It’s funny that this is a question I get asked no matter what kind of textiles I’m working with. Not usually in those words but people are often worried about how best to wash their clothing or other fabrics they have in their home so let’s talk about different fibers and the best way to care for them.
Many items you buy will ask you to dry clean them but often that just isn’t required. Natural fibers have spent their lives growing outside and so a little water won’t hurt them. The fibers which are man made, even those which began as a plant like tencel or rayon may have an issue with being laundered at home so definitely check the labels and follow those direction.
Wool – Lots of people are worried about washing wool. That worry often comes from those horror stories of a favorite wool sweater going through the washer and dryer and never being the same again. Honestly, washing wool garments is super easy. Fill a sink or tub with hot water and a bit of laundry soap. Push the item under the water. Let it soak for 15 or 20 minutes. fill the sink again with hot water, this time no soap. Put the garment back in and swish it around a bit to get rid of the soap. Squeeze it out and lay it flat to dry. Sometimes I put it between a couple of towels to get more water out and sometimes I spin it out in the spin cycle of the washer as long as it isn’t g the cycle that spits water at whatever is spinning around. That’s it. Easy and way cheaper than the dry cleaner. Keep in mind though that you will want to check for color fastness and that colors will fade more quickly when washing in the washing machine and drying in the dryer. Avoid using bleach with wool as it breaks down the fibers.
Cotton – Just throw it in the washing machine and run it through the dryer. No worries. I like it to go through the dry because it’s softer than if it is hung out to dry but the dryer isn’t necessary
Silk – This is another fabric that usually says Dry Clean Only but I have had no problems washing silk in the washing machine. I usually do it on the delicate cycle and it is good if you put it in a mesh bag. You can also hand wash silk. Use a lukewarm water and you might want to use a delicate soap. The dryer is something to stay away from though. Lay your silk things flat to dry them. Again, avoid bleach with silk as it breaks down the fibers.
Linen – Linen can stand up to a regular wash in the washing machine just like cotton. Again, I like to dry my linen items in the dryer and I try to get them out asap to cut down on the wrinkles if I can.
Man Made Fibers
Polyester – This fabric will stand up to anything. Washer and dryer. No problem. It can permanently wrinkle in a hot dryer so dry on a lower setting or make sure to get the clothes out as soon as possible when the clothes are dry.
Rayon – This is where it gets tricky. Rayon should only be dry cleaned if the label says dry clean. If it says it can be washed at home then go for it because that means the fabric or fibers have been treated to make them ok to get wet.
Nylon – Fabrics made from Nylon should only be washed in cold water and should be hung or laid flat to dry. Nylon can also melt if it is placed in a dryer that is too hot so lower the drying temperature. Nylon has a shorter life the more it is washed and dried so take special care to air your clothing items out between wearings to keep the washing to a minimum.
Tencel – Tencel can usually be machine washed and dried but definitely check the care label for this one to make sure.
My point is that even though special care must be taken to care for your clothing, often that care can be taken at home.