Thursday, November 12, 2009

Caring for your clothes


So many times when thinking about what to wear, what clothes to buy, etc., we barely give any thought to taking care of our clothes. And it really is such an important aspect of maintaining a working wardrobe. Garment care can seem a bit intimidating if you aren't particularly knowledgeable when it comes to fabric and textiles. In my work at the theatre, cleaning and maintenance is part of our daily wardrobe routine. Here are a few tips to keep your clothes looking as good as the day you bought them:

First and foremost: LOOK at the LABEL. It seems so simple, but so often we forget to do it. Garment care can really be simplified by that one simple act. If it says "Dry Clean Only," then guess what? Dry clean only! If it says soak, then hang dry, then please do NOT put it through a regular wash cycle and then toss it in the dryer! Also, save yourself the headache and look at the care label BEFORE you purchase the garment. If dry cleaning is too much of a hassle for you, then avoid it from the get-go. But to be perfectly honest, so many people skip the first essential step of reading the care instructions on the label and that is how garments are ruined. Sweaters shrink, stains refuse to go, all sorts of terrible things happen to our favorite pieces. I'm here to help you avoid that heartbreak, just do me one favor: read the label!

Ok, now on to the nitty gritty.

Step one to taking care of your clothes is to store them properly. Do not jam your closet full of every piece you own. Rotate your clothing with the seasons. Your immediate closet should only have the garments appropriate to that particular time of year. The rest of your clothing should be stored in air-tight containters or a separate closet space. Most people can rotate twice a year- spring and summer go together, as do winter and fall.

For storing specific items, follow these guidelines:

Items that should hang:
Mens dress shirts
Dress pants

Items that can/should be folded in a drawer or storage bin:
Knit pieces

A hard and fast rule to follow is to never hang a sweater- gravity will pull those poor knits to the point where you barely recognize the garment anymore. Also, avoid keeping natural fiber sweaters (such as wool or silk) in an air-tight container. Natural fibers should be allowed to breathe. A cardboard box or wooden check is better. I keep all of my sweaters folded in a cedar-lined chest year round. Once a year, I go through it and donate any sweaters I haven't worn in over a year to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. (Regular closet purging is something everyone should do, by the way.)

As for my closet, I prefer plastic hangers to wire ones, simply because if left on the hanger for a long time, the plastic ones are more forgiving and less likely to leave a crease. I use clip-on hangers for all pants and skirts. Avoid folding a garment on a hanger- you'll always end up with a crease. As for keepers, use them! Keepers are the thin loops of ribbon inside a garment that help it to stay on the hanger. Clothing manufacturers put them there for a reason, so use them, or your clothes will pay the price.

Keep special event garments in a garment bag. Gowns and nice suits often come with a garment bag and it's for a reason. Even the plastic covering that the dry cleaner uses is better than nothing. Since special event clothing is so rarely worn, it's even more important that it is stored properly. I'd hate to pull out a dress and have the shoulders covered in dust because it wasn't properly covered in storage. Talk about a huge bummer, right?

Once your closet is organized and all garments are being stored properly, you can focus on the care of the garments you regularly wear. This brings me back to my main piece of advice: READ THE LABEL. Follow the instructions to the letter and you should be safe.

If a garment is dry-clean only, dry clean it only when necessary, preferably at the end of a season before you put it in storage until the next year. Dry cleaning causes wear and fading, so you don't want to do it any more frequently than is absolutely necessary. However, if you send out a suit coat to be dry cleaned, make sure you also send the matching pants or skirt. If you wear one piece of a suit more than another, and clean the pieces separately, they will wear and fade differently and after several cleanings they may no longer look like a matching set.

Removing Stains:

This is a big one that everyone always wants to know about. Removing stains can be very difficult, but if you know a few key things, you can extend the life of some of your clothes. And always remember: remove the stain as soon as possible. Try to clean it before it has a chance to set.

- Here's a little known secret: your own blood can be removed with your own saliva. It sounds gross, but it's true. It has something to do with the enzymes, I think. So, if you prick your finger and get a small drop of blood on your white blouse, immediately spit on it to treat it. If it is not your own blood, do your best to scrape off any dried blood, then fill a sink with cold water and a capful of strong detergent. Soak the garment until it is completely saturated, then wash by itself in the washer with another capful of heavy-duty detergent. After the cycle is finished, check the garment. If the stain is still there, repeat the process, soaking the garment for at least 30 minutes. If the garment can be safely bleached, you can try that as well.

- Another little known secret for you: Clarifying shampoo makes an excellent make-up remover. Take a damp washcloth and gently work a small amount of the shampoo into the stain. Work in a circular motion, allowing the shampoo to foam up a bit, then rinse off the stained area with cool water. If the stain isn't completely gone, repeat the process. Be careful to rinse well so as not to leave a soapy residue on your garment.

- Have you ever dribbled a little salad dressing on your top while out to dinner. Not only is it embarrassing, but it's a potential wardrobe disaster. In this situation, you need something to absorb the oil out of the garment. Baby powder or corn starch are good choices. Sprinkle the powder onto the stain and gently press down with a paper towel to help the powder absorb the oil. Use more powder if necessary- the idea is to have the powder soak up the moisture from the oil. Next, pour some strong detergent onto the stain and gently work the detergent into the fabric. Once you've treated the stain, wash the garment by itself on the highest heat setting that is safe for the particular fabric. Once the cycle is complete, check the stain. If it is still there, treat with detergent and wash again. Dry the item only after the stain is completely gone.

- Underarms tend to get the worst of the nasty B.O. smell, but cigarette smoke can be annoying as well. Before smoking was banned in most bars, I used to hate coming home reeking of stale cigarette smoke. FeBreze is a fine product, but it often takes so many applications that it's more hassle than solution. The best deodorizer I've ever used has been plain old vodka. Pour some cheap vodka into a spray bottle and saturate the offensive garment. If it's just the underarms, stick to that area. If it's all over, then spray all over. Allow the garment to dry and voila! Smell-be-gone! I've heard of other methods using vinegar and baking soda, but I've never tried them myself.

Other tips and tricks to keep your clothes looking and working as good as new:

- Dab the center of buttons and sequins with a bit of clear nail polish to keep the threads from breaking.
- Rub the teeth of a zipper with wax to keep the zipper running smoothly. The stub of a wax candle works fine.
- If you don't have a lint roller, wrap wide tape (sticky side out) around a discarded paper towel tube or a rolled up magazine.
- Invest in a sweater shaver- they only cost a few dollars, and they remove the pills on a sweater in just a few minutes making it look good as new.
- Store whites in a blue plastic bag, or blue tissue paper, or an acid free tissue paper- these will help prevent yellowing. Also, detergent residue can cause yellowing, so make sure whites are always thoroughly rinsed.
- When washing, use cold water on darks and colors, warm or hot water on whites. Warmer water causes fading on colored clothing.
- Always lay sweaters and knit garments flat to dry.
- Stuff leather purses with crumpled newspaper or tissue paper to prevent mildewing.
- Never store leather in plastic- always keep it in a cool, dry place to prevent moisture and mildew damage.
- Never rub a wet stain- blot it to lift the liquid out of the fabric.
- Remove chewing gum or wax by freezing it, then scraping it off the garment.

I hope this has been helpful. If any of you have specific questions on how to clean or care for a garment, feel free to comment or email. Have a great night, everyone!

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