9 Things That Should Never (Ever) Go in the Washer & Dryer

Some may surprise you.

May  3, 2023
Photo by Mark Weinberg

When considering which items can and should be put in the washer and dryer, there are two parts to the equation. First, knowing how to properly care for your clothes and home textiles: It’s one of the most important parts of preserving their quality and extending their lifespans, allowing you to also reduce unnecessary waste and overconsumption in the process. Second, putting the wrong items in washing machines and dryers can cause damage to the appliances themselves, resulting in costly repairs or replacements.

This list serves as a general primer on items to avoid, but it’s not exhaustive, and there are always exceptions. So, when in doubt, always consult the care tag of the item you’re planning on washing. (Pro tip from our Managing Editor Erin Alexander’s mom: Print out a guide to all the little symbols that appear on care tags, and keep it near your washing machine—that way, it’s always a breeze to double check if an item is washer- or dryer-safe.)

1. Swimwear

“It may sound counterintuitive, but swimsuits should be hand-washed,” says Elizabeth Yunmi Hokyo, senior editor at Schoolhouse. “Reason being—the washing machine's agitator can ruin the elasticity of bathing suits, damage the straps, or wear down the fabric.” The same logic applies to the dryer—in order to prevent warping or other damage, always let swimwear air dry.

2. Anything Covered in pet hair

If you have an item covered in pet hair, you’ll likely want to give it a good cleaning—but you should think twice before tossing it in the washing machine. “I'd recommend against putting anything with too much pet hair on it in the washing machine, at least without cleaning it off first,” says frequent Home52 contributor Camryn Rabideau. “I have two long-haired dogs and a cat, and I always make sure to vacuum or use a hair remover on their beds and blankets before washing. Otherwise, all that hair can end up in clumps in your washer or, worse, clogging up your drain pipes.”

3. Suede & Leather

Leather, and especially suede, are (in most cases) notoriously incompatible with water. “We don't recommend putting suede shoes in the washing machine or hand washing them in soap and water,” explains Nike, with respect to the brand’s suede sneakers. “Suede absorbs water, so washing a pair of suede shoes with water can actually cause stains to set in the fabric.” Likewise, prolonged water exposure strips leather garments of their natural oils, causing them to crack. Dryers, in turn, will dry out leather and suede, causing the former to shrink and crack and the latter to become “stiff and misshapen.”

4. Flammable Stains

From motor oil to paint thinners, there are a surprising number of flammable household substances that could end up on your clothes. If your clothing becomes stained with something flammable, it shouldn’t go in the washing machine—and it definitely shouldn’t, under any circumstances, go in the dryer. The heat from these appliances could cause the garments to combust, resulting in a fire or explosion.

5. Garments With Intricate Beading & Embellishments

If you put beaded, sequined, or otherwise-embellished items in the washing machine, there’s a chance they’ll “get torn up,” says Erin's mom, who’s an at-home laundry pro. The dryer has similar risks, plus those that result from its warm temperature: Even on a low setting, the heat from the dryer can melt glue and any plastic components on the garment, notes Elizabeth.

6. Suits & Formalwear

Not only are these garments made of delicate fabrics that can become damaged in washing machines and dryers, they’re also typically made with interfacing, which gives them their internal structure and shape. When exposed to water and agitation, interfacing can become misshapen and even fall apart. The dryer, with its high temperatures and constant motion, creates similar problems.

7. Waterproof & Water-resistant items

Like swimsuits, this one might seem counterintuitive, but waterproof items should steer clear of washing machines. “Water-proof textiles like mattress covers should absolutely be hand-washed and air-dried at all costs,” says Elizabeth. “The material can trap water, causing an unbalanced spin cycle while wearing down the fabric's water-resistant properties.”

8. Memory foam

Most memory foam is incompatible with washing machines and dryers: All the motion from these appliances can cause the foam to weaken, break, and even disintegrate. The heat from the dryer, meanwhile, can cause the flammable materials in memory foam to catch fire.

9. Wool

Wool is one of the more debated items on this list, but according to Elizabeth, it’s better to be safe: “When in doubt, hand wash your sweaters! It will save you in the long run.” Specifically, she says, a washing machine’s agitator has the potential to disrupt and damage delicate knit textiles. The same goes for tossing wool garments in the dryer. “Some wool garments say that you can tumble dry on low heat, but honestly, I wouldn't risk it,” says Camryn. “Wool fibers are extremely prone to shrinkage when exposed to heat, so I always air dry wool clothing.”

What’s your best laundry tip? Share in the comments!
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ellen July 18, 2023
I am a handknitter and sold yarn for years. I always wash my wool and cashmere sweaters in my washer in cold wateron the wool or gentle cycle, and then lay them flat to dry. The spin cycle does not need to be avoided: friction is the bigget cause of shrinkage and the spin cycle which plasters the wool against the wall of the tub does not cause friction. I have done it for years and never had a mishap, but i would not recommend it for those who use commercial laundromats because they tend not to have those settings. After experimenting with some wool clothing, including a coat, that I planned to donate, I have moved on to washing all of my wool clothing and blankets following the same method. Hang the clothing to dry, let the blankets dry flat on a table. If you can, this is a nice job to do in the summer when you can dry things outside.
Holly S. May 18, 2023
Not necessarily true for waterproof and water resistant apparel. All good outdoor wear has a coating of DWR, durable water repellency which is the first line of defense against rain. Rubbing your arms against the jacket or wearing a pack can wear down the coating. You know it when water droplets move from being micro droplets to a wet smear.
Brands like Nikwax or Nathan’s make performance fabric detergent with specific instructions. Cleaning the delicate fabric properly is critical and when you do it it’s like 5 garments only. Once done you reapply DWR with a re-waterproofer like Nikwax TX Direct (I prefer the spray vs wash-in).
Again washing performance clothing is really important. They can be hand washed but from what I know machine wash is just fine.
LumieredelaVie May 8, 2023
Thank you so much for the article. It may seem obvious to many, but in my 40-something years, I never paused when putting water proof and water-resistant items in the wash. I’m went the rain jackets, and the occasional mattress cover when our kid was younger. Thank you!
LumieredelaVie May 8, 2023
catalinalacruz May 7, 2023
I wash wool sweaters in my Samsung washing machine all the time. Use a mesh bag, cold water, gentle cycle. They even go through the spin cycle briefly. To dry, lay sweater on a dry towel out of the sun, and shape gently to its original shape (which should also be done if hand washing a sweater). This saves money and avoids adding nasty dry cleaning chemicals to the environment. If you have a New York Times subscription, read their article on machine washing sweaters. ,
Linda K. May 7, 2023
Conmen sense on the laundry or read instructions
Terry May 7, 2023
My remedy for hairy blankets (and some rugs) is to put them in the dryer on "air-fluff". They tumble with no heat and the hair, dust and dander are sucked into the filter where they can simply be scooped out and tossed.
stabby June 19, 2023
Same! I also toss in a few wool dryer balls and/or a dryer sheet to reduce static cling.

You can even get dryer balls specifically for removing pet hair, which have little bristles attached to catch the most stubborn & fine of pet hairs (I have four cats lol).
Cookie May 7, 2023
This is what you tell your kid when they get their first apartment. But Food52 readers??
pmack May 7, 2023
It's entirely possible there are kids getting their first apartment whose parents haven't prepared them to be responsible for themselves, and they can use this kind of advice. Maybe you could cut them some slack?
Cookie May 7, 2023
Yes, exactly what I was saying. Kids need this kind of advice. This is a site for readers looking for expertly curated, high quality home goods, and recipes aimed at persons seriously interested in cooking. There's some pretty great journalism to go with the recipes. Kids getting their first apartments aren't the audience here. No reason to take offense, I'm just remarking on the usual editorial content of Food52.
Jane E. May 8, 2023
I used to read the replies to the recipes, and there were plenty of comments/questions from people who didn’t know a thing about cooking. Food52 attracts people from all levels of experience and skill.
clarelou612 May 8, 2023
I started reading Food52 in my early twenties and have always found this kind of content helpful, as did many of my peers. Young people are most certainly part of the audience here, as are older adults who want to continue learning things like this. If you're not interested in the topic, don't read the article!
Lisa October 1, 2023
I was never told any of this as a kid. Some were common sense (which not all have) and some I learner's the hard way. Not everyone's parents actually parent.
pmack May 7, 2023
I always put my swimsuit in the washer, but I first put it in a mesh lingerie or sweater bag. That keeps it from stretching, but allows me to get the chlorine out of the swimsuit fabric. And I never put it in the dryer; it goes on the drying rack where it can air-dry.
Jane E. May 7, 2023
I am a hand knitter. There are some wool yarns, known as “superwash,” that can be machine washed and dried. The yarn is combed to remove the long fibers, leaving the soft, fluffy ones. (Long fibers are the ones that hook together and create felt fabric.) However, most commercially made sweaters are not superwash.
Gesche H. May 7, 2023
Stating the obvious