Once we've invested in a timeless piece, we want that item to last us through the years. Be it your everyday T-shirt collection or favorite pairs of jeans, these staple pieces deserve to stay in tip-top shape so you can lean on them for a number of occasions and look forward to wearing them every time. The number one way of extending the life of your wardrobe is to properly care for each and every piece. For those that call for being washed in a machine instead of dropped off at the dry cleaner's, particular care and attention are essential. Below we've outlined a precise step-by-step of how to wash clothes so you can keep your brights bright, darks dark, and delicates looking brand new.
Prep: Check Labels
Decoding the symbols on clothing labels can feel a lot like taking a test—one that you definitely don’t want to fail. Here’s what you need to know to pass with flying colors:
1. The machine wash symbol refers to the temperature that should be used to wash the item. If the symbol contains one dot, you wash in cold, two dots, you wash in warm, and three dots, you wash in hot. If there is an X over the symbol, head to your nearest dry cleaners.
2. The bleach symbol refers to whether or not you should use chlorine bleach. If it’s a plain white triangle, proceed with caution, if there is an X over it, then steer clear!
3. The tumble dry symbol refers to drying methods. A white circle indicates you can use any heat, one dot means use a low temperature, two dots, normal temperature, and three dots means high temperature.
4. The dry clean symbol indicates just that: whether or not you need to dry clean the piece. If you see a big X, that's your cue to use the washing machine.
Prep: Separate and Treat
Separate your laundry into four piles: whites, lights, darks, and delicates. (Note: If you want to reduce the number of loads, you can combine whites and lights.)
Available in DK sizes 34 to 42.
Prep: Last-Minute Check
Make sure to empty out all pockets, close zippers to prevent snagging, turn denim and embellished pieces inside out, pre-treat any stains, and put your delicates (underpinnings, lingerie, tights, and anything with lace) in mesh bags.
Available in sizes 23 to 32.
Washing: Cold Water
Cold water is good for fine fabrics and delicates, sweaters, denim, and clothes that may shrink. It also protects new items with dark and bright colors from running.
Available in sizes XS to XL.
Washing: Warm Water
Warm water works best with whites and lights. Combined with detergent, the water temperature helps lift soil and stains while removing bacteria.
Available in sizes XS to L.
Washing: Hot Water
Hot water is the best choice for heavily stained items and disinfecting dish and bath towels and washcloths.
1. Color-safe bleach works on all colors and helps removes stains. (Note: This does not disinfect your clothing like chlorine bleach.)
2. Chlorine bleach helps brighten whites. You should never use it on color fabrics! If your machine does not have a bleach dispenser, make sure to dilute the bleach with water first before putting it on your clothes.
3. Fabric softener is a conditioner that keeps towels soft and fluffy and prevents static cling.
Washing: Filling the Machine
Step One: Start filling the machine water.
Step Two: Once the machine is a third full of water, add detergent and/or bleach.
Step Three: When the detergent and bleach are completely dissolved in the water, add your clothes. The maximum load size is three-quarters full.
1. Regular or “normal” combines fast agitation with a fast spin cycle and is good for heavily stained items, cottons, linen, denim, towels, and bedding.
2. Permanent Press combines fast agitation with a slow spin and is good for synthetic fibers (knits and polyesters) and prevents wrinkling.
3. Delicate cycle combines slow agitation with a slow spin and is good for washable silks and wools, garments with embellishments, lingerie, and sheer fabrics.
Washing: Steam Cleaning
To quickly refresh any garments and release wrinkles, use a steamer. This is the perfect at-home way to extend the time between taking your most delicate items to the dry cleaners.
Washing: Hand Washing
Fill a kitchen or bathroom sink with cool or warm water and a little detergent. Let your delicates soak for 15 to 20 minutes and then rinse in clear water two to three times. Hang dry.
1. Regular (high heat) setting is good for whites, jeans, towels, sheets, linens, and items that are pre-shrunk. Do not use this setting with clothing washed in hot water.
2. Permanent Press (medium heat) setting prevents colored garments from fading and ensures your clothes do not wrinkle or lose their shape. Do not use this setting for delicates because they will lose their shape.
3. Delicate (low heat) setting uses a slower speed to gently dry fragile clothing and is good for knits and frail fabrics.
Drying: Hang or Flat Drying
Hang drying is the best method for sturdy items, cottons, polyesters, silks, and fabrics that do not stretch. A good tip is to pin your tops by the hemline to avoid bunching at the shoulders. Knits and wool sweaters should be dried on a flat surface.
Drying: Quick Tricks
1. Throw a clean dry towel in the dryer with wet clothes. The towel will help absorb the moisture, allowing the clothing to dry much quicker.
2. If clothes are dry but wrinkled—a case of “you left them sitting in the dryer too long”—toss in a clean, damp towel and turn on the dryer for 15-minute intervals into wrinkles are gone.
This story was originally published on August 15, 2013 and has since been updated by Anna LaPlaca.