25+ Secrets to Keep Your Clothes Brighter, Whiter, and Lasting Longer


Just about every article ever written about dressing well on a budget extols the virtue of buying timeless, classic wardrobe staples that can be worn year after year. What is always left out of those articles, however, is how to keep those garments looking timeless, and not completely worn out and faded after one season of wearing. Here are some tips on how to keep your clothes looking new.

Stop Washing Your Clothes

I know. This sounds counter-intuitive. But every time you do a wash load, you are damaging your clothes. Don't believe me? Look at your lint trap.

So, the first step to keeping clothes looking new is to take steps not to get them dirty in the first place.

Rotate Your Wardrobe

Even rotating between two suits or two bras or two pairs of shoes will extend the life of both items. Textiles need time to dry out. Letting your clothes air for even 24 hours between wearings will allow stretched fabric fibers to pop back into shape and will dramatically reduce the build up of stinky bacteria.

Stop Washing Your Clothes in the Machine

Personally, I believe that the washing machine was (and remains) a key component to women's emancipation, as it gives ladies, the primary washers of clothes in this world, more free time to do things like read a book. That said, most washing machines are designed for speed and convenience, not for long-term clothes keeping.

Although hand washing can be a huge drag, washing clothes by hand is not only gentler on fabrics, it also allows the washer (you) to find stains, holes, snags, and other damage to garments while they are still fixable. If you can find the time to hand wash your delicate items or your darks, do it. How many hours does it take you to earn the money to buy those clothes? Is it more than the hour it will take you once a week to wash a load of laundry in the sink?

Use Less Detergent

The manual for my 10-year-old, front-loading washing machine tells me to use ONE TABLESPOON of detergent per load of laundry, but the machine's detergent cup holds a half cup. This is totally confusing, as are the overly large measuring caps and scoops included with every package of laundry detergent. Using more detergent won't get your clothes cleaner. In fact, it will actually make your clothes dirtier, your washing machine dirtier, and both your washer and your clothes more susceptible to breakage.

Use the Smell Test

If you can't find the manual to your machine, or you wash your clothes at a laundromat, cut your detergent dose to 1 tablespoon and see if your wash gets clean. If your clothes still smell sweaty, add a bit more detergent. If your clothes don't smell dirty, coming out of the wash, continue to reduce your detergent dose until you find your own stink threshold, which varies according to personal B.O. and the type of the garment. For example, I use a full tablespoon of detergent to wash my towels and my underwear, but a scant teaspoon for my dress shirts.

Use Another Smell Test

According to my aunt, who is a textile designer, if you can smell the detergent in your clothes when they come out of the washer, you are using too much detergent. When used properly, detergent is engineered to lift dirt out of fabric, and then get washed away in during the rinse cycle. Detergent companies love to tout their "fresh laundry" fragrances for the same reason that the fill line on their measuring cups aren't measured in tablespoons — they want you to use too much of their product.

Fresh laundry, for the record, should smell like wet fabric.

Stop Using Fabric Softener

Fabric softener is like hair conditioner; it works by adding fat to the textile fibers. While you may like the slippery feeling of conditioned clothing on your skin, fabric softener residue attracts dust and lint, which can break down fabric. Additionally, the oils in fabric softeners make fabrics more water-resistant, and less absorbent, resulting in useless microfiber cleaning cloths and bath towels that don't really get you dry.

Try using a cup of white vinegar in the rinse cycle, which will not only soften clothes, but help the detergent rinse free.

Stop Overfilling Your Washer and Dryer

Even if you have one of those new-fangled steam-cleaning washers, you still need to leave room for your clothes to move around. Likewise, you clothes will dry faster if they aren't pressed up against your wet towels.

Use a Mesh Bag for Your Delicates

If you are tired of untangling a knot of wet bras and stockings from the rest of your wash, invest in a mesh lingerie bag. In addition to saving time untangling, it will protect your delicates from getting damaged by your more rugged garments. I bought mine at the 99 Cent Store.

Stop Dry Cleaning Your Woolens

If you are like me, dry cleaning is not an option because it's too expensive, terrible for the environment, and inconvenient. What's more, dry cleaning actually damages wool and cashmere by stripping the naturally occurring oils out of the fiber, which weakens the textiles and makes them more attractive to moths. It's the clothing equivalent of chemically processing your hair; as with your bleach job, try to space out your treatments.

Ignore the dry clean only label in your suit jacket. Most top suit designers recommend brushing and steaming instead of dry cleaning. Rather than dry cleaning an entire garment, ask your cleaner to spot treat stains instead.

Edith Eig, the knitting guru and owner of the celebrity-packed yarn store La Knitterie Parisienne in Studio City, California, is also down on dry cleaning. Instead of dry cleaning sweaters, Eig recommends soaking sweaters in cool water with Eucalan, a non-toxic, no-rinse textile wash that cleans and conditions natural fibers. (I use Eucalan on everything from my sweaters to my silk blouses to my dark finish denim jeans.)

Invest in a Clothes Brush

While a good steamer still costs around $150, a professional-grade clothes brush costs about $20, so this spa treatment for suiting is within grasp of most people who wear fine wool suits.

Wool is a natural fiber, and like your hair, it's a good dirt collector. Brushing your suits not only loosens the dirt trapped in the fabric, it's also a good moth prevention method. Contrary to popular belief, the favorite meal of clothes moths isn't wool, it's the minuscule food particles and dandruff left on clothes that they really love to chow down on. Brushing your woolens mechanically removes these bug snacks from your clothes with no harsh chemicals.

Stop Using Your Dryer

The inside of a lint trap is all the evidence you should need to see that clothes dryers eat clothes. The combination of high heat and agitation is terrible for fabric. It should be noted that the French, who are constantly being held aloft as the chicest people with the smallest wardrobes, aren't huge fans of clothes dryers, because they are expensive to buy, costly to run, and take up too much valuable floor space. So, if you truly want to dress like a French woman (or man), you should line dry your laundry like the French, too.

Take Steps to Prevent Fading

Turning clothes inside out before washing helps prevent fading during both the wash and drying cycle. If you forget to turn your clothes inside out before you wash them, just do it before you dry them.

If you line dry, (and you should) try drying your clothes in partial shade to avoid sun damage. (Since I live in sunny Los Angeles, I hang my laundry out at night. By the next morning, my clothes are usually dry.)

Sort It Out

A little extra prep work before you wash can add years to your wardrobe.

Anyone who has been to college knows someone who accidentally washed one red sock in the white load and spent the rest of the year wearing pink underwear. In addition to carefully sorting laundry before it goes into the washer, check for hidden red socks lurking on the wet wall of the washer after you remove colored loads. In addition to sorting laundry loads by color, it's also smart to sort by fabric type and dirt level. If you wash your delicate darks with your towels, you will end up with the worst of both worlds: linty blacks and dingy linens.

Keep Your Equipment Clean

Just like towels don't stay clean just because they are only used to dry off clean bodies, your laundry equipment won't stay clean because of its proximity to soap. Regularly cleaning your washing machine won't just extend the life of your clothes, it will also extend the life of your machine.

I learned this the hard way: a dirty clothes line results in dirty clothes. My clothesline is exposed to wildlife, weather, and Los Angeles smog. If I forget to wipe it down on a regular basis, I am rewarded with smog stripes on my white t-shirts. Learn from my mistake.

You're Soaking in It

Soaking clothes, even in plain water, overnight helps loosen dirt and stains.

  • Soak bloody laundry in cold water. Bloodstains will soak out in cold water, but can set permanently even in warm water. After soaking, wash the bloodstain in cold water with hand soap or a paste made from table salt and water, rubbing as necessary, until the stain is gone. Launder as usual.
  • If you've accidentally set a stain by washing it in hot water or by putting it through the dryer, try soaking the stained garment in a 50/50 solution of hydrogen peroxide and water. Immediately rewash the item in cold water.
  • Are you trying to save your grandmother's christening dress? Yellowed vintage fabric can be revived by a one to two week soak in Biz detergent.
  • The Nuclear Option: To remove the most stubborn food stains from kids' clothing, my friend who is a nanny, adds one cup of Cascade dishwashing powder (or Barkeeper's Friend) and one cup of powered Clorox II to five gallons of hot (not boiling) water. Soak clothes overnight in this solution, and launder as usual the next day. According to her, this will remove 90% of stains that will not come out with normal laundering. She calls this the Nuclear Option because it can damage delicate and not color-fast fabrics. However, this recipe has allowed her to keep a lot of stained clothes out of the garbage.

Spot Treat Stubborn Stains With Products You Already Own

There's no need to buy special cleaning products when you have just-as-good as store bought cleaning products already on hand.

  • Spot treat ballpoint pen ink stains with cheap hairspray. Holding the can four inches above the stain, and liberally spray the stain. Then blot the stain with a clean rag. Repeat. Then wash the garment as usual.
  • Remove red wine stains with table salt. While the stain is wet, pour a thick layer of salt over the stain and then dunk in cold water. Repeat until the stain disappears. If you spill wine at dinner, soak the stain with club soda, add salt, and then wash the stain out the minute you get home.
  • Use lemon juice and sunlight to bleach out stains on vintage fabrics.
  • To remove mildew stains, rub lemon juice and table salt into the stain, then sun-dry the fabric.
  • Treat ring-around the collar with shampoo. If your shampoo cleans the scalp oil from your hair, it will clean the neck oil from your collar.
  • If bleach is no longer getting your dingy whites, white, add ½ cup of hydrogen peroxide to the washing machine once it's full of water. Allow the load to soak 30 minutes. Then, add HALF your usual dose of detergent and wash as usual.
  • Pretreat stubborn food stains like coffee or mustard with shaving cream the night before laundry day.
  • To remove yellow armpit stains from white shirts, mix two crushed aspirins with ½ cup of warm water. Saturate or soak the stains in the aspirin solution overnight, then wash as usual.
  • Cover oil stains with talc, baby powder, or cornstarch. Lightly press the powder into the stain and let it sit for at least 30 minutes. Brush off the powder. If the stain persists, repeat. Then treat the stain with your regular stain remover before washing the garment.
  • If you've just washed a stained garment and the stain persists, do not put it in the dryer, as the heat will just set the stain. Retreat the damp garment with stain remover and rewash.

What is your favorite laundry tip for keeping clothes looking fresh longer?

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