Learn the best way to care for and clean the most commonly used fabrics found in your closet.
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We asked home-efficiency expert Cynthia Townley Ewer, author of Houseworks, to explain the secret of cleaning and caring for today's most popular clothing fabrics.
Acetate is a man-made fiber, often found blended with other fibers to create beautiful, easy-to-drape clothing. Acetate and acetate blends clean up well, but they can be very sensitive to dye transfer. Check the care label, and then wash garments containing acetate fibers in cold water.
Acetate is a weak fiber and can be damaged by twisting, wringing or heat. Hand wash acetate blends, or use the gentle cycle of the washer for machine-washable garments.
Iron garments containing acetate using a low-heat setting. Press on the wrong side and use a press cloth to avoid shine and preserve the beauty of the fabric.
Cotton is a worldwide favorite for comfortable, versatile clothing. A natural fiber, cotton can be found in garments as casual as a T-shirt or as elaborate as a ball gown.
Cotton fibers will shrink unless the fabric has been preshrunk or processed, so start with the care label. "Cold water only" may signal that your ankle-length cotton trousers will convert themselves to capri pants if not washed correctly.
Cotton items that are preshrunk may be washed in hot, warm or cold water, depending on the color of the garment and the care label recommendations.
If care labels agree, add chlorine bleach to white cotton wash loads to remove stains; colored cottons may be brightened by non-chlorine bleach formulated for colored clothing. Cold-water washing will protect the deep color of cotton jeans and preserve the pep of brightly colored Hawaiian shirts.
Over drying cotton will encourage shrinkage; dry cotton garments at a lower heat and remove them from the dryer while still fairly cool.
Linen is a natural fiber, made from the flax plant. Check care labels on linen garments to determine whether the garment must be dry-cleaned. If machine-washable, wash according to label instructions, using water appropriate to the garment's color. Linen absorbs more water during the washing process than other fibers, so guard against overcrowding in the washer and dryer. Iron linen from the inside out, using steam at a hot iron setting.
The last century's "wonder fiber," polyester creates colorful, durable, easy-care garments. Most polyester fabrics may be machine-washed using warm water, but check care labels first.
Tumble dry polyester garments on low heat. Remove them from the dryer while they're still slightly damp to prevent wrinkles and avoid a static buildup. If ironing is required, use a low heat: Polyester will melt beneath a hot iron.