In the first article of this Love Your Clothes series, we explored the environmental impact of garment care. In this article, we will explore the appropriate ways to wash and care for different types of fabric. Understanding the nature of fabrics will help you keep your clothes in shape and make them last longer. Especially if you invested in sustainable clothing, which is more expensive than fast fashion clothing, surely you want to make it last. Some clothing obviously needs a good wash after one wears such as underwear and workout clothes, but others not so much. By knowing how often your garments need to be washed, you can save a lot of energy. This could have a huge positive impact on our planet since garment care accounts for around 30% of a garment’s total carbon footprint.
The appropriate ways to wash your garment really depend on the garment’s material composition, colours, how it was treated and other factors. So always check the care label first before you throw your clothes into a washing machine!
Cotton is understandably the most popular fabric in the world. It’s inexpensive, durable and easy to manufacture. Most cotton clothing is machine washable and you can easily iron out the wrinkles. The only downside of cotton is that it tends to shrink easily. Most cotton clothing is sold preshrunk so that it will shrink less than 3% when washed. But untreated cotton can shrink up to 20% when washed at high temperatures. In general, you can wash cotton clothing in a normal cycle at a low temperature (max at 30°C). If you dry your clothes outside, we recommend only to put your white cotton garments on as the sun can bleach away colours and cause fading.
Denim is generally made of cotton or blends of cotton and other fibres. Its twill weave makes the fabric rough, so you don’t want to wash them with delicate items. There are many thoughts on how to care for jeans. Serious denim fanatics will tell you to never wash your blue jeans, which may sound crazy. However, it’s actually not that crazy idea, it’s better for the environment and keeps jeans looking newer for longer. Each wash breaks down the fibres of the denim and deep indigo fades. Raw denim especially is best given 6 months before washing. The longer you leave it, the better the jeans will look. If you got some stains, quickly rub them with a damp cloth. If you want to get rid of a smell, turn our denim inside out and hang it outside on a sunny and windy day. If you must wash them, turn them inside out with very little soap in cold water and hang them to dry.
Soft linen fabrics are perfect for creating gorgeous, flowy garments. Linen is also durable, gets softer and absorbent with each wash, and is naturally moth resistant. Although linen can withstand high temperatures, it’s better to wash it at low temperatures for environmental reasons. Wash with a gentle cycle to extend the life of your linen garments. You can use the dryer to dry linen and hemp clothing but air dying is always better for preserving fibres, colours, and shape, and saves energy!
Similar to linen, hemp garments are durable and breathable, an even more sustainable option than organic cotton. You can machine wash hemp clothing in the normal cycle. The only downside of linen and hemp textile is that they are prone to wrinkles. The drying process is the same as linen clothing. To remove wrinkles, iron on the highest heat setting or use a steamer.
Viscose is considered a synthetic fibre derived from wood-pulp. It is highly absorbent and lustrous and has no static buildup. However, viscose fabrics have poor resilience, weaken when wet, and are prone to mildew. Cleaning viscose can be tricky. Viscose rayon can shrink badly and dyes tend to fade. The safest way to wash it is by hand in cold water and air dry it. Make sure to smooth out the fabric when drying because it can be hard to get the wrinkles out of viscose fabrics.
Tencel (or Lyocell) is derived from wood pulps to create rayon material. It often feels soft on the skin, breathable, and flattering due to its drape effect. Tencel fabric is also easy to maintain, wrinkle-resistant and dries quickly. To keep your Tencel clothing in its best condition, we recommend turning it inside out then hand washing or gentle cycle washing at 30 degrees with other delicate items. Your Tencel garment may shrink with its first washing but don’t worry, it’s completely normal. Tencel fabrics might lose up to 3% of their mass with the first wash. Don’t tumble dry your Tencel clothing and opt for hang dry. To get rid of wrinkles from Tencel fabrics, steaming is the most gentle and say option.
Bamboo textiles are gaining popularity these days due to their environmental benefits and appearing more in the stores. Growing bamboo requires 500 times less water and produces 25% fewer emissions. The fabric is absorbent, has no static buildup, and is antimicrobial and mildew-resistant. It’s best to wash bamboo and rayon fabrics with cold water in a gentle wash. We recommend washing bamboo separately from towels and bathrobes as it can cause lint build-up.
The key to keeping your sweater in the best shape is not washing it. Thankfully, both wool and alpaca sweaters don’t need washing so often as they are naturally dirt-resistant and stain-proof. It does a great job at repelling most stains before they are given too much time to get absorbed. Other great benefits of alpaca wool are that it is odour-resistant and antibacterial. For all these great properties of alpaca wool, you barely need to wash alpaca garments.
The important thing about washing alpaca garments is that they NEED to be HAND WASHED. Not even the “hand wash” option of your washing machine will do. They need to be washed by your own hand in cold or lukewarm water. After washing, DON’T WRING, drying should be done by laying the garment flat on an even surface, between two towels. Avoid direct sunlight and heat sources such as radiators, because they can yellow, shrink or damage the fibre.
Similar to alpaca, wool has most of the benefits that alpaca has. Therefore, you barely need to wash the wool garments, making both alpaca and wool garments very sustainable options. Wool garments are also very unlikely to show any creases or wrinkles. Ironing is therefore not necessary.
However, some wool garments are treated to be machine washable. Although it makes it more convenient for the owner, treatment is often done with chemicals and it removes lanolin from its fibres. The lanolin is what keeps sheep’s skin from infections and makes the wool fibre antibacterial. Hence, untreated wool requires less washing, making it more sustainable than treated wool.
Washing wool sweaters also should be done by hand because wool can shrink easily and the washing machine causes shedding and pilling as well. If you must wash it in a washing machine, wash in Dedicate cycle with low spin, and water temperature no higher than 30 degrees. For drying, the same rules as alpaca apply. You can also wash and dry camel hair items the same way.
Cashmere is one of the softest and finest fibres you can find. Cashmere sweaters are usually expensive due to the laborious process to comb the hair of goats, and it takes 4 goats to make one sweater. Because it’s such a luxurious material, you might be afraid of ruining your sweater and always send it to the dry cleaners. But it’s actually not that hard to wash your cashmere sweater at home. You can hand wash it with cold water and baby shampoo or detergents for wool and cashmere. If you really cannot be bothered to hand wash but don’t want to spend money on dry cleaning, you can wash cashmere clothing on Delicate cycle as long as you put them in a mesh bag. You can dry your cashmere sweater the same way you dry wool or alpaca. But for storing, it’s better to fold and store in your wardrobe than to use a hanger so that it won’t lose its shape.
Although we prefer natural materials and we do not use not-so-sustainable materials listed below, we think it’s best to help you make all the clothes you already have last for the environment, so here are some tips to wash your garments that includes materials below.
Silk garments are dedicate, and have a natural sheen, good absorbency, and drapes well. Keep in mind that silk tends to degrade and weaken with heat and perspiration. Silk fabrics need to be washed very gently and carefully. Some silk garments indicate that they are dry clean only, if not, you can wash your silk garment by hand in cold or lukewarm water. To remove odour from silk fabric, soak it in lukewarm water mixed with a ¼ cup of scented vinegar prior to washing. Make sure you are using silk-friendly detergent and only keep it in the water for a few minutes.
If you’d like to learn how to make scented vinegar, check out this article here.
Fur garments are made with the pelt of animals with fine, soft, and insulating fibres. Common furs used in the fashion industry include mink, sable, fox, beaver, rabbit, raccoon and marten. Cleaning fur items requires careful care. Check out the article by The Sprucce describing how to wash and care for fur pieces here.
Fabrics such as polyester, polyamide, nylon, and spandex, are synthetics, meaning they are plastic-base. At l’amour est bleu, we are not a fan of synthetic fabrics as they are derived from oil, they shed microplastic every time you wash them, and when natural and synthetic fibres are blended, it makes it very difficult to recycle. There are a number of companies working to find innovative ways to recycle blended fabrics in mass, however, it’s only possible in small quantities at the moment.
Most synthetic fabrics are machine washable either in cold or warm water (although cold is recommended for white fabrics). You can tumble dry synthetic fabrics, but we recommend line drying because it saves energy.
Polyester: It’s often blended with cotton. You might want to check the labels but you can usually machine wash clothing made with polyester.
Polyamide: It’s often blended with viscose or rayon. We don’t recommend machine washing some of the items that contain polyamide since the fabric could expand.
Spandex: Spandex is usually used for activewear due to its lightweight and elasticity. Active or swimwear with spandex and other clothing with spandex blend can be washed in the washing machine. Turn the item inside out and put them in a mesh bag to avoid tearing and snugging. After washing, always air dry active and swimwear! The heat from tumble drying will reduce the fabric’s elasticity and moisture-wicking properties.
Acrylic: Unless the acrylic is used in sweaters with wool-like materials or dedicate items, you can wash it in a washing machine. Make sure you select the Dedicate cycle and with both water temperature and spin are low. Do not put acrylic items in a dryer or use iron as acrylic is vulnerable to heat.
Nylon: A strong, durable fabric, nylon clothing is usually easy to wash and care for. Because it resists absorbing moisture and dries quickly, nylon is often used in swimwear and activewear. You can wash nylon clothing in a washing machine with regular detergent. Remember, nylon cannot be dry cleaned or washed with chlorine bleach. When drying, avoid direct sunlight.
Washing Different Fabrics Together
You certainly can wash different fabrics together. However, make sure all fabrics can be washed at the same temperature, keep the blacks, whites, and coloured fabrics separated, and keep rough fabrics and dedicate fabrics separated.
Storing Your Clothes
As mentioned earlier, knitted garments should be stored folded to prevent stretching and woven items can be hung. We recommend storing all your clothes in breathable cotton bags to protect them from bugs, including some garments that will be stored for a long time such as fur coats. To store fur pieces, make sure the room is cold and humidity is between 45 to 55%, and keep light exposure low. Avoid storing clothes in plastic bags as it encourages yellowing and can trap mildew-causing moisture, which is a prime environment for bugs.