Laundry

7 Laundry Tips for Making Your Clothes Last (Almost) Forever

Keep these in your back pocket.

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September  1, 2020
Photo by Julia Gartland

We've teamed up with Miele to share expert-approved laundry tips and tricks for making sure your clothes (and sheets, towels, and more) stay in tip-top shape—no matter how many times you run them through the washer and dryer.


As a sentimentalist and a nostalgic dresser, my most prized piece of clothing is a cream-colored Lehigh University crew neck from the mid-1980s. This vintage sweatshirt belonged to my mom in college and was passed down to me as a child, when it hung below my knees. It’s been a treasured garment ever since, keeping me warm from elementary school all the way to adulthood.

Through more than three decades of wear between my mom and me, the piece has endured innumerable cycles in the washer and dryer. Over time, it’s gone from fluffy and fleecy to paper thin with holes scattered around the seams. Despite (and maybe even because of) its threadbare condition, I love this sweatshirt and throw it on regularly.

In the hope that my own daughter might be able to sport it one day, I’m being more thoughtful about how I care for it—and the rest of my clothes, too. Here are seven handy laundry tips for making sure your most cherished pieces last (and last):

1. Skip the Dry Cleaning

Though plenty of clothing tags read “Dry Clean Only,” you needn’t always abide by these instructions. Dry cleaning, which employs a chemical solvent to launder the surface of clothing, can actually deteriorate fabrics.

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Top Comment:
“If one does not know what one is doing, following suggestion #1 is begging for disaster. I dry cleaned for 30+ years. Owned and operated a high quality cleaners for 20 years. I knew what I could and could not do with cleaning instructions based upon my training - fibers and fabrics, dyes, trims, spot and stain removal. Yes, you can wash some dry clean only garments and get away with it. It's when you CAN'T that hurts because once a garments ruined, ... look into the mirror and blame yourself. BTW, I've been retired for 15 years or so.”
— BillinSDCA
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Materials like linen, wool, and silk are all totally safe to get wet, and typically fare well in a delicate or express cycle (you can put them in a mesh bag to reduce abrasion). If you’re worried about colors bleeding, you may want to spot test a smaller area first. By cutting down on your dry cleaning habit, you’re saving your items from unnecessary wear—and your wallet from the extra expense.

2. Pre-Treat Stains

If you stain a favorite item, the best chance it has at recovery is with pre-treatment. Drench the problem area in detergent or stain remover and let it sink in before washing. You can also soak the item in cold water before the cycle, which will ease out the stain. Some washing machines come with extra help—Miele's machines, for instance, have an "Extra White" setting, which significantly aids stain removal on white clothing.

3. Don’t Go Overboard With Detergent

Believe it or not, more detergent does not equal cleaner laundry. In fact, using too much detergent can leave a residue on clothes, making them feel stiff and scratchy, and causing them to dull in color. All of this ages clothes more quickly than they need to, as well.

Some new, high-tech washing machines (like Miele's) have automated dispensers that release just the right amount of detergent for each load. If you don’t have a feature like this, be aware that the measuring cup that comes with most detergents is larger than necessary. A tablespoon (or two for an extra-large load) is typically all you need.

4. Wash Your Darks Inside Out

To keep your dark clothes vibrantly dark, turn them inside out before you put them in the washing machine. This simple trick will help combat the fading that can happen when you wash blacks, navies, and forest greens because it prevents the fabric surfaces from rubbing against each other. Sure, the interior side might experience some color erosion, but the exterior will remain protected.

5. Choose a Shorter Cycle

As long as your beloved items aren’t terribly soiled, a shorter cycle is usually the wisest choice. Whether they’re delicate (in which case you definitely need the gentlest cycle) or not, if you can minimize the number of times your stuff spins around in the wash, you’ll be adding longevity.

6. Use Cold Water When Possible

Cold water is a good friend to your laundry: It tends to be far less abrasive on fabrics than super-hot water, which can cause shrinking and stretching. It is also especially kind to darks and bright colors since hot water has the ability to fade.

As a bonus, cold water conserves energy, which helps the environment and saves you money. Of course, you won’t always be able to use cold water—there are certain instances where warm water actually works best, like with jeans and most white clothing. Reserve that hot water for towels and soiled whites.

7. Know Which Dryer Setting to Pick

The words “normal” or “regular” can be extremely misleading when it comes to dryer settings. These modes actually offer the highest heat, which shouldn’t be used in most cases; only heavy items like towels and jeans thrive at this temperature level.

For clothes you care about, the delicate setting, which provides low heat, should be your go-to; using a gentler heat prevents shrinking and damage to materials. Some dryers, like Miele's, also offer settings specifically for woolens/silk and dress shirts, so those types of garments can receive the special treatment they deserve. If you have an item with surface embellishments, definitely pick tumble dry. This setting air dries your clothes without the additional heat—it’s a surefire way to keep your pieces intact.


What are your best laundry tips? Share them in the comments below!

In partnership with Miele, we're sharing our best tips to streamline your laundry routine—and make sure your clothes look as fresh as the day you bought them. To completely transform the way you do laundry, check out Miele's W1 washing machines and T1 tumble dryers, with high-tech additions and features (like timesaving Express and QuickIntenseWash cycles, plus heat-pump technology for energy-efficient drying) that make keeping your items clean easier than ever.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • AntoniaJames
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10 Comments

AntoniaJames September 2, 2020
Air dry your clothes and then pop them into the dryer for 5 - 10 minutes on no heat. It makes them smell great (assuming your air quality is reasonably good), and reduces your carbon footprint. I have a gorgeous maple one that folds easily for storage between the washer and the wall: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01AWQRHRU/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1 The photos in this listing simply do not do it justice. In the arid climate we have here in the high plains, it takes less time to dry outside than it does in the dryer, especially mid-day in full sun. ;o)
 
LillyB September 2, 2020
I'm confused...why am I seeing an article about washing clothes on a Food site...
 
secretsquirrel9191 September 2, 2020
To remove grease from fabric, add one can of Coke-a-Cola Classic to wash cycle.
To remove ink from fabric, saturate area with hair spray before laundering.

 
secretsquirrel9191 September 2, 2020
To remove grease from fabric, add one can of Coke-a-Cola Classic to wash cycle.
To remove ink from fabric, saturate area with hair spray before laundering.
To remove rust from fabric, pour lemon juice onto area, incorporate salt on top & leave in direct sunlight for several hours. Rinse salt & lemon juice from fabric in cold water, launder.
 
Lisa H. September 2, 2020
The best tip I can give is...you ever wash a load of clothes and then forget to run them in the dryer? So then they have that mildew stench. Or maybe someone in the house has a bladder problem and your dealing with urine? It works with pet urine as well. I ALWAYS HAVE A BOX OF BAKING SODA sitting by my washer. Put half small box in each load. Stench be gone. (Yes, right along with your normal detergent) it also works as an enhancer to get clothes clean. It is also a great stain remover as well, and is much cheaper.
 
BillinSDCA September 2, 2020
If one does not know what one is doing, following suggestion #1 is begging for disaster. I dry cleaned for 30+ years. Owned and operated a high quality cleaners for 20 years. I knew what I could and could not do with cleaning instructions based upon my training - fibers and fabrics, dyes, trims, spot and stain removal. Yes, you can wash some dry clean only garments and get away with it. It's when you CAN'T that hurts because once a garments ruined, ... look into the mirror and blame yourself. BTW, I've been retired for 15 years or so.
 
Sara September 1, 2020
Why is this article on the Food tab??????
 
GuardianService September 1, 2020
Is it just me, or is 52 flogging its "partners" a little more shamelessly than in the past? It's a turn-off, and significantly lowers the site's credibility.
 
FrugalCat September 1, 2020
Also, close all your zippers, buttons, hooks, etc. before washing. Keeps them from getting snagged on anything.
 
MamaP September 1, 2020
My biggest tip is to sort clothing by fabric type. My kids wear a lot of sport-type fabric (synthetic), which never washes well with cotton. So, I make them sort according to 'silky' and 'cotton.' I find the end result is far less wrinkled.