Preserving your clothing tags may be one of the most important things you can do when it comes to caring for your garments. It's not always as simple as distinguishing between dry or wet wash. Nuances in clothing care such as wash cycle, water temperature, iron or non-iron can be hard to keep track of without the trusty label for recommended care.
Different colors, different care
The first rule of laundry is to check the care label, and the second rule is to always separate your darks and lights. While most clothing can tolerate warm water, dark or bright fabrics work best with cold water to prevent color transference. The label will state "Do Not Bleach" if the garment can't withstand bleach products or "Non-Chlorine Bleach When Needed" if only certain types of bleach can be used.
Wet wash or dry clean only
Unless a clothing label reads "Dry Clean Only," the item can most likely be hand washed with an ultra-gentle detergent designed for delicate fabrics.
Special care items such as outerwear, certain textiles such as merino wool, and delicate embellishments or silk fabrics are better left to a trusted dry cleaning service (especially if the label recommends "Professional Dry Clean Only").
Caring for upscale fabrics
More delicate pieces will often have the following instructions: "Machine Wash, Gentle or Delicate" and "Tumble Dry, Low Heat." This means setting your machine to the lowest setting for gentle care at a maximum of 86 degrees Fahrenheit (compared with a fabric like cotton that can withstand 200 degrees). Alternatively, if your dryer does not have a low heat setting, opt to hang dry your item instead. For more refined fabrics such as pure silk, consider using professional laundry services.
For best results: Treat your clothes to a gentle cycle, or hand wash, and always use cold water (below 85 degrees Fahrenheit). To hand wash, simply fill a basin with cold water and add a gentle detergent. Besides investing in a gentle laundry soap for your most treasured pieces, laundry nets are also a fuss-free way to provide an extra layer of protection for washable items.
After-care: to tumble dry or not to tumble dry?
Have you ever shrunk your favorite sweater? Most likely you've forgotten to read the fine print: "Do Not Tumble Dry." Be sure to check the label for instructions on how to dry or press your garments. Basic items such as cotton should be safe in the dryer on a medium setting ("Tumble Dry, Normal"). Clothing with sensitive fabrics might have a "Do Not Iron" warning.
For best results: Even though the label might read "Tumble Dry, Gentle,"—remember, the less heat you apply, the better—it doesn't hurt to hang dry your favorite item to avoid potential changes in fit or texture. A trick for maintaining a sweater's shape is to flat dry on a solid surface. In some cases, the label may state "Drip Dry" instead of "Tumble Dry" or "Dry in Shade" if wet clothing should avoid direct sunlight.
Clothing label cheat sheet
Sometimes decoding clothing label instructions can be difficult, but there are a few tricks to understanding common symbols. Bleaching is denoted with a triangle, dry cleaning with a circle, drying with a square (or circle inside a square for tumble dry), washing with a trapezoid bisected by a wavy line and ironing with a trapezoid bisected by a curved line.
As a general rule for heat instructions, the more dots on the label, the higher the temperature. But consult the breakdown below for specific temperature limits:
- Normal: Water temperature does not have any heat restrictions
- Cold: Water temperature should not exceed 85 degrees Fahrenheit
- Warm: Water temperature should not exceed 105 degrees Fahrenheit
- Hot: Water temperature should not exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit
- Low: Temperature should not exceed 230 degrees Fahrenheit
- Medium: Temperature should not exceed 300 degrees Fahrenheit
- High: Temperature should not exceed 390 degrees Fahrenheit
When it comes to clothing maintenance, the fine print matters. If you're pressed for time or unsure of specific treatment requirements, consider the array of services offered at a dry cleaner—from Dry Clean, Launder & Press to Hand Wash—to ensure your top pieces are well taken care of.
Photos: Francis Duval, Jeff Sheldon, Clark Street Mercantile, Clark Street Mercantile