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How to Care for Every Fabric in Your Closet

Are you laundry-lost?

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

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.

  • Machine wash in warm water
  • For whites, use hot water; for reds, use cool water
  • Tumble dry on low heat (to avoid shrinkage)
  • Iron on a high temperature

Denim

Denim is a tightly woven cotton, which makes it heavier and more durable than traditional cotton.

  • Machine wash in cold water
  • Turn inside out before washing to keep color from fading
  • Air dry flat (don’t hang, as this can cause stretching)
  • Iron on a high temp if necessary

Acetate

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

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!

  • Machine wash with warm water
  • Lay flat to dry
  • Iron on low heat, inside out

Flannel

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.

Leather

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, permanently ruining your favorite leather jacket or boots. 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

Hemp is fabric woven from the cannabis plant and it’s three 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.

  • Machine wash in cold water
  • Hang dry
  • Iron on high temperature when fabric is still damp

Linen

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.

  • Hand wash or machine wash in cool water
  • Use chlorine-free bleach
  • Dry on medium heat
  • Iron with low-heat steam when fabric is still damp
  • Turn the clothing inside out for ironing and place a cloth between garment and iron (don’t iron directly on linen)

Nylon

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.

  • Machine wash in warm water (use cold for white nylon)
  • Tumble dry on low heat
  • Remove from dryer quickly (nylon wrinkles easily)
  • Iron on the lowest setting (so it won’t melt the fabric)

Polyester

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.

  • Machine wash in cool water
  • Tumble dry on low heat or air dry
  • Remove clothes from dryer while still damp to prevent wrinkles
  • Iron on low heat if necessary (it can melt in high temps)

Rayon

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 to avoid washing machines and irons.

Seersucker

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.

  • Machine wash in cold water
  • Hang to dry, preferably outside or near a window for a sun-kissed touch
  • Don’t iron

Silk

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.

  • Handwash in lukewarm water with mild detergent (to revitalize the fiber)
  • Roll in a towel to squeeze out moisture; hang flat to dry
  • Don’t iron

Spandex

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:

  • Machine wash in cold water
  • Hang to dry
  • Never iron
  • Don’t use bleach or vinegar

Suede

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.

  • Handwash in lukewarm water (gentle cycle; stop before spin cycle)
  • Rinse thoroughly
  • Press out the excess water gently
  • Air dry flat
  • Gently brush the fabric with your hand as it dries to maintain the look and feel of the suede

Terrycloth

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

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 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 (Cashmere)

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.

Sequins/Beads/Lace

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.

Conclusion

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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