An Aging Punk's Guide to Garment Care

Vintage drawing of mice doing laundry

Once upon a time, I didn’t give a crap about my clothes. I mean, I had stuff I liked, I tried to look good. But it didn’t occur to me that the way I cared for my garments when I wasn’t wearing them mattered. I used to say “I’m just really hard on my clothes!” Which was true, to an extent, because as a daily cyclist who refuses to wear special biking outfits, my clothes are often put through their paces more than they were designed for. Most of my clothes came from free piles or thrift stores, and I just didn’t see the point in caring much. 

But with age comes wisdom, and I slowly began to realize that it made me sad when my favorite clothes fell apart. here are a few tips to help your items live long and happy lives in your closet and on your hot bod. 

1. Wash in cold, use less soap 

Soap can be nasty stuff. It’s incredibly useful, and thanks to it’s ability to wash away germs, we are no longer likely to die of the flu in our tweens anymore. But have you ever made soap? It’s made of chemicals that will literally burn your skin off. Even when it’s turned into the finished product, it’s not exactly gentle. I’ve seen spilled laundry soap eat paint off of bookshelves. So what do you think it’s going to do to your clothes? Over time, soap breaks down the fibers and weakens your garments.

It’s easy to combat this, though. Just wash your clothes in cold water and use half the suggested amount of soap. Like many products, the suggested amount is excessive because they just want to sell you more soap. Your clothes will still be clean, but they’ll experience far less trauma in the wash. 

2. Don’t run the dryer so long. 

Or don’t run it at all! Just like soap, heat is hard on your clothes. Imagine the dryer is like a sauna, and at the end of that 60 minute cycle your clothes are in their sloughing off dead skin so they look hot for their date tonight. Yuck! You don’t want that!  

Most dryers have a “sensor dry” setting. In my dryer that means it only runs for about 30 minutes, which is plenty of time to get my clothes dry. If you’re used to using semi-broken laundromat dryers you might think you need a longer cycle, but it’s rarely necessary. Be careful not to overfill your dryer, as this is hard on the mechanics of the dryer and will require a longer running time. 

If you’ve got time or your washing extra special items, don’t put them in the dryer at all. A lot of modern garments are made of complex mixes of fibers that hold up terribly in the dryer. Anything with rayon should never go in the dryer, as it will pill almost immediately. If it’s too cold or wet to hang your clothing to dry outside, just put in on a hanger and air dry it in your bathroom or your basement.

3. Learn to love the gentle cycle 

Are you starting to catch the theme here? Gentle care! Just like everything else your love, like your cat and your heart, clothes need a gentle touch.    

The gentle cycle on your washer is awesome. I almost never take anything to the dry cleaner (because I’m cheap) and I almost never handwash (because I’ve got better things to do), so I let the gentle cycle do all the work. In my experience, most delicate items can be machine washed if you use the gentle cycle, cold water, and a tiny bit of soap (woolite is great for delicates, but regular detergent works too, just don’t use too much). I have cleaned things like silk shirts and cashmere sweaters using this method to excellent results. Anything you wash on gentle should air dry! For sweaters, lay them flat on a towel to avoid distorting them.    

4. But occasionally, go to the dry cleaner 

Here’s what I think is worth taking to the dry cleaner: tailored jackets, winter coats, delicate heirlooms, and anything velvet (velvet is a very persnickety fabric). That’s pretty much it! 

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