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Thou Shalt Launder Thy Clothes With Care


So you’ve feng shui-ed your over-crowded wardrobe, you’ve gone shopping to fill the gaps, and you can now step back and feel a little glow of satisfaction as you admire the results. But just how long will your closet remain in this pristine state? Will you be able to locate any given garment when you are in a rush in the morning, and will it be in a condition suitable for wear? Quite apart from these practical considerations, it’s impossible to look truly chic if your clothing is dirty, torn or crumpled because you’d just picked up from the floor that morning (after treading on it a few times with your spiky heels).

The most important aspects of maintaining your wardrobe are storing and laundering garments correctly, especially if you have invested in high quality labels and delicate items – you can’t simply chuck these into the washing machine at the end of the week.

This doesn’t mean however you need to send everything to the dry cleaners. Too much exposure to dry cleaning chemicals can be damaging to fabric, not to mention hard on your wallet too. Very often clothing manufacturers suggest dry cleaning a garment to cover themselves from damages claims, but most fabrics can be hand washed gently – read the label and use your common sense. This is something you need to consider before you make a purchase – factor in the cost of dry-cleaning in the future, or the time you will need to invest in hand washing. Are you still willing to make the purchase?

Read on to learn how to maintain your wardrobe through appropriate storage and careful laundering …


It can be a challenge at times to keep your wardrobe tidy and uncluttered – it has certainly been a challenge for me, for I own a lot of clothes, and shoes, and hats, and scarves, and jewellery … If only I had a Mr Big to build me an enormous walk-in robe with customised shelving for shoes! (Yep, that’s the way to my heart.) I certainly have more space than some, but my apartment is very small and my collection vast.

If only I had a Mr Big to build me an enormous walk-in robe … 

Cedar balls are a natural repellent against mothsIf possible (or necessary), separate your summer and winter clothes and store the out-of-season garments in a storage area.

Make sure they are cleaned before you store them for any length of time, for moths will go for the dirty spots in clothes – particularly those food or drink spillages that may not be discernible to the naked eye. Use some kind of moth deterrent – I use cedar balls that I refresh with cedar oil spray when I swap the clothes over; dried lavender also works.

Hang your clothes in clothes bags – breathable fabric preferably, although my own clothes stored in plastic garment bags for a season have come to no harm. You can store jumpers and sweaters folded. Really fragile or old garments should be stored flat if possible. (Visit Vintage Textile for detailed information on storing vintage or antique clothing.)

Remember that just as you should not store dirty clothing for fear of attracting moths, it is best to launder clothing as soon as possible rather than leaving garments to languish in the bottom of your laundry basket – moths will be attracted to them even there! Moths seem particularly attracted to Lyocell (a fibre based on cellulose made from wood pulp, sometimes known as Tencel) – even more so than wool.

With what is left hanging in your seasonal wardrobe, sort them by type of garment: sleeveless tanks, followed by short-sleeved tops, then long-sleeved blouses; skirts with skirts, dresses with dresses etc. I go further and sort them by colour, ranging from white, grey, black then light to dark colours, followed by prints. Sounds excessive, but it’s so much easier to find what I need! I use wooden hangers – wire ones tangle and don’t offer enough support. T-shirts, jumpers, jeans, etc I store folded in drawers. Shoes should go on racks, or clear plastic boxes so they are easy to find – NOT in a jumble at the bottom of your wardrobe! 


  • Any heavily beaded tops should be turned inside-out and rolled up for storage – don’t hang these as the weight of the beads will drag delicate garments down and possibly cause damage.
  • Hang slips or petticoats with the transparent garments they go beneath – this makes it so much faster in the morning to get dressed. 
  • If space is at a premium, look for clever storage devices, such as a scarf or shoe rack that hangs on the back of a door. 

Do Read the Label

The Stain iPhone app – use the Decoder to decipher label hieroglyphics Garment care labels are supposed to inform you on how to best launder your garment, but sometimes it’s difficult to decipher the hieroglyphics. A great little iPhone app called The Stain will help you solve these mysteries. There is also a section on Maintenance, with detailed instructions for common textiles, from acetate through to wool.

It’s worth noting too that many labels will state ‘dry clean only’, and in fact this is often a whole lotta hooey merely to cover the manufacturer from damage claims. Some manufacturers do not preshrink fabric before it is cut and sewn, so washing in water may shrink a garment, but more often than not it will be fine. You do need to know your fabrics however. I have successfully flouted the label’s advice many times, particularly with second hand items bought in charity shops for little money, when it doesn’t matter too much if I ruin a garment. In such cases I will cross my fingers and hand wash gently in cold water. Some brands will label a fibre as dry clean only, another will state the same fibre can be hand washed – use your own discretion in these instances. 

Machine Washing

It was an old friend, quite young at the time, telling me blithely that she just ‘threw everything in the machine’ who inspired me to start this blog in the first place – I was so horrified at her ignorance!

Generally, you can wash hardy, modern garments in the machine with impunity – if the instructions on the care label say so. Here are a few things to remember – some of them may seem like common sense, but I am constantly amazed by some of my neighbours who seem to have no idea at all!


  • It may seem obvious, but do make sure to separate your whites from colours and darks
  • Don’t be too unorthodox with your loads – don’t mix towels with underwear for instance, or be prepared for pilling
  • Use a delicates bag for any particularly fragile items – those pretty things you don’t want mixing with the hoi polloi and rubbing up against them 
  • Turn garments inside out to help minimise rubbing, and fading in the sunlight 
  • Remember to check pockets and remove paper tissues – or suffer the consequences
  • Read the dials on the machine, eg, adjust spin speed for more delicate garments. 

Hand wash delicate fabrics such as cashmere gently

Hand Washing

According to the old rhyme, Monday is washing day, but as a working girl I save it up for Saturday morning. Personally, I like to accumulate a pile of hand washing and maximise my time by doing it all in one go. 

Remember to read the label for care instructions. Divide your hand washing by colour, starting with the lightest, and those items that should be washed in cool water (silk, rayon, lyocell etc) and warm water (wool, cotton, linen etc). I often wash 2–3 items at a time depending on bulk to speed up the process, and if the items are not particularly dirty will use the same basin of water as long as any dyes have not run, discolouring the water.

Roll delicates in a towel to squeeze out excess moisture – do not put them on the spin cycle in the washing machine

After rinsing in the water of the same temperature (eg, do not wash your woollens in warm water then rinse in cold – that will shock the fibre), I will spin-dry the more hardy garments in the machine on a gentle cycle. The delicate items – fine knits, silk blouses – I roll into a fluffy white towel and squeeze dry. This process very adequately removes excess moisture. (I purchased a couple of gently-used white towels from a charity store for a few dollars to use for this purpose, and nothing else.) Obviously a garment using non-colourfast dye should not be rolled in the same towel as others, lest it stains them.

Laundering Lingerie

Ordinary undies and socks I will run through the machine on a gentle cycle with my sleepwear, but expensive lingerie requires a little more care. It is enough to merely soak your lingerie (bras, stockings, high-quality socks) in a bucket of warm water and delicates detergent, before rinsing and hanging to dry. Silk lingerie should of course be handled very gently.

More hardy undergarments (slips, singlets etc) can go into a delicates bag in the machine with the rest of your every-day smalls. I would not place any bra that has an underwire into one of these as the wires can become warped in the machine, ruining the bra. I once tried wearing a bra with a slightly bent underwire, and spent an extremely uncomfortable day.

It is possible to purchase a hard plastic ball in which underwire bras are placed, and then run through a normal machine wash – I have never bothered to try this as too many bras are made with delicate fabric or trims that I would not want to put through the machine in any case.  


  • Repair warped bras with new underwires purchased in haberdashers 

Fold dresses at the waist (ie, the seam) where it is strongest to hang on the line. Sturdy vintage dresses can be hung like this, otherwise flat. Remember not to hang non-colourfast garments too near others!


Again, read the care label regarding drying instructions. Hardy garments can be line-dried. They should be first turned inside-out (to prevent fading) and pegged by the lightest edge – hems rather than thicker waistbands which take longer to dry – preferably on the seams where the fabric is stronger, and to diminish peg marks. Dresses and blouses can be hung on coathangers that are sturdily fixed to the line and won’t fly off in a strong gust of wind. I use old ribbons to attach the coathangers to the line. Alternatively, dresses can be folded over and pegged at the waistband, or even at the hem if they are more sturdy.

Dry knits flat – peg under the arms where peg marks won’t show

Knits and delicates should be dried flat in the shade. Do not hang – in particular – fine gauge knits with an open weave unless you secretly wish to distort their shape and render them unwearable, or have your revenge on a flatmate who steals your clothes. Once, I ran out of space on my clothes airer for all the hand washing I did, and hung a favourite knit bomber jacket on the line. Lamentably, the sleeves stretched abominably under the weight of the water to almost twice their length. Rewashing did not make the wool ‘bounce back’ (as sometimes will work). I was heart-broken.

A trick I learned from my mum: tie your hangers securely to the line with old ribbon


  • Always peg your garments on the lightest edge and leave the heaviest seams (such as waistbands) to hang and dry freely 
  • Tie hangers securely to the line with old ribbon so you don’t find your clothes gone with the wind!
  • Shake out your garments when taking them off the line to remove any bugs or other undesirable creatures lurking in their folds (particularly applicable in Australia, and probably South America and parts of Africa), and fold them neatly in the basket to minimise creasing, especially if it will be some time before you iron them. 

Washing Vintage

Greater care in washing vintage garments is necessary, depending upon the quality, age, type of fabric and fibre content of the item. Modern rayon, for instance, can be hand or even machine washed, but very old rayon will shrink the instant it comes in contact with water. Dry cleaning is the only option for some garments, though it is best to limit even this laundering method as much as possible.

If the vintage garment does not have a label, you can snip a piece of fabric from one of the inside seams and conduct a burn test. Use the chart below for reference (click image for larger version, which you can also feel free to download).

A Snapette’s Guide to Burning Fabric

A couple of years ago I attended a workshop on laundering vintage garments at Circa Vintage Clothing. Along with a chart for determining fibre content by using the burn test, and a chart on fibres, weaves and how to launder them, we were given these useful notes:

  • Always wash vintage garments separately the first time to determine colourfastness
  • Wash colours and prints in cold or lukewarm water until colourfastness determined
  • If in doubt, dry clean
  • The following garment types can generally be hand washed with care even if they have a dry clean label: lingerie, dressing gowns, housecoats, blouses
  • Very old or fragile garments should not be washed
  • Underarm protectors are your friend
  • Tailored garments should always be dry cleaned, as should most lined garments
  • Remove metal trims like buttons when soaking (zippers are okay)
  • Do not soak for more than an hour, but soaking can be repeated
  • For fabric mixes, wash as per the more delicate fibre.

Laundering vintage is too broad a topic to cover here, so I will direct you to Va-Voom Vintage for more detailed information. However, below is a quick reference chart on various types of fibres and fabrics, and best washing methods. (Click image for larger version, which you can also feel free to download.)

A Snapette’s Guide to Laundering

Stain Removal

For many stains on modern garments (and even on some older garments) I will use Sard Wondersoap in either spray or soap form and find this does the trick in nearly all cases. Some stains need to be treated immediately, while others will still respond after a day or few. Hand washing is a chore, but I find that the more precious a garment is to me, the quicker I will whip it off (if I am at home) and launder it!

However, the sooner you attempt to clean any stain, the more success you will have in its removal. I am pretty determined though, and have called myself the Stain Removal Queen on more than one occasion. The only thing that has really defeated me is perspiration marks when a garment has been left too long unlaundered, and body lotion that has marked undergarments such as silk camisoles because I have put them on before the lotion has had a chance to soak into my skin. 

I have called myself the Stain Removal Queen on more than one occasion …

An important thing to remember is never put hot water on an unidentified stain as it may cause the stain to set. Flush with cold water instead. Also keep a wad of clean fabric at the back of the stain to prevent the mark from spreading through to the next layer of material as you attempt to clean it.

The Stain app includes detailed instructions for removing many types of stainsIn the past I have relied on a little Penguin book, Removing Stains, A Practical A–Z Guide, but these days I also have quick access to a great and comprehensive iPhone app called The Stain, which offers even more detailed information for different fabrics than does the book. 

Here, culled from the above sources and in alphabetical order, are some common stains and how to remedy them – useful to know, especially if you are out and about and have an unfortunate accident:

Blood: do NOT use warm or hot water as that will fix the stain; a fresh blood stain can be rinsed out in cold salted water (a teaspoon of salt to half a litre of cold water); if the blood has dried brush off as much as possible and either bleach with a drop of hydrogen peroxide, or cover with a paste of powdered borax and water, allow to dry and brush off – then wash according to label instructions 

Chewing gum: place garment in plastic bag and freeze for a while, or rub ice on gum to break off solid pieces, sponge the remainder with eucalyptus oil or dry-cleaning fluid

Grease: treat immediately; use absorbent paper and iron with a warm iron, changing the paper frequently (I have found this to work well even with silks when first dusted with talc), or sponge with white spirit or dry-cleaning fluid; for cotton, rub dish soap gently into stain, and wash as usual in liquid detergent

Grass: launder as soon as possible; on cotton, soak in a mixture of two parts methylated spirits to one part cloudy ammonia and three parts hot water – rinse before washing; on synthetics work wool mix into stain and wash as usual; on knits, cover dampened stain with toothpaste, leave for half an hour, the rinse away with warm water

Nail polish: use a non-oily nail polish remover or acetone as long as the garment you are treating is not an acetate fabric, for those, use amyl acetate (a toxic solvent available from chemists); remove traces of colour with methylated spirits

Keep pure soap handy for removing pen marks (also good for softening leather of painful shoes)

Pen: on non-acetate clothing, if the mark is fresh rub with pure soap and scratch off as much as you can with a fingernail, then rinse, or for older marks dab with methylated spirits then rinse; acetates should go to the dry cleaner

Perspiration: dab with cloth dipped in white vinegar (for wool), a diluted ammonia solution (28%) or hydrogen peroxide; for delicate fabrics try cloth dipped in lemon juice and water, rubbing and rinsing before washing as usual; for persistent stains, soak for an hour in water and white spirit or vinegar, then wash

Rust: saturate with lemon juice, rub in some salt and leave for a few moments, then rinse well and wash as usual; if the stain persists, pour on some rust remover suitable for use on fabric or expose the fabric to steam (hold above a saucepan of boiling water) and pour a few drops of lemon juice onto the back side of the fabric – then rinse first with water and ammonia solution, and then with clear water

Wine: for red wine, mop up excess with paper towel and apply soda water; alternatively smother with salt and leave several hours; white wine will respond to soda water if applied quickly 

Many common household items such as lemon and bicarbonate of soda can be used for cleaning too You can put together a stain-removing kit and keep it in the laundry for emergencies. You’ll also need clean cloths, small sponges, cottonwool, white tissues (use these when nothing else will do), and an eye dropper with which you can apply powerful solvents. I have also simply used a cotton tip dipped in the solvent. A few lemons in the fruit bowl are handy too!  

Each kit should contain (I have only half of these and have managed quite well):

  • bicarbonate of soda
  • borax
  • bran or talcum powder
  • eucalyptus oil
  • household ammonia
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • methylated spirits
  • mineral turpentine
  • dry-cleaning fluid
  • amyl acetate (non-oily nail polish remover)
  • washing soda
  • white vinegar
  • white spirit

If you have made it through this epic story, I am very impressed (especially since it has taken me months to muster the energy to write it) and warmly congratulate you. Your clothes will also thank you. Happy laundering!


  • When you have finished all your laundering, reward yourself with a vodka and soda from the leftover soda water used in cleaning that red wine stain!


Come back soon for the Ninth Commandment of Miss Moses: ‘Thou shalt not be afraid of colour, for life is short’. If you’ve just tuned in, or would like to refresh your memory, click here to review all the Fashion Commandments. 

Picture note: tile images shot by SNAP in Barcelona and Lisbon, June 2011.

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Reader Comments (2)

This was most helpful! I would love to know a bit more about your hand washing techniques, ie do you rub fabrics together, just swizzle them around in the basin, do you use any other implements to get them clean - especially areas like armpits and collars which get the worst wear? Also, what kind of detergent/solution/soap do you recommend for hand washing?

February 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGin

Great to hear the story was helpful! Sorry I left some info out!

For general cleansing I use Softly (a detergent recommended for delicates and woolens), but there are others to choose from – check the supermarket. I also use a fabric softener in the rinsing water. I wash them the way my mum showed me when I was young: I press them gently all over as though massaging them, then turn them over and press again. Once, when I was young and stupid in my early 20s, I wrecked a vintage fringed scarf by swirling too vigorously – the fringe became hopelessly knotted. I have been tempted to get a vintage washboard – for a prop, haha! I wouldn't use one on clothes.

If I know what a stain is, I would first check my book and app for cleaning methods and use the solutions recommended; or if it's something I think will come out easily, I would either spray it with Sard Wonderspray while dry, then immerse, and/or use the bar of Sard Wondersoap in the water. Sometimes just rubbing the stain with the bar of soap is enough to remove it, or I would use a gentle finger on silk, for example. I would only rub fabric together if there is a stubborn stain, and if I think the fabric can stand it (hardy cotton or linen, etc).

It's always best (obviously!) to wash garments before they develop marks around the collar, or if you have perspired a lot while wearing them – in hot weather, I will wash garments after one wear, before perspiration marks have set into stains.

I hope that helps Gin!

February 13, 2014 | Registered CommenterPrincess

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