Keeping It Clean

We’ve all done it – turned our white socks and underwear pink, shrunk our favorite sweater, ironed a hole in our Umbros (OK, maybe that one was just me) … for those of you who launder everything on the same setting and throw all your colors in the same batch on cold and hope for the best, here’s a quick run-down of how not to ruin your clothes in the wash!

First of all, keep in mind that harsh detergents are going to be rough on your fabrics. If you wouldn’t want the soap to touch your skin, you may want to think twice about using it on your linens. A neutral, pH-balanced detergent specially designed to be gentle on your fabrics can do the job without aging your linens prematurely (such as Linen Wash, which runs $9.50 for an 8 oz bottle at or products from The Laundress, There are plenty of other detergents that are easier to find in the shops that also work … mindfulness is the key here.

Cotton: Cotton, that most versatile of fabrics, is tough too – it can stand a lot, so go ahead and use hot water and high heat unless the care tag says otherwise. Keep your whites and colors bright with a bleach alternative, such as All Small & Mighty with bleach alternative. Iron graphic tee-shirts inside-out and on low so as not to melt the image. When packing tees for a trip, roll them tightly to make more space and less wrinkles!

Denim: Your jeans will be good in warm water, washed separately from other clothes. Tumble-dry them on low to prevent shrinking, especially in the waist. Also, if you’ve got new ones, make sure you wear them four times before washing so that they can mold to your body. If you wish to shrink them, try sitting with them on in a bath of cold water. To renew a little of their “look,” wash old pairs with new pairs; the indigo will slowly transfer! Because denim is so sturdy, you can use just about any detergent you like and love the results.

Delicates: This refers to fancy blouses and expensive underwear. These are always best hand-washed, but if you’d prefer to do them by machine, soak them in cool water, then use a loosely packed lingerie bag to keep them from stretching and getting tangled in the wash. Check the label, but most delicates are OK to be washed at a low-temperature. Be sure to use a mild detergent, many are available just for your delicates.

Knits: If you aren’t in the mood for hand washing, these can be washed in warm water … they should be washed inside out and either hung dry, laid flat or tumble-dried on low. All Small & Mighty fresh rain is a good choice for knits. Fold sweaters over padded hangers – hanging them up can stretch the shoulders. To iron wool, use the press method rather than sliding the iron back and forth. Before storing them, wrap your sweaters loosely in white tissue paper with a cedar block to deter moths before sealing them in a cloth bag.

Washable silk: Silk is only ever washable when it is pre-washed by the manufacturer. If it’s OK to wash, soak the fabric in lukewarm water with a mild soap, such as All Small & Mighty for 5 minutes. If the water is too hot or cold, it may shrink or stretch the garment. Rub stains under the soapy water, but not too hard as it can damage the fabric. Wring out the excess water by spreading the garment on a towel and rolling it up. The towel will absorb the majority of the water and the silk will receive a quick wringing. Leave the towel on the garment and let it dry somewhat. While still damp, put it on a towel and let it dry a bit.

Towels: The first thing to know about towels is that if they’re brand new, wash them before use or you may end up matching your towel by the time you’re done drying off! Wash towels in warm water with similar colors, steering clear of chlorine bleach. Tumble drying will bring out the softness and fluffiness, but don’t use fabric softener or dryer sheets because the silicones in these products will reduce their absorbency. To freshen your towels, try adding ½ cup of baking soda to the wash cycle. When they are done drying, shake them out and fold them right away to keep them looking nice.

Down: Down products really shouldn’t be washed unless strictly necessary as it’s not good to get it wet (mildew is a threat) and soap can damage the clusters. However, once or twice a year is okay, as long as you are careful. It’s best to wash down in warm water on a gentle cycle for no more than six minutes … using mild dish soap such as Dawn and a front-loading commercial wash (not an agitator). The item should then be dried thoroughly on a medium setting – high heat can scorch the fabric. If at all possible, try to wash the mattress/pillow protectors and duvets instead. Feather and fiber beds must be spot cleaned only with appropriate cleaners (usually citrus-based).

To make your laundering experience a little more fun, try decorating the space a bit. Considering you’re likely to spend a few hours each week doing the wash, brightening the room can make this chore a little more cheery. Adding a nice color of paint to the walls or to your metal sink, experimenting with cloth and wicker baskets for sorting, and storing laundry detergents and soaps in pretty glass canisters can all go a long way toward making laundry day fun … almost!