How to do laundry might not be at the top of your list of concerns as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the globe and the world practices social distancing and self-isolation, but there’s a heightened awareness around cleanliness and sterilization—Lysol wipes are practically our national currency at this point. While there hasn't been much data to suggest how long the virus can live on fabric, the CDC does offer a useful list of laundry tips if you're taking extra precaution right now, including opting for the highest temperature suggested on care labels. It's also key to always wash your hands afterwards and practice social distancing if you're frequenting a communal laundry room or laundromat.
Because we're all got cleaning on the brain—and nothing but time to do it—read on for expert tips on how to do laundry any time, including how to best wash pieces you'd normally send to the dry cleaner.
How to wash cotton, linen, and durable synthetics
Gwen Whiting, co-founder of The Laundress, a New York-based laundry products brand, suggests using the warm-water normal cycle on a washing machine because of its “high agitation and a lengthy cycle, for everyday laundry items made of cotton, linen, and durable synthetics, such as sheets, towels, T-shirts, socks, and underwear,” and saving the heavy-duty or sanitize settings for cases of heavily soiled laundry.
Grove Collaborative Care and Renew Liquid Laundry Detergent
Brooklinen Classic Core Sheet Set
How to wash knit blends
“If the knit item contains any amount of silk, follow the washing instructions for silk even if the percentage is small," says Lindsey Boyd, co-founder of The Laundress. "The same rule applies to all woolens and cashmere. So, if you have a sweater that's 20% wool and 80% cotton, it should be cleaned according to the wool washing instructions, while a dress that's 30% cashmere and 70% wool should be washed according to cashmere washing instructions, using using a soap designed for silk and delicate synthetics. Dry knits by laying the items flat in their natural shape on a drying rack or clean towel, and “never hang wet wool, as it can stretch and distort the shape,” Boyd says.
The Laundress Delicate Wash
Allsaints Rufa Wool Blend Cardigan
How to wash 100% cashmere and 100% silk
“Washing cashmere and silk items at home not only helps to preserve the fibers, but is also less toxic and expensive than dry cleaning,” says Boyd. Check the care label of any cashmere before washing, as some but not all is safe to hand-wash, says Mary Johnson, principal scientist at Tide and Downy.
For hand-washable cashmere, she suggests the following process: “wash in cold water with the appropriate dose of detergent, ideally allow it to soak for 20 to 30 minutes, gently squeeze the water through the garment, then rinse until the water runs clear." If you have a fabric conditioner on hand, add a small amount to the wash water then add [the garment] and rinse again. "Do not wring or twist—squeeze out excess water by rolling the garment up into a towel, then reshape it and lay it flat to dry," says Johnson.
Other experts aren't afraid of washing cashmere in the machine. Patric Richardson, founder of The Laundry Evangelist, an eco-luxury laundry and home care company, is a fan of carefully machine-washing and air drying cashmere. “I wash cashmere with abandon. I wash it all the time, in the machine. The trick, he says, is using a mesh bag.
Boyd suggests turning the item inside out, and agrees that using a mesh bag—which also comes in handy for washing delicates and lingerie—to protect from friction and snagging is best. From there, use the delicate cycle on your machine. Make sure the water temperature is cold and the spin is on low, which is key to prevent shrinkage, she says. There are various soaps available for cashmere and similar delicate knits (Boyd uses her brand’s Wool & Cashmere Shampoo.)
The Laundress Wool & Cashmere Shampoo
Large Mesh Wash Bag
Whether you opt to machine wash delicate knits in a mesh bag or hand-wash in the sink, you'll want to avoid spraying those pieces with disinfectant. “You wouldn’t wash your hair with Lysol—cashmere is hair,” Richardson says.
How to wash leather, suede, and fur
Contrary to popular belief, you can't steam-clean all fabrics. "You cannot steam leather, suede, or fur—you’ll ruin them,” says Jerry Pozniak, managing director of Jeeves New York dry cleaners’ Manhattan location. If it’s a piece made entirely of leather or polyurethane (whether it’s a coat, pair of pants, or handbag), you can gently wipe it down with a disinfectant cloth, suggests Pozniak, until you can get to a pro. At-home leather cleaner is also an option.
Murchison Hume Leather Cleaner
Leather Biker Jacket
How to wash polyester or nylon outerwear
For nylon tracksuits, polyester parkas, or windbreakers, Boyd suggests machine washing on the normal cycle, as “nylon and polyester are durable synthetics.” If they're super thick, toss in some dryer balls to help speed the process along.
Cleancult Wool Dryer Balls
Nike Sportswear Heritage Nylon Jacket
How to wash activewear
Boyd prefers the delicate machine cycle for workout clothes, which are usually made from synthetic materials but are less durable than wind- or water-resistant outerwear outlined above. Most items can be machine dried on low but, just to be safe, Pozniak says likes to air-dry his own gym clothes to prevent shrinkage.
Whitmor Over The Door Drying Rack
Outdoor Voices TechSweat 3/4 Flex Leggings
How to wash structured pieces like suiting
Whiting and Boyd don’t recommend (hand or machine) washing structured silhouettes, like blazers with shoulders pads “as they can become distorted in the wash. Until you can get to the dry cleaners, Boyd suggests spot treating if necessary or breaking out your hand steamer, which is next best thing to professional dry cleaning.
A basic Conair version is what Pozniak’s team uses for cleanings at clients' homes for draperies and other items that can’t easily be brought in to be dry cleaned, and what he personally uses at home. “It heats up really quickly—it’s literally ready to go in two, three minutes—so there's not a lot of downtime, and it puts out a ton of steam, you could probably steam things for 15 minutes without changing the water, which is an impressive amount of time,” he says. In addition to dry clean only and delicate items, steaming is a useful option for sanitizing certain items you can't toss in the machine, like blazers and wool coats.
Puracy Natural Stain Remover and Odor Remover 2-Pack
Conair Turbo Extreme Steam Hand-Held Fabric Steamer
How to most effectively hand wash
For hand-washing, Richardson recommends laundering four to five pieces at a time in the sink with warm water and a small amount of soap. (foaming hand soap is his preference, as it’s the most gentle.) Let the garments soak for 20 minutes, pull the stopper and let the water drain, re-insert the stopper and fill the sink with cool—not ice cold—water, swish the garments, let them sit for a few minutes, then rinse twice. (Double rinsing is key.)
“Follow care label instructions for drying, but if allowed, dry completely in a dryer; otherwise hang or lay flat to air dry,” Whiting says. If you don’t have a drying rack, Whiting suggests putting items on hangers on a shower curtain rod.
Blueland Hand Soap Starter Set
Out From Under So Smooth Micro Fusion Scoop Neck Bra
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