Defensive Laundry: 9 Ways to Help Your Clothes Last Longer

by Kentin Waits on 25 November 2011 1 comment
Photo: Kate McCarthy

As an avid thrift shopper, I see first-hand the wreckage that bad laundry habits cause. The extra large virgin wool sweater that barely survives the dryer as size 3T, the nice white cotton shirt that met an early death from a red wine stain — these are all preventable tragedies. Since we spend some serious cash on our clothes from time-to-time, let’s make them last by exploring a few defensive measures we can take in the laundry room. (See also: More Ways to Make Your Clothes Last Longer)

1. Stain Removal, STAT

Stains are part of life. Treating them quickly and correctly is half the battle in preventing that $30 shirt from becoming an expensive dust cloth. Carry a stain removal pen for treating spots on-the-go, and then retreat and launder quickly when you get home. Check the garment again after the wash cycle to make sure the stain’s history. If it’s not, treat again before tossing in the dryer.

2. Read Carefully

It takes an expert hand to instinctively know how to launder each type of fabric. The rest of us need to follow those care instructions closely. If that sweater says “dry clean only,” don’t assume a cold wash on the gentle cycle will do the trick. With a little experience, you’ll begin to see which care instructions can be bent without jeopardizing your clothes.

3. Divide and Conquer

Sorting clothes before washing not only protects the color; it protects the fabric too. Sharp zipper teeth, rivets, and snaps don’t do any favors for delicate fabrics or knits.

4. Bag It

Mesh bags are great for protecting your delicates in the washer. They also work as organizers for socks and baby clothes that can easily get lost in laundry Never-Never Land.

5. Less Is More

We’re too much in love in detergent and fabric softener. Over time, these detergents settle into the fabric of our clothes and leave them stiff and dingy.

6. Lighten Up

Over-stuffing your washer’s basin may be a quick way to get more laundry done, but it’s not good for your clothes. Heavy loads cause friction between fabrics, which wears clothes out faster. Items in overstuffed machines get less agitation too — which means less thorough cleaning.

7. Cool It

For some fabrics, hot water can cause shrinking and make those temporary stains permanent ones. Read your clothing labels carefully and when in doubt, wash in cool water. High heat in the dryer can also set stains and prematurely wear fabrics. Use cooler dryer settings or line dry items for fabrics you’re unsure about or for those favorite items you want to take extra-special care of.

8. The Bleach Teach

It’s unavoidable — chlorine bleach not properly diluted will damage any fabric. Make sure to use it sparingly and properly to brighten those whites. Always use your machine’s bleach dispenser to slowly mix the bleach with water, or fill your washer with water first and let the bleach agitate for awhile before adding your clothing. This approach will help prevent those yellow bleach stains on whites.

9. Light Starch, Please

The debate about the level of damage starch can cause to fabric rages on. When ironing dress shirts err on the side of caution, and use spray starch sparingly. Focus on those unruly sleeve cuffs and collars instead of starching the whole shirt.

What are your favorite tips and tricks to keep your clothes in tip-top shape? What have years of defensive laundry methods taught you that our readers need to know?

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Beth

My best tip is to use Palmolive dish soap on food stains -- cheap, and works much better than stain treatments on grease.

As I've got coin laundry, I can't afford to wash every item as soon as it gets stained, but I find a quick rinse in the sink helps.