We all own clothes, which mean we all have figure out how to wash those clothes at one point or another. The tags on the inside of your shirt, jeans, and underwear are meant to provide a washing guide, but let's be real — no one wants to "dry clean only" or "hand wash" everything in their closet "with like colors."
Good news: You don't have to. Technically, can clean your clothes with the method that works best for your lifestyle. But there are still some general clothing care rules you should follow if you want your favorite outfit to last for more than a couple washes. Some of those tips can be found on the tags, if you know what you're looking for, but all those vaguely-washing-machine-shaped symbols aren't always as straightforward as we'd like them to be.
To sort out some of the nuances that come with cleaning the pieces in your closet. I spoke with Mary Johnson, P&G's Fabric Care Principal Scientist, and Liz Eggert, P&G's Fabric Care Principal Researcher. Together, they shared some tidbits of info about fabric care that go beyond separating your whites and reds before you toss them into the machine.
1. "Dry clean only" is different from "dry clean."
According to Johnson, brands will err on the side of safety when it comes to giving fabric care recommendations. If the tag says "dry clean," that means that dry cleaning will guarantee the best fabric care, but it's not absolutely necessary — so feel free to throw those pieces in the washer from time to time.
However, if it the tag says "dry clean only," don't even think about getting it wet.
2. Silk should always be dry cleaned.
Silk pieces always feel fancy, but they unfortunately do need to be dry cleaned 100 percent of the time. According to the P&G team, the color and shape of silk can be easily ruined by machine washing.
3. So should modal.
You might be most familiar with modal from a popular underwear brand that tends to advertise on podcasts. It's definitely softer than cotton (as advertised) but it also needs to be dry cleaned if you don't want it to totally fall apart, according to the P&G team.
4. If you don't want to dry clean, go for nylon instead.
If all of this dry cleaning sounds exhausting, the P&G team recommends buying nylon instead. It has a similar feel to silk, but you can toss it in the washing machine.
5. Or look for acrylic blends.
One hundred percent cotton can seem appealing, but it can easily lose its shape after a washing. Johnson and Eggert advise looking for a cotton-acrylic blend, because the acrylic helps the cotton keep its shape and reduce pilling.
6. Fabric conditioner should always be used on items that come pre-aged.
If your jeans come with those distressed marks at the pockets, be sure to use a fabric conditioner, like Downy's Liquid Fabric Conditioner, when you wash. It helps keep that pre-aged look and feel that's oh-so-cool.
7. You can use fabric conditioner even if you hand wash.
Anyone who's used fabric conditioner can attest to how much nicer it makes your fabric feel, but it tends to be thought of as a machine wash add on. The P&G team assures me it can (and should) be used for hand washing as well: After you rinse the detergent out of your clothes, add some fabric conditioner to fresh water and let the item soak for a few minutes before rinsing out again.
8. Soft clothes still need fabric conditioner.
There's no need to separate your softest tees from your toughest jeans in the wash — at least not when it comes to adding a conditioner. Even if the fabric feels like butter, it'll last longer if you use a conditioner when you clean it, according to Johnson and Eggert.
9. But don't dry clean your super soft tees.
The softest shirts often have a finish on them that can get broken down in the dry cleaning process. Stick to the instructions on the tag instead, which will likely instruct you to hand wash or use the gentle cycle.
10. The knit determines whether you should hand or machine wash.
Aside from the fabric care tag, the easiest way to tell if something should be hand washed is by looking at the knit of the fabric. If you can easily see all the stitching loops in your sweater, you should probably wash by hand. If it basically looks like one solid piece of fabric, you're good to throw it in the machine.
11. Anything 100 percent cotton won't be super colorfast.
Anything listed as 100 percent cotton will likely lose a little bit of color on your first wash, whether it's by hand or machine. To help keep as much color as possible, the P&G team recommends using a fabric conditioner on your pure cotton pieces.
12. And "wash with like colors" means you'll definitely see fading after the first wash.
You're cautioned to wash certain items with like colors is because the dye will bleed from the piece. That means that even if you do follow those instructions, you'll still likely see a bit of color loss on the first wash.
13. Don't dry your clothes in the sunlight.
It can be tempting to want to have your own quaint European village moment and hang your clothes to dry in the sun, but doing so will probably cause the color to fade. White pieces will be fine, though, if you can't resist a romantic clothesline moment.
14. The triangle on your tag can tell you a lot.
All those weird symbols on your clothing's tag are actually worth getting to know. Let's start with mysterious triangle: If it's filled with lines, it means not to ever use chlorine on the item. An X means you shouldn't use any sort of bleach.
15. There's an easy way to tell how hot your iron should be.
The iron on your tag will tell you how hot your IRL iron should be when you press your clothes: One dot means low, while two means the fabric can handle a high heat.
16. And how hot your dryer can get.
The circle inside a square is meant to represent a dryer. Just like with the iron, the number of dots is relative to the heat level the fabric can handle. An X through either means to skip that step altogether.
17. Put your distressed clothing into a mesh bag when you wash.
If your jeans come with trendy holes at the knees, you should definitely be washing them in a mesh bag. Otherwise, the fabric tendrils that make them look so cool could catch on the machine and pull until the pants fall apart.
18. Wash your jeans after about three wears.
How often you should wash your jeans has been up for heated debate recently. Even the Levi's CEO weighed in, saying he hadn't washed his own in over a year. Johnson has different opinions: She advises washing them after three wears, due to all the bacteria that gathers in your crotch/butt region. Also: "Don't believe that freezing thing!" She says, referring to the method of putting your jeans in the freezer to "wash" them. "I'm a biologist. We freeze bacteria to protect it," Johnson explains.
Armed with tips like these, you might never need to shop for new clothes again — at least not because your favorite piece falls apart in the wash.