Machine washing

When I wrote the post on H&M, one of the comments stated that their clothes fall apart after 1 or 2 washings. That stood out for me because I have some clothes from H&M that I’ve had for about a year (the first time I went to an H&M store) and they still look good as new. But that’s also because I don’t machine wash all of my clothes.

As you know, Kathleen won’t buy or make anything if it can’t be machine washed. I have different categories of clothing: wear around the house clothes, and where when I’m going somewhere (anywhere) clothes. The wear around the house clothes always get machine washed, but the other clothes, well, they rarely do.

I have a friend who used to dry clean his jeans (of course, this was before we were spending money on jeans washed for 6 weeks, ripped and sandblasted to look worn) because he wanted that crisp look and didn’t want his indigo dye to fade (yes, this was a long time ago). And at that time, I thought it was quite silly, but then as everyone else’s jeans began to fade and tear and his still looked new, I understood (again, this was a long time ago). But back to the point, the clothes that I expect to look good don’t get machine washed, even if the label says they can (the exception being white cotton shirts).


Why? Oh, well, I hate the washing machine and what it does to clothes. Or better yet, what it does to just plain textiles that haven’t yet been made into clothing. First it must be stated that I have a standard washing machine with an agitator, not a newer model without an agitator. Part of my product development involves washing textiles to see how they hold up and closely inspecting the impact machine washing has. When you wash a piece of fabric alone (or with like fabric), it’s fine, but throw it in a cycle with a load of other clothes and all the abrasion creates a different result.

So my theory has become that anything I expect to look practically new and hold up never gets thrown in the washing machine. Ever. The washer is for things that I don’t mind having that worn look (or white cotton shirts).

Thinking that maybe I’m one of the few people who feel this way I asked a friend. Basically, she said that it depends on how much she has paid for it. For example (as she told me) if she pays $5 for a pair of underwear, she expects to throw that in the washer, but if she paid $20 for it, she hand washes it or uses a lingerie bag. Same thing with clothes.

So while I do agree that many apparel manufacturers are lazy with textile testing, I don’t agree with an expectation of machine washability. But I do realize that this expectation varies greatly with the product and the market. I expect to machine wash my children’s clothes, I don’t expect to machine wash mine. And that’s primarily because my children get so much dirtier, or at least I like to think that they do.

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20 comments

  1. Kathleen says:

    Miracle knew this post would get my goat; she knows I don’t like dry cleaning -among many other things. In retaliation, now I’ll have to write a post about how bad dry cleaning is.

  2. La BellaDonna says:

    Kathleen, Michelle Lee waxes extremely eloquent upon the evils of drycleaning in her book, Fashion Victim. There are, apparently, some Green Cleaning alternatives to regular drycleaning, but most folks aren’t aware of them. If you’d like me to scrounge up the particulars that she offered, I will.

  3. Cinnamon says:

    There is the alternative of hand washing. For sweaters I always hand wash them, even if they’re machine washable.

    And for many items I’ve quit machine drying them, leaving to hang dry. It’s made a difference in colors staying brighter, clothes not shrinking, and not as much pilling.

  4. Amanda Rodriguez says:

    What is your opinion of the home drycleaning bag systems? I like them and find they work nicely..like Dryel.

  5. Miracle says:

    Oh Kathleen, I hate dry cleaning too. It kind of creeps me out to put solvents on clothes as opposed to a good old lather and rinsing.

  6. Esther says:

    In my experience, systems like Dryel are good for a quick freshening up. But if you want to get things really clean, they still need to be sent to the cleaners. The stain remover that comes in the kits is very good, though pricey.

  7. Kathleen says:

    Esther, thanks for the info on Dryel. I’d been wondering if that were any good. Do you know its ecological load?

    Miracle, I just love yanking your chain. This blog would be so boring if my co-bloggers were sycophants. Have you tried the green dry cleaning thing? I’d really like it if somebody were to write a review of the results.

  8. Alison Cummins says:

    RE cost: I figure that one of the things I’m paying for when I pay extra is durability. I don’t expect to pay $200 for a jumper and have it be unwearable as soon as I wash it (in my front-loader, no agitator, gentle detergent, cool water, lingerie bag as required). Really, not. If it does, it’s a bad garment. That simple.

    As you might imagine, I don’t wear a lot of sequins or silk chiffon. I have one dress with feathers on it, but I can remove the boa, wash the dress, and sew the boa back on.

    I once bought a $300 linen/rayon blend dress that I washed (against label instructions). Linen being very washable I took a chance… and lost. The rayon they used was clearly one of the weakest kinds out there and my expensive linen dress shredded in the first wash. My question: why bother blending the linen then? All that they’ve managed to do is make a shoddy garment when it was completely unnecessary.

    So I learned a lesson: never buy from that company again. They make shoddy clothes. No, I don’t consider that it was my fault: many (most?)dry-clean-only garments are washable, and I had no real reason to think that a mostly linen fabric would disintegrate in water. I mean really, does this stuff look like it’s meant to melt away in the morning dew? http://kaliyana.com/

  9. oliviacw says:

    I machine wash everything I can, and prefer not to buy things that shouldn’t be machine washed. I only dry clean stuff that insists on it. I just don’t have the patience for finicky laundry details.

  10. Esther says:

    I do not know the true ecological load of Dryell. Perhaps less than a regular dry cleaner. It takes about 20 minutes in a dryer and then you throw away the scented cloth (only treats four items). The cloth steams the garments “clean” inside a zippered bag. The dryell bag is reusable. No toxic chemicals to deal with. The clothes come out scented, and the scent was originally very strong. They have since changed and improved it. Some people may have a sensitivity to the scent. I noticed some clothing seemed to have a coating (can’t describe it any other way), and made me itch, others came out fine.

    I have seen it tested in a theater costume shop to freshen things between shows. Once the show is closed, items are sent for a true drycleaning. I have used it on my husbands suits, works ok. But I still send them off to the cleaners a few times a year.

  11. J C Sprowls says:

    Hmmm… this is a difficult topic to comment on, briefly.

    I’ve had several clients over the years that are fanatical dry cleaners. By that, I mean all their “good” garments go to the cleaners after one or two wearings. Fortunately, I ask how the client plans to care for their garment, so I can address the majority of their needs before I cast the pattern (e.g. fabric selection, pre-treatment, shrinkage adjustments, etc). However, I see this as a logistical problem if I intend to produce a line – I foresee many R&D tests.

    Whereas, I’m almost their diametric opposite. I wet clean almost everything. And, I do it myself – I even make the starch. I soak shirts overnight to loosen starch and body oils, etc. All laundry is well sorted (like weights, finishes, and colors together). Nothing is dried completely; rather it is left slightly damp (appx 15-20% moisture content) and then finished by iron or press.

    I do (as I recommend) dry clean on rare occasion (once or twice per year). I detest how perc dissolves the finish on garments, disapprove of the exhorbitant disposal fees, and the stench of dirty perc. I drop cleaners from my list the moment I receive a garment processed using dirty perc. I prefer the CO2 cleaners when I can find them. And, I generally don’t like the citrus-based solvents because I see very little improvement over perc, ecologically.

    These processes weigh heavily on my garment choices and design decisions. I purposely select wools and wool blends that wet wash well. The disadvantage, which the majority cleaners are not skilled or staffed to handle, is the restoration of the finish after its been washed out. Sheer volume prevents cleaners from adjusting their finishing practises to iron the shape back into garments (e.g. shirt collars, shirt cuffs, jacket sleeves, jacket lapels, etc). Clamps, single-purpose presses, and automated machinery keep headcount low and the processes moving along.

    I once read an article (hardcopy in some box somewhere…) where a 2nd (or 3rd) generation cleaner wrote about the ills of the industry. If memory serves, he stated that a properly finished shirt w/ shaped cuffs and collars takes approximatley 90 seconds and can all be done on one press (i.e. bench); whereas the current process (removing all shape, overheating, and overpressing the garment) takes 65-70 seconds. His position was to turn down the temp, reduce the pressure, and add 20 seconds to the processing time to gain the quality improvement as a value-added trade off for the client.

  12. Judith says:

    I should have posted here. I read Kathleen’s post first tho . Miracle’s off the hook so I posted there. Then I read this arrrgggg!! My response is over there. I never wash rayon. I learned 20 yrs ago it will draw up. I tried the dryel on a good pleated skirt. Mama and I pulled it out of the dryer and it had whited spots on it. The skirt is gray. I called my faithfull dry cleaners asap. I took the skirt to my cleaners and she fixed it. You have to be carefull about what you use the dryel for. I use the dryel to freshen up my corduroy jumper. Other then that I’m now afraid of the dryel.
    I have great stain removers. I stuff to remove coffee,tea, blood, rust and a few other things and they work.
    I dont put all of my clothes in the washer. I do put my bras in the washer but not in the dryer. I do put some clothing through the washer but not through the dryer. I wash some things by hand. I read so many places in the last few years that cashmere should be washed by hand. Dry cleaning breaks down the fibers quicker. I now wash my cashmere by hand. I have had my strechy pants for years. I know they are awful, just ask my dh. I got lazy and chubby. I don’t know what else to say for myself. I do not put my strechy pants through the dreyer. I also have dyed them a few times. This is so they do not look so worn out. Miracle I do understand your friend. I have always bought blue jeans. I have always tried to keep them blue. I have not tried as hard as your friend tho. I dont dye them tho. I had so many of them they never wore out or got faded looking. I still have some pairs that are practicaly new from the late 80’s. I gave a few pairs of jeans to my mama. I hope to loose weight and wear the other pairs. I used to have a friend who did not buy anything that needed to be drycleaned or ironed. I’m kind of like your other friend in some ways I do go by how much I paid for it. I will also go by how delicate it is and what it is made out of. Some things can not go in the washer and dryer.
    My parents bought my old boyfriend a Pendelton shirt one time. He really liked the shirt. He really did not know anything about Pendelton tho. He is from N.C. I think he wore it twice maybe. While I was sick one day he did the laundry. His father owned a dry cleaning plant. This is where we did our laundry. They do not do drycleaning there anymore. They have not done it for years. He washed the shirt on warm and dryed it in the dryer. Now Pendelton is famous for its wool. This shirt shrunk up to a childs size 7. When we were folding the clothes and he saw the shirt. He said ” what happened”??? I said” Did you wash this in the washer and dry it in the dryer”??? That’s what happens when you wash and dry wool. He said” cant you fix it, strech it back out to the right size”. I said ” no that is impossible” He was raised around a dry cleaning plant.

  13. La BellaDonna says:

    Alison, was it in fact Kaliyana you bought the destructo dress from? There are probably a few reasons why linen gets blended with rayon: it increases the drapability, which in turn, decreases the wrinkles that tend to develop when you sit, stand, breathe, or otherwise wear linen; it lowers the price; it increases the affinity of the fabric for dye. OTOH, rayon is the weakest of the natural (yes, it’s man-made, but it’s cellulose) fibers when wet. Did you machine-dry it, or did it just self-destruct in the washer?

    I won’t wash tailored clothing (if I haven’t made it myself), or, generally, vintage clothing. But if it’s a fabric which I’m making up, it is more than likely going to go through the washer and dryer before I make it up, even if it might not afterward. If I make a cotton corduroy jumper, that sucker is definitely going in the washer/dryer. I have a chunk of flowered brocaded velvet, and that went into the washer and dryer; it’s going to be a coat when it grows up, and I don’t want it shrinking or otherwise having a fit if I get caught in the rain.

  14. La BellaDonna says:

    Judith, the brocaded velvet fared pretty well on the whole. I have two different brocaded velvets, actually, which are going to be coats when they grow up. One of them had a couple of spots that were a bit tender (i.e., a little thinned out), but then, it was a laundromat/industrial washer and dryer, and I can lay out around any weakened spots. There was virtually no running. They’re both upholstery velvets: one is the flowered brocaded alto y basso velvet, with a rich red burgundy base; the other is an Ottoman style brocade in shades of gold.

    Yay for furnishing fabrics!

  15. Stylebites says:

    I remember looking at an A&F catalog about 10 years ago. All the models were having fun, laughing, rolling around in the dirt. Their shirts were torn, their clothes were stained and scuffed.

    In short…they looked so coooool.

    I laughed at the time, thinking how A&F only sold pristine, new items. The ones in the pics had been styled to a ‘t. …and all my friends who shopped there (this was in high school when A&F was still a cool brand) dry cleaned their clothes.

    It was then that I decided not to buy clothes that I couldn’t really LIVE in. Why wear a something if you’re worried about getting it dirty? It takes enjoyment out of the experience. I’ve since learned how to better clean things (I LOVE Shout Wipes) and when to say goodbye to pieces that start looking worn. I still have a pair of shorts from that summer of A&F shopping. They’re fraying at the hem, splotched with paint from one summer working at a camp, and missing a button. And guess what?

    They look as good as the ones in the cataloge way back when. ;-)

  16. SSR says:

    Thank you for posting on this topic, Kathleen. I’m more willing to ignore cleaning directions when the piece I’m washing is inexpensive. Still, “cheap” clothes shouldn’t fall apart after 2 washes; “cheap” still costs money.

    There’s also the issue of resources: I machine wash 90% of my laundry because I have neither the money for dry cleaning nor the time to hand wash “hand wash only” items. For me, “dry clean only” will get hand washed (with the exception of suits) and “hand wash only” items are turned inside-out, put into lingerie bags, dumped into the washer, and air-dried afterwards. I’m willing to chance it because the odds that clothes will turn out OK are overwhelmingly in my favor. I learned about the properties of rayon the hard way, but I’ll continue to handwash them under greater caution (like sopping with a towel first before air drying).

  17. Geetha says:

    Hello everyone,

    I’d like to share with you my experiences on shrinking a wool-angora sweater (75% merino wool, 25% angora). This was important for me because everyone tells you to never ever throw wool clothes in the dryer. And yes sometimes it feels like I don’t have a life.

    I have a gray donegal slouchy sweater from JCrew, which I decided was a bit too slouchy for me, so I tried to shrink it. First time I soaked it in very warm water with regular laundry detergent for 30 minutes, then rinsed it twice in very warm water, very gently. I put in on spin in the washer to remove excess water (screw squeezing it with towels, that’s too much work; you get so tired rinsing it because it gets so heavy when it’s wet. I think I worked off half a sandwich rinsing it). Then I stretched it gently a couple of times and lay it flat to dry overnight. It shrank maybe half a size.

    So I repeated the procedure, but this time I swirled the sweater a few times when I soaked and rinsed it, and to dry it I threw it in the dryer on medium, for about 15 minutes. I stood close by and every five minutes I took it out of the dryer, stretched it a couple of times so I would not lose the length, and put it back in. By now it had shrunk about one size. It still wasn’t small enough, so I repeated the procedure, only this time I put it in the dryer on high (like for cotton towels) for 25 minutes. I did take it out a couple of times to stretch it. This time it shrank one more size down. It shrank more lengthwise. By now I was tired of it so I gave up. It’s almost the right size.

    Whenever I need to clean this sweater next I will machine-wash it and machine-dry it until it shrinks down to where I am content, and after that I may take it to the dry cleaners.

    I have read horror stories about people who machine-washed and machine-dried wool sweaters and how they came out looking like only Barbie could wear them. I think the washer is probably more significant in causing the damage. Of course I did stand there by the dryer and stretch the sweater every five or ten minutes, but I am more inclined to think the real damage happens in the washer due to the agitation (apparently wool fibers lock together more closely and “felt” during agitation). I am really tempted to try the washer but the problem is that once you throw the sweater in the washer, you cannot control the direction in which it will shrink i.e., you might completely lose the length and I did not want to risk that this time. I might try it next time.

    Do keep in mind that every sweater is different and may react differently to cleaning procedures. If you are crazy about a certain sweater, you might just want to take it to the dry cleaners instead of washing it at home and risking shrinking or loss of color. By the way I did try Dryel according to the manufacturer’s instructions and it shrank my acrylic sweater almost an inch in the length, which really pissed me off, because I couldn’t wear it out after that. Of course it’s possible it was the poor quality of the sweater, it was pretty cheap.

  18. Rick says:

    Hello,
    I’m finicky about washing my dress shirts, since they’ve been ruined by cleaners. If I asked a cleaner to handwash each shirt, air dry it, and then steam it instead of pressing it, what might be a fair price per shirt to pay if they agreed to do it? I’m not sure this is possible to have done, but I’m just curious to learn what a reasonable price might be before I try to negotiate with a local cleaner that may be amenable to do this…
    Thanks very much.

  19. Zach Smith says:

    Clothes are better off in the cold water temperature settings of washing machines. This temperature will not immediately fade off the color of the fabric, let alone destroy it. Instead of using hot water to get rid of stains, and inadvertently increase your utility bills, pre-treat the stains instead using all-natural household cleaning ingredients such as white vinegar. When drying, opt for the natural way of drying instead. But turn your garments so the inside is facing out. This will help prolong the life of your clothes and preserve their color.

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