Handle with Care

Getting my first washing machine and dryer was, embarrassingly, one of the most exciting days of my life thus far. I no longer had to stumble down the busy street, praying that nothing humiliating would blow out of my heavy, over-stuffed laundry basket, with a pocket full of noisy change. Now I could give every item of clothing the special attention it needed. There was no conversation needed between my fiancé and I, it was decided, I would be the undisputed, sole laundry doer, or laundry fairy – as my fiancé calls me, of the relationship. I do love doing the laundry more than any human should but it’s not all lemons and teddy bears like the commercials would lead you to believe. Even with all of my magical laundry skills, doing the wash is never as cut and dry as wash and dry.

Luckily for us, each item of clothing comes labelled with symbols and washing instructions that are obvious and easy to understand… about ten percent of the time. Although standardized, these laundry symbols can be confusing and easily forgotten, especially when the deranged designer doesn’t include written instructions to accompany the symbols. This handy guide certainly clears things up a bit but there are still some seemingly needless complications, specifically, drying instructions. Being instructed to hang something to dry in the shade seems like a conflicting idea, as the sun has a major role is the drying process, but this practice will prevent fading and can save and extend the life of your silk garments. Drying a piece of clothing flat can also feel unnecessary but it’s the only thing standing between you wearing a wool sweater or a wool dress. Wool is so notorious for stretching when hung to dry that I have intentionally hung a sweater gifted to my fiancé that was a little too short for his extra tall frame for exactly that reason. Drip dry is different from regular hang dry in that way that it can be, and is recommended to be, hung while literally still dripping wet, as opposed to being wrung out first.

Laundry Symbols

One laundry symbol that has the power to deter me from buying even the most compelling garments is the dry clean only symbol. Fortunately there are exceptions to this rule. Some clothing makers choose to apply to dry clean only label because the actual washing instructions would be to long and complicated to fit on that tiny tag. Fabrics like polyester can usually be thrown in with the regular wash with no adverse side effects. Nylon and rayon can – in most cases – be washed at home, either by hand or in the washer on gentle cycle, but the manufacturer will recommend dry cleaning these fabrics because nylon snags and rayon gets fuzzy and irreversible damage can be done if you are not careful. Sometimes a nice cotton article of clothing will recommend dry cleaning because cotton will shrink, sometimes drastically, ninety-nine percent of the time. The size of the investment you have made with a piece of clothing will ultimately determine if it’s worth the risk to forgo the recommended dry cleaning. You would never attempt to wash a new cashmere sweater at home but you don’t give a second thought to throwing that new ten dollar t-shirt in the hamper. The same conditions apply to fabrics like wool and silk. Washing silk at home can greatly change the texture, colour and shine, but if the cost to have the item dry cleaned is greater than the amount you paid for it, the decision is simple. Silk can be hand washed at home, but if it has a stain, you should take it in to a professional. Any type of clothing with special beading, lace, creases or stitching may also be labelled as dry clean only as it may never be the same after you wash it at home. If you have questions are concerns about a newly purchased item, most dry cleaners are happy to give advice to loyal customers.

Sometimes, a piece of clothing can go in the washer just fine but must be pulled out of the load before it is put in the dryer, leading to much heartbreak and disaster. Wool, linen and flannel will all shrink if put in the dryer. The major offender however, is cotton. Cotton will shrink dramatically, even if claiming to be “pre-shrunk”. T-shirts and the like are hard to remember to pull out as they blend in so well with the rest of the load but cotton dress shirts should always be pulled out and dried separately. Jeans are cotton and therefore will also shrink a little bit. In my experience, I have found that jersey cotton is even worse than regular cotton, shrinking more drastically and often in strange ways, which can really alter the shape of the clothing. Bras, which ever fabric they are made of, should not be put in the dryer as doing so will cause them to break down and deform much faster. Most items that you would wash on the delicate cycle of your machine or by hand can not be placed in the dryer. These delicates include lingerie, silk, stockings/pantyhose, knits, wool, jersey cotton, lace, satin, nylon, spandex, rayon, regular bras.

As a child, I can’t ever remember my mom using bleach while doing the laundry. My brother and I were accident prone children, it was best to just not by us white clothing. When I grew up and started wanting to wear white, but hadn’t become any less accident prone, I had to learn the ways of the bleach. For the most part, anything white made from natural fabrics like cotton and linen, unless the tag says otherwise, can be bleached. Bleach is good for removing stains from colour transfer during washing, dyes, tannin containing fruit such as blueberries, strawberries and grapes, as well as, grass. Bleach can be a lifesaver but unfortunately, it will never remove protein based stains like blood. Clothing that can not be bleached, like pieces that contain both white and coloured sections or pastel colours can be brightened with non-chlorine bleach or 1/3 cup of 20% concentration peroxide per load.

Laundry success is achieved by knowing your laundry symbols, knowing your fabrics and knowing how each fabric behaves during both the washing and drying processes.