Blog / Beginner's handbook / Garment Care: How to Take Care of Your Clothes
Understanding clothing care is like learning a new language for me. Sounds nice, but what does it all mean? If you feel the same way or just need a refresher on garment care, you’ve come to the right place.
The reign of fast fashion has made consumers think less about taking proper care of their clothing. Many places sell t-shirts for as little as $5, so repairing a hole might cost more than the said tee is worth. This leads us to go shopping frequently and creating unnecessary waste.
The fashion industry is among the biggest polluters in the world. One way we can all make the situation better? Extending the lifespan of our wardrobe and caring for it appropriately. It can greatly benefit both your wallet and the environment.
In this blog article, I’ll explain how to:
Whether you’re purchasing clothes for yourself or adding a product to your online store, the first thing you should think about is quality.
Good quality items tend to be more durable and will last you a long time. It’s also worth mentioning that since quality clothing is usually made with high grade materials, the garments fit the body better and are more comfortable for the wearer.
Order samples of your products and test them out yourself, so you can be sure about the quality you offer to your customers.
Do your research on different fabric types, like cotton, polyester, blended fabrics, and others. Knowing different materials can help you understand the fit and feel of the fabrics your products are made of.
One of the features you should look at is the fabric weight. This number depends on the thickness of the thread and fabric composition. Here are commonly used weight classes:
Examples: silk, cotton, linen, lace, mesh
Examples: polyester, velvet, nylon, jersey, chino
Examples: denim, wool, suede, polyester fleece, tweed
If you’re an online store owner and design apparel, it’s also a good idea to check how materials react to different customization techniques (like direct-to-garment (DTG), sublimation, or embroidery).
Here you can see a DTG print on a 100% cotton t-shirt compared to a 50% cotton and 50% polyester blend. The print is very opaque on the cotton t-shirt but yields a faded look on the blended fabric shirt.
Sometimes I find myself looking at my closet and thinking about whether I need so many low-quality t-shirts in all colors of the rainbow. Probably not. That’s why it’s useful to invest in staple pieces.
Staple pieces are items of clothing that are versatile, forever in-style, and easy to combine with other garments. You can then add modern accessories and accent pieces to match your vibe.
Your staple pieces should be of high quality so they can last you a long time. Some examples of these include a plain, white tee, a pair of blue jeans, a black blazer, a black dress for women, or a good suit for men. Reading this list, you can probably see these items in every era of modern fashion—that’s why they’re called staples.
Closely tied to staple pieces is the concept of a capsule wardrobe. It’s a concise selection of versatile pieces that can be worn in almost any setting—you just have to experiment with their combinations.
A capsule wardrobe helps you downsize your wardrobe to only the essentials. Holding onto that high school prom dress might bring back nostalgic memories, but it has no use in your closet (I recently sold mine and it wasn’t as painful as I thought).
Donating or disposing of clothes may be difficult and it can seem a little odd to only keep the staples. The key is layering! Combining multiple items looks chic and gives a little spice to your outfit. Another great thing is you can take a layer off if you get hot during the day.
One of the key factors to keep your clothes looking fresh for a long time is how you take care of them. This is where the laundry wash symbols on the care tag come in handy. Who would’ve known the care label is there for a reason other than making my back itch?
Laundry care symbols or just care symbols are small pictograms on the care label tag of a garment. These icons show washing, drying, ironing, and other instructions that help you tend to your clothes correctly.
Let’s go through laundry symbols and what they mean, one by one!
Golden rule: a tub of water represents a washing machine. This care label symbol means you can wash your clothes in the washing machine in normal, standard settings.
Machine Wash (with temperature)
Machine wash symbol with degrees inside of it means you should wash your garments in the washing machine at the temperature shown.
Machine Wash (Permanent Press)
This symbol with a tub and a line under it signifies that you should use the permanent press setting on your washing machine. This setting means that your clothes are washed gently to prevent wrinkling. Your washer does this by washing the clothing with warm water on a slow spin cycle. This cycle is usually best for synthetic and blended fabrics.
Machine Wash (Delicate/Gentle)
Another rule to remember: the more bars under the tub, the more gentle the washing cycle should be. A tub with two bars under it means you should set your washer to a delicate or gentle washing cycle. This cycle is used for fragile items such as lace underwear, wool clothing, and blouses.
Machine Wash (with temperature settings)
The washing machine symbol with one or multiple dots inside indicates how hot or cold the water temperature should be (when not indicated with numbers).
A symbol of a tub and a hand in it means this item should be hand-washed. Some washing machines have a Hand Wash cycle setting, however, it’s not suitable for all garments with the Hand Wash symbol on the care tag. You shouldn’t machine-wash your clothing on this setting if the item is vintage or antique, heavily embellished or embroidered, is woven and can tangle with itself, and if your item can be misshaped if stretched. This cycle is usually okay for synthetic blend fabrics, small pieces of clothing made from natural wool fibers, like socks and gloves, and also big items like sweaters.
Do Not Wash
This care label symbol with a crossed-out tub means you shouldn’t wash your garment at home and it has to be professionally dry cleaned.
All triangle symbols refer to bleaching instructions. A simple triangle like this one means your clothing item can be bleached with any bleach.
Non-Chlorine Bleach Only
A triangle pictogram with diagonal lines means you can bleach your garment, but only with a bleach that doesn’t contain any chlorine. Usually, you’ll see this symbol on clothing that’s made out of materials like spandex, wool, silk, mohair, and leather. Chlorine bleach can break down the fabric of such clothing.
Do Not Bleach
A solid black, crossed-out triangle means your garment isn’t suitable for bleaching.
Tumble Dry (Normal)
This square symbol with a circle inside means you can tumble dry your clothes on normal, standard settings in your dryer.
Tumble Dry (Permanent Press and Delicate/Gentle)
Similar to washing symbols, lines under the Tumble Dry symbol represent the cycles you should dry your garms in. One line is for the Permanent Press cycle and two lines are for the Delicate/Gentle cycle setting.
Tumble Dry Heat Setting (Low, Medium, and High)
Is it just me or as we go on, these symbols start to make more and more sense? The dots inside the Tumble Dry symbol indicate the heat setting you should use when drying the specific item. Accordingly, 1 dot is for low heat, 2 dots for medium heat, and 3 dots for high heat.
Tumble Dry (No Heat)
This Tumble Dry symbol with a filled circle in the middle means that your clothes can be tumble dried, however, you shouldn’t use any heat in the process.
A square symbol with a semicircle at the top indicates that your clothing item should be line-dried. It means you shouldn’t use an electric dryer, but smoothen out and shape your garments before hanging them to air-dry instead. This method also saves a lot of electricity, therefore, is a more eco-friendly way to dry your clothes.
This square symbol with 3 vertical lines symbolizes drip drying. The item can be hung in the shower, and you should let the excess water drip down naturally. The difference between line-drying and drip-drying is that you don’t shape or smoothen out your item before leaving it to drip-dry.
The care label symbol above means you should let your clothing dry on a flat surface. This method is often used for things like knitted jumpers to avoid the material misshaping the garment.
Dry in Shade
2 parallel lines in the upper corner of the symbol on the care label mean your piece of clothing needs to be dried in shade. You might see this tag on dark items because drying your clothes in direct sunlight can lead to colors fading.
Do Not Wring
This laundry symbol shows a crossed-out wrinkled fabric. It means you shouldn’t wring your garment as it can damage the material.
Iron (Any Temperature, Steam, or Dry)
Ironing symbols are quite easy. This flat iron character means you can iron your tee, sweater, or pants at any temperature you want. The same goes for steaming and drying it with an iron.
Iron (Low, Medium, and High Temperatures)
As we’ve seen above, more dots mean higher temperature or heat. 1 dot inside an iron represents low temperature (230°F), 2 dots—medium temperature (290°F), and 3 dots—high temperature (300°F). You should iron your clothing at the temperature shown on the label.
Do Not Steam
An icon showing crossed-out steam coming from a flat iron means you shouldn’t steam your favorite blouse or shirt because you might ruin it if you do. This technique is great for eliminating wrinkles, however, it’s not suitable for all fabrics.
Do Not Iron
A crossed-out flat iron character signifies that you shouldn’t iron your garm at all.
It’s important to remember that different types of fabric require different care. You can see that by going to your closet and comparing care labels of two clothing items made from different materials.
In this section of the blog article, I’ll briefly explain the main fabric care instructions you should keep in mind when washing and drying different types of fabric. It’s important to follow these instructions to keep your clothes in a good condition and to avoid ruining them with inappropriate care.
Cotton is one of the most widely used fabrics for clothes manufacturing and it’s also quite easy to take care of.
You can set your washing machine to standard settings and throw your cotton garms in. The only trick with cotton is the temperature you wash it in—don’t go for high degrees because it can lead to your cotton clothes shrinking and the colors running.
Heat isn’t cotton’s best friend, so you should avoid tumble-drying. It’s better to line or flat-dry your cotton clothes. And if you’re drying them outside, don’t forget to turn the clothing inside out to prevent the colors from fading in the sun.
Polyester fabric is widely used for garments and not hard to maintain fresh-looking. It’s often combined with different types of fabric. Polyblends are manufactured to give certain characteristics to a garment. For example, it’s mixed with cotton to make the latter smoother or less prone to wrinkling.
Polyester clothing can be machine-washed on a standard washing cycle. It’s recommended to wash polyester clothing at 86°F–104°F (30°C–40°C).
Polyester fabric won’t shrink if you tumble-dry it on low heat. Pro tip: to avoid static, take your polyester goodies out of the dryer when they’re still slightly damp.
Read also: Guide to Cotton, Polyester, and Blended Fabrics
Elastane (also known as spandex or lycra) is a durable, stretchy fabric that’s widely used in sports attire, like leggings and shorts. It can also be blended with other fabrics to give a stretch to a garment.
Most of the clothing which contains elastane can be machine-washed. However, you should avoid chlorine bleach when washing spandex because it can ruin the structure of the material.
Some spandex blend fabrics can be tumble-dried unless stated otherwise on the care label. Keep in mind that clothing items with a higher elastane content may not do well with heat, therefore line-drying is the safest option. If you decide to tumble-dry this material, turn the heat as low as possible.
A lot of t-shirts you own are made of jersey fabric. This material is usually a blend of cotton, wool, and synthetic fibers. It’s versatile since it can offer natural stretch when it’s single-knit, but gives a heavier feel when double-knit.
Taking care of jersey fabric is similar to taking care of cotton because it’s a blend of cotton, wool, and synthetic fibers. Use standard settings on your washing machine, but keep the temperature down as this material is prone to shrinking in high temperatures. Due to that, avoid tumble-drying and use the flat drying method instead.
Rayon fabric is made out of cellulose fibers which come from wood pulp. It can also be labeled as viscose or modal. It’s widely used for making clothing and other accessories because of its versatility and low base price.
Taking care of rayon can be tricky. To avoid ruining the fabric you should either hand or machine-wash it on the Delicate setting. Never wring or twist viscose garments.
After washing, allow your rayon clothes to line-dry or leave them to drip-dry.
Recycled polyester or rPET for short is a fabric that contains synthetic fibers. Unlike regular polyester, it has a smaller carbon footprint. The reason is that rPET is produced by recycling existing materials (like plastic) instead of making more new waste. Recycled polyester has the same characteristics as regular polyester.
You should machine-wash rPET items using the Permanent Press washing cycle. This material has a tendency to become a little stiff after washing and produce static electricity, therefore you need to add a fabric softener during rinsing.
This fabric is best dried on a low heat setting in the dryer or line-dried.
Silk is a natural protein fiber fabric that is made to produce comfortable, soft clothing items, such as dresses, blouses, ties, and others.
You have to approach washing silk gently. In order not to ruin it, hand-wash it in cool water mixed with a gentle detergent. On rare occasions, your silk garment’s care label might say it can be machine-washed. If you decide to machine-wash it, use the Gentle cycle setting without other fabrics in the machine because silk tends to bleed color.
If you want to be safe and not ruin your silk items by accident, wash them by hand.
Never wring or tumble-dry your silk garment. The best option is to either flat-dry or leave it on a hanger to dry. Silk dries quite quickly, but remember not to leave it in the sun as the colors may fade.
Cashmere is a very soft and light fabric that feels great on your skin. It also requires special care.
Depending on the fabric composition of your cashmere garment, you can do two things: machine-wash it in cold water (no warmer than 86°F) on a Gentle cycle or gently hand-wash it, also in cold water.
Cashmere should be air-dried and never tumble-dried. Keep it away from any sources of heat, like the sun or a radiator.
There are different types of leather, therefore, it’s difficult to give a set of advice on all of them. The first thing you want to check out is, of course, the care label. If you see the Do Not Wash laundry symbol, you should trust dry cleaners with washing this item.
But there are types of leather you can indeed wash at home. If the care label says so, you’re good to go. You should wash leather like this: select the Gentle or Delicate cycle, set the water temperature to cold, and the spin cycle to medium.
When drying leather, you can use a towel straight after washing to remove excess moisture and then leave it to air-dry. Do not put leather items in a dryer, as it can lead to the material wrinkling.
Wool jumpers are very soft and comfy, but also require gentle care to look fresh for years. It’s not uncommon for wool to be mixed with other fabrics, which makes the washing a little easier.
If the care label of the specific garment says it should be hand-washed, you need to do it in cold water mixed with a mild detergent that’s suitable for wool (some are not). If the item contains a mix of wool and other fabrics and is machine-washable, you should wash it on the Gentle cycle in cold water and add a wool washing liquid.
Wool is best air-dried. Do not tumble-dry it as it can shrink in high temperatures.
Every step we take leaves an environmental impact. We can significantly reduce the waste we produce by making more sustainable choices on the way, starting with the purchase of a garment all the way to how we wash it at home.
Here I combined several tips and tricks that can make you more environmentally-conscious when approaching garment care.
First, when purchasing a new washing machine, pay attention to how much water it uses. Upgrading to a high-efficiency washing machine will not only save water but also energy and detergent. These machines use between 20% to 70% less water and 20% to 60% less energy. Helping the environment while also saving your money!
Wash your clothes in cold water as much as possible. It takes a lot of energy to heat up the hot water. As mentioned before, many materials can also be ruined in high temperatures, so this is a win-win.
Pay attention to fabric care products. The first step can be switching to more sustainable products, like plant-based detergents. From there on, evaluate the necessity for detergents when washing your clothes and the amount you use.
Air-dry your clothes more and use the dryer only when needed. Dryers use a lot of energy, and if you’re not in a rush, why use them when you can save money on electricity?
Finally, you might want to invest in a microfiber catcher. Microplastics are shed from synthetic materials such as polyester and nylon. They’re so small there’s no filter fine enough for them in washing machines or sewage pipes, but they have a significant impact on the environment. Wastewater, containing these small bits of plastic, is often dumped into rivers or the sea.
It’s up to us to make conscious decisions when choosing our clothing and taking care of it. Doing it correctly can be a significant step in the right direction to help the environment. Not only that, but it also saves our money in the process.
Quality garment care can lengthen the lifespan of your wardrobe and keep your clothes looking elegant and clean for years.
I hope this blog article helped you understand the importance of garment care. Feel free to show off your new A–Z clothing care knowledge to others and don’t forget to download the laundry symbols chart I prepared for you. Keep those next to your washing machine or give them to your customers as a courtesy!
Do you have any tips and tricks on garment care that you want to share? Head to the comments and let me know.
Laura is a Content Marketing Specialist at Printful. She speaks 5 languages and her professional passion lies in translating, copywriting, and the overall art of marketing.
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