For most of my adult life I’ve been terrified of clothes made from natural fibres and luxury garments. Anything that required more TLC than being chucked in the washing machine on a generic cycle was a no-no for me. Instead of learning how to care for special clothing, I’d opt for acrylic, polyester, and other manmade fibres instead. And once I inevitably spilled wine/ pasta sauce/ make up all over my clothes? Well, it was sayonara to them and hello to new clothes to take their place.
But then I discovered a love of cashmere. And silk. And cream coloured clothing *audible gasp*. Plus I realised that throwing away clothes at the slightest hint of wear was totally uncool.
I knew the time had come to be a big girl and learn how to wash my clothes like a pro.
The irony is, natural fibres need washed much less often than synthetics, and will look good for decades if cared for properly. In fact, fabrics like cashmere and leather improve with age if cared for well!
Once I learned how to care for my clothes properly and showed them the love they deserve, it felt like my whole wardrobe opened up to a realm of new possibilities. Beige vintage suede trousers? No problem! Vibrant cash-silk blends? Bring ’em on!
So, in what I promise will be much less boring than it sounds, I’ve decided to start a mini series to help fashionistas who want to wear and take care of the clothes of their dreams without fear. Below I’ve explained the essentials of washing your most delicate pieces. I’ve also covered how to store your clothes properly in this post, so be sure to check it out for more essential clothes care info!
How often should I wash my clothes?
Do not over-wash your clothes! I repeat: do not over-wash your clothes! Our over-reliance on materials like polyester means we’ve become addicted to doing load after load of laundry, when in reality most clothes need washed much less frequently than we assume. The general rule is anything worn directly against the skin (such as underwear) or worn in sweaty situations (like gym gear) needs washed after every wear, whereas everything else can be cleaned at your discretion.
This is especially true for natural fibres which are highly breathable, and therefore miraculously don’t hold on sweaty or food smells. For example, I only wash my cashmere after around half a dozen to a dozen wears – even my cashmere socks (I mean it!). Over-washing can cause colour fading and affect the shape of delicate garments. Meanwhile, reducing your washing will save you time and money, and is better for the environment. Result!
The key with delicate fibres like wool, silk, and leather is to let them air before you store them away. By doing this you’ll notice most odours simply ‘float’ away.
Remember: washing isn’t the only way to freshen up clothes and make them last longer. Invest in a spray-on protector for your suede and leather goods, and buy a bobble comb to bring new life to jumpers and coats that have started to pill (that’s the little lumps of fibre that gather with wear). Storing your clothes properly is essential too, and I’ll be back to cover that soon.
To hand wash or not to hand wash?
First thing’s first: get to know your labels. If it reads ‘dry clean’ then you are actually fine to hand wash. It’s garments that say ‘dry clean only’ that require extra caution. Likewise, unless the label reads ‘hand wash only’ you’re OK to pop into a washing machine on a gentle cycle. That being said, I have successfully hand washed a ‘dry clean only’ 100% silk top. Use your own judgement, and always err on the side of caution.
If you do choose to clean delicates in a washing machine, be sure to use the gentlest cycle available and mild detergent instead of standard washing powder. There are specialist delicate fibre detergents on the market designed for the likes of silk and cashmere, though washing up liquid and baby shampoo work equally well. I’ve removed red lipstick and spaghetti sauce from my light coloured cashmere using only a dab of washing up liquid. Seriously!
When machine washing your ‘hand wash’ items, use a pillowcase or laundry bag to minimise the impact of the spin cycle on the delicate fibres. I’d advise washing cashmere on its own rather than with other garments to avoid it catching on zips or buttons.
Some fabrics should only be cleaned by a specialist. Leather and suede are best cleaned by an expert, as this is a complex process. Similarly, outerwear is best sent to the dry cleaners: a coat with a wool outer and silk lining is a cleaning nightmare for even the most competent home washer!
How to hand wash delicates like a pro
Right, let’s get to it: here’s how to become a hand washing ninja. One of the key components of dealing with any delicate clothing is to ensure you use lukewarm water only. Hot water can shrink natural fibres, and will cook in stains. No thank you!
If you have any marks or stains, dab your mild detergent directly onto the stain (don’t rub!) before fully submerging the garment. Rinse your hand washes lovelies in soap-free water, then gently squeeze out the liquid. Avoid ringing or drip-drying as this could pull your clothes out of shape.
It’s almost never essential to tumble dry clothes, and most garments will thank you for hang drying them instead. Be sure to dry fibres such as cashmere or wool flat, gently pulling into shape whilst still damp. Hanging these will damage the shape. I like to place mine between two towels on the bathroom floor.
Your clothes are tougher than you think. I’ve put things in washing machines that don’t belong, I’ve dried brights outside in direct sunlight, and I’ve ironed delicate garments with gusto. So long as you avoid aggressive washing machine cycles, high temperatures, and anything that will pull your clothes out of shape, chances are you’re good to go. If not? Look for creative ways to upcycle, like patching.
Do you feel like an adult yet? I know I do! What laundry disasters have you overcome through clever washing?
Be sure to read phase two of caring for you clothes: storing them the right way, but in the meantime feel free to hit me up on Instagram @styledbyalicex
Happy laundry day!
Cover photo snapped at the Johnstons of Elgin cashmere visitor centre. A wall of vibrant cashmere? I’m in heaven!