Tips & Tricks
The Wash Cycle
The correct washer settings are a primary step to ensuring your clothes are cared for properly. Regular cycle is best for sturdy and dirty clothes, while the permanent press setting is fine for the average load. Use the delicate cycle for lacy and loosely woven fabrics. Use hot water for white loads, warm water for the average load, and cold water for bright colors.
Readying Clothes for the Washer
Remove pins or buckles, zip zippers, close snaps and hooks, and secure Velcro to prevent snags and abrasion. But don't button buttons, which can stress the buttons and buttonholes. Empty pockets and turn them inside out, unfurl socks, and unroll cuffs. Tie sashes and strings to prevent tangling. Place delicate items like lingerie and fine knitwear in zippered mesh bags. Turn delicate items, sweaters, and cotton T-shirts inside out to prevent pilling. Put socks -- oh, those socks -- in a pillowcase or mesh bag so they don't get separated.
Washing Down Pillows and Comforters
Clean down pillows in the washing machine every three to six months to remove bacteria and odors, and launder comforters only as needed, up to twice annually. (Each washing strips feathers of their natural oils, which causes them to lose their loft.) Dry both on the lowest heat setting -- along with a clean tennis ball, to help evenly redistribute the feathers -- and keep them even by fluffing daily when you make the bed. Between washings, air out down items, preferably outdoors on a clothesline, once or twice a year to keep them smelling fresh, and spot-treat small stains with mild dishwashing liquid and water.
Rather than pay for professional cleaning, you can safely clean many down-filled items yourself using a low-sudsing, mild detergent. When machine washing, a large front-loading washer is best. To hand wash, fill a tub with lukewarm water and a little detergent. Gently squeeze soapy water through the item, and drain water. Rinse with cool water; repeat as needed. Before drying, use a washer's spin cycle to release excess water, or press out water by hand.
When to Hand Wash
Just because a clothing label reads "dry-clean" doesn't mean it can't be hand washed, especially if it's made of natural fibers. Wool, silk, rayon, and linen can usually tolerate hand washing. When hand washing, immerse delicates into a solution of lukewarm water and mild detergent, and swish for three to five minutes. Drain soapy water, rinse items until water runs clear, and then gently squeeze out excess water, but do not wring. Reshape clothing flat on a towel, and roll up, pressing out excess water. Repeat with a dry towel, and then hang on a drying rack or another towel, flipping once.
Removing Stains 101
The best way to fix a stain is to treat it before it sets. Quickly scoop up solids with a dull edge, and blot liquids with a clean white cloth from the outside in to avoid spreading. Treat stains before washing, and always make sure stains have been removed before putting items in the dryer; heat sets stains into fabric. Use our comprehensive Stain First Aid chart to treat specific spots types.
Most dryers have a setting called "electronic" or "automatic dry" that lets you choose how dry you want the clothes to be rather than how long you want them to dry. The permanent press setting has a cool-down cycle at the end to reduce wrinkling. On air fluff, the dryer circulates air but adds no heat; this is good for freshening pillows and reviving clothes that have been packed in a suitcase but don't need to be washed. To avoid shrinkage, you can dry your clothes the old-fashioned way: on a clothesline or drying rack.
Tips for Drying Down
Dry down-filled items on the tumble-dry low setting. When drying down pillows, add a tennis ball or two to the dryer to prevent matting. Add a dry hand towel to loads of down outerwear to absorb excess moisture, and before washing a comforter, pop it in the dryer to see if it will fit once fluffed up after drying.