How to wash nice clothes?
September 18, 2018 3:18 PM   Subscribe

I am not a fashionista by any means and don't aspire to be, but I've recently decided to stop looking sloppy all the time and ended up purchasing some nice blouses and dress(ier) pants. However, I have no idea how to wash them. This is where you can help!

Up until this point, I've thrown all my shirts, pants, and bras in the "normal" cycle of the wash and then thrown it in the "normal" cycle of the dryer. This has sometimes resulted in disfigured bras and shrunken and damaged clothes. I just kinda... wore them anyway.

Now, for the first time, I've actually looked at the wash care symbols for my new clothes, and I feel a little overwhelmed about how to deal with my blouses and pants. I've already ordered a laundry bag specifically for bras, so I think I've got that sorted (wash on delicate/cold, then line dry, right?)

My questions are:
- On some of my blouses, there is both the hand wash symbol and the "wet clean, delicate only" symbol. Does this mean I can do either?
- Realistically, I will probably not be handwashing my clothes very often. So even for the hand wash only ones, can I just do a delicate, cold cycle?
- Should I be using mesh laundry bags for just the handwashing items or all delicate blouses?
- Pants don't go in mesh bags, right? Should I turn them inside out before washing?
- What material of clothes are usually candidates for dry cleaning? I have never dry cleaned anything in my life so I'm clueless about this. Some of my pants and skirts have the "no dry cleaning" symbol. Why is that?
- I have always washed my underwear and socks in their own load, using the normal warm cycle. Should I be using the sanitary cycle?

Sorry for all the rudimentary questions, but I appreciate any help I can get.
posted by Forty-eight to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
in my experience natural fibers can be gently hand washed at home (cold water, delicate soap, NO DRYER!!!) but some synthetics (esp rayon) do require dry cleaning.

yes you can do delicate washer cycle for your hand wash.
posted by supermedusa at 3:35 PM on September 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you have any fabrics that you don't want to snag or if there is something on the garment that might catch around the agitator, put it in a mesh laundry bag.

If your pants have instructions telling you to turn them inside out or to wash them on their own, believe the tag. That generally means that they've got a lot of dye in them that can transfer to your other fabrics. You may also want to invest in some of those Shout Color Catchers. I felt a little silly spending the extra money on them when I first picked them up, but my clothes have been less dingy after using them.
posted by angelchrys at 3:44 PM on September 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thank you for asking this question. I am also laundry clueless and will be keeping an eye on this thread specifically for the two questions below:

- What material of clothes are usually candidates for dry cleaning? I have never dry cleaned anything in my life so I'm clueless about this. Some of my pants and skirts have the "no dry cleaning" symbol. Why is that?
- I have always washed my underwear and socks in their own load, using the normal warm cycle. Should I be using the sanitary cycle? What the purpose of the sanitary cycle?

Slightly off-topic, I typically go the other way and dry clean everything except for undergarments, socks, jeans, PJs, and sports clothes. Personally I hate ironing and feel that the clothes looks much nicer and more polished coming from the cleaners rather than my lousy ironing.
posted by seesom at 4:09 PM on September 18, 2018

"Do not dry clean" means that the dry cleaning solvents (all dry cleaning is done with a solvent) will destroy the dye, the fibers, the stitching or some combination thereof.

"Dry clean" is a suggestion; "Dry Clean only"is a mandate.

The "sanitary" cycle is high heat and high agitation. It's for stuff like dishtowels or sheets that have bodily fluids on them. It's not for ordinary washing of ordinary soiled laundry.
posted by crush at 4:10 PM on September 18, 2018 [5 favorites]

That is, people use the "sanitary" cycle for cloth diapers, not grown up's underpants.
posted by crush at 4:12 PM on September 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

I want to second the love for Shout Color Catchers. Those things rule, especially if I accidentally mix my colors up or wash something that turns out to not be colorfast.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:38 PM on September 18, 2018

Hopefully some of these will be helpful! These are all through research and personal trial and error. Pick and choose which are the most helpful/easiest to adjust to. If you try to do too many specialty things you might end up giving up on the whole process. In no particular order, other than for sure do #1:

1) dont wash towels with clothes unless the clothes are tough (like jeans). You might already do this but you really should definitely follow this one.

2) For now it might be easiest to get a bunch of garment washing bags and bag everything up, throw it in a cold water wash, then air dry them. Over time you will be able to figure out what can be dried in a dryer or doesnt need a garment bag, but in the mean time you wont lose anything you like to poor practices.

3) "dry clean": Lots of things that say dry clean can be cleaned at home. My best friend's dad is a dry cleaner and he said a lot of things that ask for dry cleaning dont require it. That said, a dry cleaner will press your items and they will come out looking sharper and less wrinkled. And, if you can afford dry cleaning and dont want to deal w laundry, it is an awesome option. I wash almost everything i have, even if it asks for dry cleaning, because i cannot afford dry cleaning that many things. (Cashmere is the only thing i dont tackle myself.) That said, if a thing asks for dry cleaning, to be on the safe side i wash it in the washer in cold water and put it in a garment bag. Dont put it in the dryer.

3a) If your thing has things like pleats or some sort of weird shape thing going on that would be a pain in the ass to recreate, dry clean it.

4) Washing bras can be a pain in the ass. You can put them in a garment bag and wash them in a machine, but if you really care about it you should hand wash it :P There are soaps you can get that doesnt require rinsing afterwards. A bit pricey, but it is worth it. Just search for lingerie soap.

5) wash everything in cold water to be on the safe side.

6) when in doubt as to whether you should dry something in the dryer or not, dont do it. I have lost inches off of things that were supposedly okay to go in the dryer. It will also mess up some fabrics.

7) polyester is the easiest bc it doesnt seem to matter what you do to it. That said, i dont actually have much polyester bc i dont really like it.

8) never wring things out to dry them. If you really want to get excess moisture out of them, lay them on a towel, roll the towel up, and gently squeeze.

9) side loaded washing machines are way more gentle on clothes than top loaded.

10) when air drying, remember that the weight of the fabric plus water might stretch the fabric out a bit, so dont hang things by the shoulders.

... okay, i am overwhelming myself with the number of things i still have to tell you so i am actually going to stop for now. Honestly, a lot of what i learned i was from the internet. I wanted to learn how to wash silk, so i looked that up. I wanted to learn how to wash rayon, so i looked that up, etc. Pick out a couple of your favorite things and learn how to deal w those. You will be able to extrapolate some of that info to some other things. Next week look into dealing w your next favorite things. Over time you will learn. :) Good luck!
posted by miss so and so at 5:03 PM on September 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

Bras: they can be washed in a delicate cycle, but I find it's best to soak them for quite a while. They are affected a lot by perspiration and body oils, and the machine wash isn't long enough to be really effective. I fill a sink with very warm water that has either normal detergent or Woolite in it, and then submerge the bras and leave them -- sometimes as long as overnight. Then massage the fabric by hand, and rinse really well. I roll them up in a towel to blot up excess water, and hang them to dry.

The delicate machine cycle usually uses cool water and doesn't agitate the clothes harshly, plus it has a shorter spin. Spinning doesn't hurt fabric or ruin the shape, but it can cause them to wrinkle a lot. If your items aren't prone to wrinkling, you can use a faster spin after the delicate cycle is finished.

Even with clothes that need careful handling, I'll often put them in the dryer on low heat for about 10 minutes to let wrinkles relax. After that, I either hang them to dry, or I lay them flat on a towel if there's a danger that the damp garments might stretch out of shape. If a label says, "Dry flat," it means that you might have to stretch it back to the right size and reshape it after it's been washed.

In the laundry and clothing industries, a cold wash is officially cooler than 85 . You don't need to use cold water straight from the tap; when it's just a bit cooler than tepid it's fine and will clean better than very cold water.

If you're going to be air-drying clothes, a fan can be a huge time-saver. And in humid or cool weather it can get them dry fast enough that mildew won't have a chance to form.
posted by wryly at 5:12 PM on September 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

Does the washing machine that you're using have an agitator in the middle, with fins on the side? If so, I'd err on the side of using mesh laundry bags for more things than not, as that can be kind of hard on delicate clothing. (I've had the sleeves of nice shirts end up wound around the center agitator.) Front-loading machines are a little gentler. I use mesh laundry bags for pretty much anything that it would make me sad/annoyed to have roughed up in the wash, including a couple of silk blouses, and things that might become tangled or rough something else up in the wash (like dangling straps or ties or prominent zippers/hooks).

Cool water is best for delicates; hot water bothers some natural fibers (silk and wool) and breaks down the elastic in things like bras and even stretchy jeans.

when air drying, remember that the weight of the fabric plus water might stretch the fabric out a bit, so dont hang things by the shoulders

Yes - if you have the space, it's best to lay things like sweaters (or nice shirts that are heavier than a blouse) flat on a drying rack. (I like these, since they're stackable.) Bras can hang to dry, just not by the straps - hang them by the fabric at the center of the bra (the area between the cups), which won't stretch out.
posted by Anita Bath at 5:13 PM on September 18, 2018

My washable work clothes (including bras in a mesh bag) are washed in cold water. Bras are removed and hung to dry, everything else is dried on the lowest heat for about 15 minutes - then I remove them and either hang them or lay them flat to dry.
posted by bunderful at 5:19 PM on September 18, 2018

I try not to buy clothes that need extra special treatment but I wash everything on cold and hang it to dry, especially bras, underwear, and delicate shirts, tank tops, dresses, pants, I turn all shirts and pants inside out. I invested in a good laundry rack that allows sweaters to be laid flat but generally I haven't had an issues with stretching with the clothes folded over a bar, but yes beware of laying anything to dry over anything that indents the fabric (like a corner piece of the rack) as it will stretch.
posted by lafemma at 5:23 PM on September 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Cardinal rule: when in doubt, air dry.
posted by lydhre at 5:42 PM on September 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

If it says delicate or hand wash, I have good luck washing in my machine on hand wash cycle and lying flat or hanging to dry, depending on garment. Pants do not need mesh bag. I don't use mesh bag except for lingerie. Mesh bag is meant to protect garments from an agitator or to protect it from coming in contact with another garment in same load.

I tend to wash like items together. If you have delicate blouses, don't mix with pants with zippers and such. I would do a pants load and a delicate blouse load with other delicate items like underpants.

I like these two videos:

How to Care for Clothes

The Best Ways to Launder Your Clothes
posted by loveandhappiness at 6:16 PM on September 18, 2018

I only purchase work clothes that can be washed at home. This obviates the need for dry cleaning. Anything that says "dry clean only" cannot be washed it home, because washing will ruin it. Rayon is a fabric that needs to be dry cleaned; lots of synthetics are dry clean only.

For clothes that say wash cold on delicate or hand wash only, I wash them all on a delicate cycle in cold water using Soak rather than regular Tide or other laundry detergent. I separate light colors from dark, which means that I do a light wash every 3 weeks or so and a dark wash on other weeks (I wash delicates every Saturday). I hang or lay everything flat to dry. I use two yoga mats on the floor for pants and things that can't be hung, and mounted two brackets on my wall (like this) that I use to hang my shirts and dresses (4 or 5 per bracket). Sometimes I point a fan at them overnight depending on the humidity and weather. I only use mesh bags for bras, which I lay flat to dry.

Doing this regularly (every week) makes it a lot easier. First, I don't have to have a big work wardrobe! More importantly, it's difficult to find enough space to lay things flat to dry if I wait too long.

I use the same routine for my workout clothes, which I also do not dry in my dryer.
posted by sockermom at 6:48 PM on September 18, 2018

It can be overwhelming to try and learn how to take care of nice clothes. Rayon? Wool? Silk/modal? What do all of these symbols mean???

There's lots of good advice upthread. If you want to read a really good, in depth book on the subject, find yourself a copy of Home Comforts. It's as hefty as a phone book and it's full of information on how to care for fabrics properly, and lots of other information about domestic skills. Consider it the handbook for that Home Ec class that you either skipped or never took.

I bet your local library can get you a copy, if you don't have the space for the book, or just don't want to pay for it.

Oh yeah, and one more thing: the thing that's really hard on your clothes isn't the washer. It's the dryer. If you want your bras to last longer and not look twisted and wonky, you can put them in a garment bag and wash them in the washer, but hang them up to dry.
posted by cleverevans at 7:42 PM on September 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

The other thing to keep in mind is that for your non-casual, woven clothes to look nice, you're probably going to have to steam/iron them. Even drying flat you will get wrinkles. Nothing wrecks a sharp look like wrinkles. There are a lot of tutorials on ironing out there now.

(I can't imagine putting an underwire bra in the dryer, but maybe non-underwire are different. I've never had the opportunity to know!)
posted by praemunire at 7:58 PM on September 18, 2018

I always washed my delicates in the machine's gentle cycle, with the amount of Woolite recommend on the bottle. (I rarely wear anything delicate anymore, which is why I use the past tense.) Bras, camisoles, and stockings I still always hang to dry. Outer garments usually went in the dryer on the lowest temperature. Anything I was afraid of shrinking, I hung dry and ironed on low.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:04 AM on September 19, 2018

Forgot to add: bras and stockings always go in a mesh bag so they won't get tangled around each other or the washer's agitator.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:08 AM on September 19, 2018

miss so and so and everyone have great advice.

Wash in cold water, turn everything inside out and close the fasteners on everything. You should close bra fasteners even if the bras are in a mesh bag. Never dry bras in the dryer. My authority problem does not extend to "dry clean only." There, I obey.

If you really like a garment, don't put it in the dryer.
posted by jgirl at 4:24 AM on September 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

Tumble-dryer causes most problems at highest heat. When I run a delicates wash cycle, I then separate out things I will NOT put in the dryer (bras, wool, snag-prone fabrics). If you try to shake out a blouse and hang it up, it would be fairly damp, and have wrinkles, so I'd have to iron it after it dries, which I don't want to do... so instead I turn the dryer to low heat, put in the slacks and button-shirts and blouses. After about 20 minutes, they will be still be damp, but they'll be slightly warm, and when I hang them up they may have fabric-texture wrinkles, but they won't have large creases.
posted by aimedwander at 8:19 AM on September 19, 2018

Keep the dryer heat as low as possible.
Really delicate stuff, air-dry.
Mesh bags are also great for keeping pairs of socks together and preventing small items like hankies from vanishing.
Shout Color Catchers are your friends.
posted by oblique red at 2:13 PM on September 19, 2018

Mesh dryer bags are a godsend. Use them for anything that's delicate or that could get snagged/twisted (like bras). You shouldn't put bras in the dryer, however. You can hang them dry by the center gore. I also put little delicate socks and nicer underwear in them.
posted by radioamy at 7:45 PM on September 19, 2018

my clothes aren't particularly expensive/high quality, but I've managed to extend the life of my clothes a lot since I placed a moratorium on tumble-drying. Now I don't tumble-dry anything that I care about the appearance of (bad grammar but you know what I mean); I wash everything in cold water and hang-dry, and it has made a huge difference to how long my clothes last.
posted by Ziggy500 at 5:24 AM on September 20, 2018

Also - I don't wash things when they aren't stinky. For me skirts in particular are usually pretty good at holding up for multiple wearings.

In a pinch I will use homemade febreeze on the armpits of a cardigan to stretch it out for a couple of days - this is less about taking care of my clothing and and more about desperation, but it works.
posted by bunderful at 7:04 PM on September 20, 2018

« Older What questions should I ask a prospective...   |   How much sympathy/consideration can I expect from... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.