy bits are heavy and may distort. What I do with the ball is place it in a salad spinner. If you don't have one of those, you can use a clean dye fast pillowcase (a white one reserved for this purpose is handy) and swing it around over your head (outdoors, but you knew that, right?). Spin out as much water as you can. Lay flat on a drying rack. With no drying rack, you can use clean towels on your bed or on a floor that gets no traffic. Sweaters might like to be flipped over halfway through, so that the water has an easier time evaporating from the bottom layer.

Most of my clothing avoids the dryer, except blue jeans, cotton athletic socks, cheap tee-shirts (I buy them for $2.50 on clearance) and the most utilitarian of underpants, which I also buy on clearance so there's no heartbreak when the elastic breaks.

Iron shirts and slacks on low while still slightly damp if you find any wrinkles or creases. If you just do a few items each week this way, you can keep a great rotation going through the year. Make absolutely sure that everything is clean before you store for the season, if you live in a place where winter clothes and summer clothes get put away.
posted by bilabial at 10:59 AM on February 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Are there drying racks in the US? They're sold all over in Europe, mainly because practically no one has machine dryers here. Everyone "hang dries" clothes and they do tend to last a lot longer that way (good to know for less sensitive fabrics too, because you do end up saving money when everything lasts longer). Drying racks allow you to use horizontal space rather than just vertical hanging – I lay out my jersey dresses on them so they don't stretch, for instance.

You do want to learn about fabrics. Look into basic online sewing stuff for that sort of information. There's a lot available for free now.

That said:
Are manufactures fucking with me as punishment for being a woman and a westerner who expects to own more than one change of clothing?
YES, they are.

Quick background here: I come from a long line of seamstresses on both sides of the family. I still have things my father's father's mother embroidered (Scandinavian languages are so much more practical for these nuances – farfarmor), and a quilt my mother's mother's mother sewed. I grew up learning to sew myself.

The changes in fabric quality used for manufactured clothes over the last decade have been very depressing. Fabrics keep getting sheerer, looser-woven, and stitching keeps getting crappier (awful tension makes those fall-apart seams) with lighter-weight thread. All of that adds up to cheaper prices for manufacturers, but you wouldn't know it.

My absolutely honest answer to the same question of how to care for clothes that manufacturers want you to get rid of and replace, not care for, was, frankly, to return to sewing my own clothes. I know it's probably not an answer that sounds practical at first blush, but if you like creative endeavors and hands-on stuff, especially putting things together, sewing could be something you enjoy, which makes the effort doubly rewarding: you get clothes at lower cost (when you enjoy it, the time spent sewing is hobby time, so I don't count that as time=money), you get to choose the fabrics, thread and stitching, and extra super-bonus, it actually fits. Plus it lasts so much longer, it's not even funny. The web is a wonderful resource for learning how to sew, again with the caveat: if that's something you would enjoy.

Otherwise, I've taken to writing my previously-favorite clothing manufacturers stern letters about no longer buying their stuff because the hell if I'm going to pay 80 euros for a two-seam (just the sides) jersey dress that is see-through and will, visibly, fall apart after two wearings. WTF seriously OMG argh.
posted by fraula at 1:08 PM on February 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

I wash most things on the delicate cycle, or in a bag. And I line dry most of my clothes. My big issue with hand-washing is that I can't hang super wet clothes to dry in the bathroom without seriously pissing off my roommates.

By the way, who on earth dries their clothing flat? Seriously?

For stretchy fabrics, I would machine wash on cold on the most delicate cycle available. I realize that most laundromats don't offer much, but maybe do a test run with a shirt that's a bit older and you're not totally in love with. And get a drying rack!
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:15 PM on February 22, 2012

I've never washed anything on the delicate cycle, nor have I handwashed anything (unless I couldn't afford the laundromat). I toss everything into the same load, and I've never ruined anything. What I've found is that it's the dryer that kills clothes. So, everything gets washed in the same machine, but the loads are separated by fabric, and the most delicate of delicates are hung to dry. Saves me a fortune in time, money, and labor.
posted by patheral at 1:47 PM on February 22, 2012

I have spun and dyed wool yarn before. The best way I've found to get moisture out of the yarn is to lay a towel on the floor (I have a pair of old, crappy towels I use specifically for this purpose), lay out the yarn on the towel leaving a good foot at one end, lay that end over the yarn, carefully roll the towel up, walk on it for a minute or three, unroll it, and prepare to dry. Replace 'yarn' with 'clothes' and you'd probably be pretty set.

And like others, much of my 'TREAT THIS SHIRT LIKE IT'S MADE OF UNICORN FARTS' clothes gets put in a delicate cycle with a drying rack. If you can place it in a bathroom and/or near a heating vent, that will help it dry faster in winter. Heating vents are just really, really slow clothes dryers after all.
posted by Heretical at 2:53 PM on February 22, 2012

Learn about fabrics, too: wool will (generally) accept being washed in a machine, in COLD water and on the most delicate cycle possible. Cotton is washable, usually in warm water, but shrinks in the dryer. Nylon and most polyester will be fine in the wash (warm or cold, and perma-press). Rayon shrinks in water: it really does need to be dry cleaned.

I think most manufacturers err on the side of caution (dry clean only! hand wash only!) so as not to be sued, or just to be pissy: in many cases it's pretty obvious that the fabrics have not been pre-shrunk, so they'll tell you not to wash them so they can gain the extra quarter inch they'd otherwise lose to shrinkage.
posted by jrochest at 4:07 PM on February 22, 2012

I machine wash everything (ok I dry-clean silk and/or beaded fabrics but everything else) in a top-loading washer on cold / delicate cycle; especially if you're careful with hooks/velcro, it really is the dryer that seems to do a lot of damage to delicate fabrics.

I have a gizmo like this (four mesh shelves with an attached fan) for flat drying and I LOVE it. Nothing stretches out and everything dries fast.
posted by Signed Sealed Delivered at 4:21 PM on February 22, 2012

Honestly, for my shirts that are delicate like this, I just don't wash them very often. I'm not really sweating in them, and my body is clean, so they're really not soiled after two or three wearings (unless I actually get food or dirt on them). I also wear a cotton camisole under them as a layer of protection from skin oil, any sweat, etc. The camisoles get washed often, while my nice silk blend shirts get washed maybe every 3 to 5 wearings. Even by the time I wash them, they are not smelly or icky in any way; I just look at them and go, "eh, guess it's been a while, in the wash we go."

I have to admit that I also machine wash these shirts. Except for my cashmere sweater, which I will take no chances with because it's magic. But my silk-blend-knit shirts are from the thrift store or major clearance, so if the washer had killed them I was going to be okay with that. So far, no problems. The silk content in them is pretty low, though. I always start by drying them flat and sometimes move them to a hanger when they're just damp and not heavy anymore. The rolling-in-a-towel trick is great.

A fan, a heater, or a dehumidifier will all help things dry faster. We got a dehumidifier because one room in our apartment has a humidity problem, and I coincidentally discovered that it dries clothes like whoa. (Like, drying time shortened from days to hours.) Good dehumidifiers seem to start around $150 but if your alternative is paying for tons of dry cleaning because all the drippy clothes are driving you crazy, it could be worth it.
posted by mandanza at 4:56 PM on February 22, 2012

Yeah, so I don't really do special laundry. My mother (and father) never did either. If I have something really expensive or really nice that I like a lot, I will baby it a bit, but that usually just involves throwing it in my washer on delicate and then drying it on low heat. I used to use a drying rack to dry some things, but that is a pain to get out in my house and is difficult with the fact that my laundry machines are in my MIL's living space, so I don't do that anymore. If I like it a lot and it says dry clean, I will do that... usually. But everything else gets treated like normal laundry and really, you can't tell the difference. Granted I don't buy really high end clothes. My opinion is that if it's so hard to wash I'll never wear it and it's worthless, so if washing/drying it shortens its lifespan a bit, then that's still better than never wearing it.

Examples of things I handwash and don't dry:
umm... pantyhose, but I never wear those any more either.

Examples of things that say don't dry or handwash that I wash on delicate and dry on low:
baby clothes (mostly because they are tiny and dry easily and give me something to wash my bras with)
dresses that were either not that expensive or don't say DRY CLEAN ONLY in big letters on them
a particularly nice sweater or two

Things that I dry clean:
one skirt that I really really like and says to dry clean on it
a fancy dress or two I own

Everything else? Into the washer normal (though never higher heat than medium) and dryer at medium heat. Everything has held up just fine under this sort of treatment.
posted by katers890 at 6:10 PM on February 22, 2012

Mesh bags definitely for lingerie and other true delicates. The stuff in the mesh bag never even sees the dryer.

The dryers in my building have the normal low-medium-high settings and a quarter buys you fifteen minutes. I throw everything in together on medium for 45 minutes but at the 15 minute mark take out everything that's the least bit delicate. Take your half-dry stuff back to your apartment and hang it to dry. I just put everything on (non-wire) hangers to dry. If they dry with lumps in the shoulders where the hanger hits, I have a spray bottle of water to dampen the shoulders. They're dry before I get to work and my commute is well under ten minutes.

I totally agree that many clothing care tags are extra-cautious. A bit of experience will help you learn which fabrics or blends can take what kind of treatment. As a smart person, you'll only make the mistake of washing your white cotton blouse with some brand new dark jeans once.
posted by bendy at 8:44 PM on February 22, 2012

Nthing the Hamilton Beach machine linked by Signed Sealed Delivered. It cuts my drying time to 1-3 hours, and has a nice, humidifying effect to counteract the dryness of my heater (or in summer, the AC).
posted by invisible ink at 9:25 PM on February 22, 2012

I nth the cold wash with mesh bags + dry on folding drying rack. I never hand wash anything, and so far, no problems... although one thrifted $10 sweater dress of a wool + rabbit hair blend seems to be shedding, so I've dialed down the intensity of the washing machine and hopefully that'll make it better.

Mesh bags are totally worth it. The $1 ones at the dollar store are fine, but my favourite ones are from Daiso (the Japanese two-dollar store, don't know if you have it in Montreal) but the difference really is how fine the mesh is. I have accumulated a collection of mesh bags and pretty much put everything that I care about in one. It doesn't have to be one item of clothing per mesh bag, you can throw in several shirts if they're lightweight and still have enough space to tumble around in.

I sorta take a common sense approach to drying and I don't read care tags in this regard. If it's pajamas/my indoor lounge wear/work out gear/stuff I don't care much about, then it goes into the dryer. Everything else goes on the folding drying rack. Light shirts can be hung on one rail, heavier stuff like knit sweaters get hung over four rails or whatever.

Oh yeah, this may be pretty personal, but maybe you should reconsider how much some items need washing. I need to wash my tops way more than my bottoms. I wash my blouses/shirts after every wear, then I rotate several sweaters throughout the week and wash the stinkiest on my next load (helps to keep 'em fresh too by draping the last one you've worn over a chair inside out). Jeans I tend to wear 4-7 times before washing, I wear leggings all the time under my skirts and the leggings get washed about the third time I've worn them, and I never wash my skirts unless I spilled something on them. There's actually a wool skirt I've been wearing regularly for 3 years, and I have never washed it once. But YMMV. I live in Vancouver so there's really no opportunity to sweat, I layer so the secondary layer doesn't need to get washed so often, and I always do chores/sweaty things in my cheap sweats + shirts instead of my normal clothes, so my normal clothes don't get abused.

And on drying clothes indoors, if you have limited space, you could try timing your laundry-hanging-time on the day you and your roommates aren't home much, so by the time you get home, the clothes aren't so soaking damp anymore. I do think the washing machine would wring out more of the moisture (even if in a mesh bag) compared to hand-washed items, leading to faster drying time.
posted by Hawk V at 11:51 PM on February 25, 2012

Another wonderful indoor drying rack that folds up nice and small for storage is the Ikea Frost. I can fit basically an entire load of laundry on it. I try to position it by a heater or the fireplace (or a fan or open window in summer) especially when fully loaded, but I've never had a smell problem, just a slow-to-dry problem.
posted by librarina at 6:42 PM on February 26, 2012

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