How do I maintain my clothes in less time?
November 26, 2012 4:25 PM   Subscribe

How do I save time laundering and ironing my clothing?

It seems like I spend a ridiculous amount of time cleaning and caring for my clothing. I've consciously tried to flip my wardrobe over to better materials and quality, but that has come at a price. All those delicate silk, cotton, and wool hand-wash items have really thrown me for a loop. I mostly machine wash my clothes (on cold/delicate) but it still is causing me hours each week to care for them! I handwash most wool items, which is labourious and I can only do one or two at a time to have space to lie everything flat.

My typical routine is separating machine-washable from hand-wash. I put the non-woolen handwash stuff into a laundry bag and machine-wash with the regular things on cold water. Everything is hung inside to dry. I spend a good deal of time ironing clothes after they've dried. Hang drying just doesn't seem to get the wrinkles out like a dryer does. Even cotton tea towels come out a wrinkled mess!

I don't have access to a machine dryer nor a place outside to hang my things (I live in an apartment without a balcony or yard). I do have a nice front-loading compact European washer with many different settings for temperature and agitation.

What would you suggest for ways to streamline my clothes-laundering routine? I'd like to avoid dry-cleaning for cost/environment purposes barring exceptions like coats, formal, and leather items. I suspect a better iron would be the first step... if you have a suggestion on this front, something that's available in Europe, please!

Thanks in advance!!
posted by exquisite_deluxe to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (19 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Wash your clothes less often.

Unless I'm interpreting this wrong, it sounds like you wash your clothes each time you wear them. Unless you're really stinky or working in dirty conditions, there's really no reason you can't wear things multiple times.

Get a clothes horse or other dryin rack system for your apartment, too. I air dry all of my clothes inside.
posted by phunniemee at 4:31 PM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't really have quite the same problem as you. (I avoid all handwash only items, except for outerwear which I clean once or twice a season.) But have you considered getting a steamer? I have a standing steamer, but you can also get a handheld one. It can clean things (instead of you handwashing them, though I don't know if that works well with wool) and make them look nice (though it's not as strong as iron, when I do it).

I'm sure someone else will chime in with more details.
posted by ethidda at 4:31 PM on November 26, 2012

Best answer: Re handwashing wool: you don't have to do this very often, and in fact there's a reason that wool garments are usually outer garments. Wash your wool when it gets noticeably soiled. Otherwise, continue to wear. You should not be washing wool after each use. If you're talking about base layers and socks and such, you might want to look into getting smartwool in the future.

Silk, too. Not a fabric made for everyday wear. If you find that you have piles of silk things that must be washed every week because they're completely filthy, you might want to look into replacing those garments with something that can be machine washed.

Re ironing. First things first, WTF why are you ironing tea towels? Yes, tea towels come out wrinkled. So the frick what? They're towels. For mopping up wet messes and food! Let them be wrinkled. I tend to feel the same about pretty much all other linens. Unless the queen is coming over, let your sheets be wrinkled. Nobody's going to die.

Secondly, most other casual clothes can hung in the bathroom while you shower to sort of steam themselves out. Hanging in general can be a real help, here, too. Gravity, yay!

For woven cottons that tend to come out of the wash all wrinkly, I like to give them a good hard shake when I take them out of the wash. If they're going to drip dry, I also take a moment to smooth hems and pockets and make sure the fabric drapes well.

That leaves only a few items that will genuinely need ironing on a weekly basis. Probably shirts/blouses if you work in a formal office. Can you send these out rather than doing them yourself? I don't know where you are, but in American cities cleaners often charge very little for washing and pressing shirts -- drastically less than dry cleaning.
posted by Sara C. at 4:37 PM on November 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

Also, my boyfriend wears these button up shirts that hang dry beautifully and don't need to be ironed. (My everyday attire is much more casual than that.) Consider investing in them, if they come in your style. Here's an article of someone talking about the Brooks Brothers No-Iron Shirt.
posted by ethidda at 4:44 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

A dry cleaner can also wash and iron your dress shirts. In the U.S. it ranges from about $.75 to $2.00+ per shirt, and they come on hangers or in boxes. This isn't dry cleaning, it's a regular washer and dryer. They can do this for men's and women's dress shirts.
posted by 2bucksplus at 5:08 PM on November 26, 2012

When you take off your worn clothes, put them directly into either the hand-wash bag or the machine-wash bag. That saves you the step of separating clothes.
posted by xo at 5:14 PM on November 26, 2012

Really, don't wash your wool stuff like, ever. Unless it's socks, I guess (I don't wear wool socks because reasons). If it's filthy, either throw it away or have it dry-cleaned, but don't even do that very often -- it's not good for the clothes. Brush it and air it out. Steam it if it's truly creased/wrinkled. Same with silk.

I buy mostly cotton clothes because hey washer-dryer-back-home-fold-or-hang-bob's-your-uncle.

Eh, came in to say exactly what Sara C. said. So okay then.
posted by trip and a half at 5:30 PM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Less aggressive spin cycle - hang stuff wetter and it will dry with fewer wrinkles. Take it out fairly damp and shake it hard, then hang where it can drip. I very very rarely iron anything.
posted by leslies at 5:32 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I swear by wrinkle-release spray - mix a little bit of fabric softener with a lot of water, spritz your garment, and hang it or lay it flat overnight. Not sure how it'd work on silk, but it does the trick for everything else I own.

And yeah, wash your clothes less often if you're wearing everything only once between washings. Washing clothes only when necessary will make them last longer.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:14 PM on November 26, 2012

Hang your clothes on a rack next to the shower. Take a hot shower. Put on your clothes. They won’t be free of wrinkles, but they’ll have less wrinkles.

Oh, and for the love of clothes, don’t you dare buy something labeled “No-iron.” It doesn’t breathe, and it doesn’t look good.

Here’s a counter-article for the link ethidda posted.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:32 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

The further from your skin, the less often you should wash it.

Wear undergarments that protect your outergarments and are easy to clean.

Deodorize your body as needed to guard against odors.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:56 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

To follow on from the folks saying to wash less frequently, part of the way to do that is to wear washable undergarments that you wash more often so that you spare the garment to be washed less often (so you sweat on the undergarment, not on the garment). Use dress shields if you need them.

For ironing - it's a do-while task. Do it while watching TV or listening to audio books.
posted by CathyG at 8:46 AM on November 27, 2012

Does your iron have a steam setting? Steam helps immensely in getting wrinkles out of cotton and linen, and can be okay to use on sturdier woolens. If you don't, that would be something to look for in a new iron.

It's also handy if your iron has a sprayer built in, but this can be easily supplemented with a spray bottle (and spray bottles are actually easier to use, I find) -- if you're not already using one, spraying stubborn wrinkles with water then ironing them gets rid of them much faster. (Have not tried Metroid Baby's mix, would be leery of using it on silk, personally.)

Previous iron recommendation threads on AskMe indicate that a heavier iron is better than a lighter one, as the additional weight helps press the wrinkles out with less effort on your part.
posted by EvaDestruction at 10:36 AM on November 27, 2012

When air-drying clothes, I use a fan to speed the drying. Depending on how humid it is where you are, you might want a fan with a heater or use a separate space heater if you already have one. You don't need to heat up the area a lot. Using a fan also helps dry the towels used to blot water from the clothes.

A lot of irons can produce a good amount of steam even when they're held vertical, so you can iron and steam with the same device. Many also have a "shot of steam" feature for stubborn wrinkles.
posted by wryly at 10:37 AM on November 27, 2012

You can wash multiple sweaters at once - just use the bathtub, and take care to choose similar colors. Fill with water, add a tiny bit of wool soap, add sweaters, submerge. Let sit 15 minutes. Push sweaters down in the water to kind of move the water and soap through. Do not agitate or twist or rub. Drain water, fill tub with clean water, and gently push down on sweaters again. Think "tapping floating sweaters into the water" not "mashing into tub". You can fill the tub again if needed. Remove one sweater and lay it down on a clean dry towel. Wrap up the towel and sweater like a sushi roll. Don't wring, just roll up gently. You can re-lay the sweater on a dryer part of the towel and do it again. Then leave them to dry. You can do 5 or 6 at once.

But really, no need to do this more than once every few months, and that's for super heavy wear. Make sure you use an apron while cooking. And use cotton tshirts underneath - that helps most of the problems with odor!
posted by barnone at 1:50 PM on November 27, 2012

Response by poster: Lots of great answers here! So thank you all for your advice, and I hope it can help other people searching for the same topic.

The reason I wash my woollens and silks so often is that much of it is undergarments, thermals and socks. I do delay washing outerwear items until they're visibly dirty or smelly (probably longer than I should...). I guess I have to accept that there's a time tradeoff for clothes worn next to the skin... I will try some cotton undergarments and see how that speeds up the process.

Yeah, I don't really need to be ironing my tea towels. :)

The advice to leave clothes wetter before hang-drying is a good tip. I'll try that out and update you with the results. :)

The bathtub washing tip could be helpful for other people. However, I don't have a bathtub (only a shower), so my handwashing is limited to what fits in the sink or a bucket. Also I don't have much space to dry flat more than 1 or 2 items at a time.

I've tried hanging my clothes near the shower, but I haven't found that it gets wrinkles out sufficiently. I think one of my biggest problems is that I live in a climate that's relatively dry (north-west Germany). I've found that wrinkles are rarely a problem in warm, humid climates, where clothes can be hung and the wrinkles resolve themselves! Perhaps the ultimate solution is to move to the tropics! :)
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 2:55 PM on November 27, 2012

The reason I wash my woollens and silks so often is that much of it is undergarments, thermals and socks.

What type of wool are your wool undergarments? Things like thermals/"long johns"/base layers are often made with washable wool, as are socks. Are you sure that the care instructions specify hand washing these? If so, you should upgrade to smartwool as you replace items. If you knit, look into using superwash wool, which is machine washable.

Additionally with wool socks -- I've heard knitters say that they simply wear them into the shower and clean them with shampoo. Is that a possibility?

Similarly, when I go on backpacking trips and wash my own underthings so as to pack less, I'll generally just wear them into the shower and spend time hand washing them under the shower head. Or if I can't do that, I'll fill the sink with soapy water, throw in that day's socks & underpants, shower, then hand wash and hang dry as part of my morning grooming routine.

Also, this is obviously a matter of opinion, but there's a reason people consider silk underthings a luxury. Get some cotton ones or something for everyday!
posted by Sara C. at 3:04 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're talking about silk thermal long underwear, I machine-wash mine on cool in a lingerie bag and hang them to dry. They seem to do fine with this treatment. For wool socks and undergarments, definitely go for superwash-treated, then you can do them the same way.

In my experience, cotton gets stinky much faster than either wool or silk does, and because it's such a short-staple fiber it's more negatively affected by laundering than they are.
posted by Lexica at 6:54 PM on November 27, 2012

The advice to leave clothes wetter before hang-drying is a good tip.

Be sure, if the material can take it, to give them a firm shake/slap against your body before you leave them hanging, this will often remove/simplify a good bit of the wrinkle problem before you walk away.

I've heard knitters say that they simply wear them into the shower and clean them with shampoo.

I think the type of shampoo used matters, use caution here.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:44 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

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