How to Clean Your Clothes - dummies

By Gill Chilton

Cleaning your own clothes might seem straightforward to some, but not all fabrics can just be thrown in the washer. Here are some tips to help you care for those outfits you love the most.

Wool causes an enormous number of washday problems, because once it has shrunk, it cannot be stretched back to shape. Only wool marked Pure New Wool – washable, pre-shrunk can be washed in a machine, using the wool programme. All other types of wool or wool-rich garments must be hand washed or dry-cleaned.

Looking after your clothes requires more than simply washing them correctly. How you treat them whilst in storage, in drawers and wardrobes, and how you behave when you wear them is important too. For example, fleece benefits from airing out on a hanger. Identify with the three stages of clothes care – washing, storing, and wearing – and you’ll enjoy being clean and smartly dressed with less effort and expense.

New clothes and household textiles have labels that detail the fabrics they’re made of. But you may have older fabrics that carry no identification. This is hard to get around. To identify the type of fabric, compare it with known items or take to a dry-cleaners or fabric store for an opinion. But if you’d rather get going at home, you may like to try a couple of tests:

  • See how the fabric reacts with water. Wet a small, inconspicuous area using a wet sponge. Let it –air-dry. If the fabric is washable, there should be no change. If instead you spot shrinkage or the material appears weaker or puckered, the fabric is dry-clean only.

  • Test for colourfastness. This simple laundry test takes just a few moments, yet can save so much disaster and distress! Follow these steps every time you buy a new, coloured item:

    1. Find an inconspicuous area of your garment.

      You’re looking for a spot where, if the colour does fade, it won’t be a worry. Inside a seam allowance is perfect.

    2. Make up a small solution of water and washing-detergent.

      A teaspoon of powder in 100 millilitres (ml) (1/4 pint) of warm water is fine.

    3. Use a sponge to dampen your test area with the solution.

      Let it sit for a few moments.

    4. Blot up with a dry, white cloth.

    5. Check for colour on your cloth.

      Any colour transfer means that your garment is not colourfast.

    Repeat the test with hotter water if you plan a hot water wash, or try again with cold water if the fabric wasn’t colourfast with the warm water solution.

Do this sneaky colourfast test when you’re short on time: Simply get out the iron and steam press an inconspicuous area of fabric between two layers of white linen, such as an old tea towel. If there’s no dye on the towel, your item is colourfast.

Wash coloured items separately the first time, even if the care label doesn’t tell you to take this caution.