Wash your clothes properly
The famous washing and drying symbols show how to wash and dry different garments. They do not say why, however.
In a perfect world, one would want to simply load all the dirty laundry into a machine and press start to get clean and dry clothes. It is, unfortunately, not quite that simple. In addition to the drying and washing method, it’s also necessary to keep track of the type of material of which the textiles are made.
Different materials are affected differently depending on how they are treated. The wrong choice of washing and drying method risks affecting the garment’s durability, colour, size and appearance. We are going to run through the most common textile types and how each of them should be washed.
Clothes and textiles can consist of two different types of fibres: natural fibres and artificial fibres. Just as the names suggest, the difference between the two lies in how they are made. Natural fibres are formed in nature, while artificial fibres are produced artificially or chemically. These main two types of fibres can then be divided into a number of subgroups. Natural fibres can either come from the animal kingdom, such as wool and silk, or from the plant kingdom, such as cotton and flax. Artificial fibres are usually divided into regenerated fibres, which are made from a natural material, for example cellulose from spruce or beech, and synthetic fibres, which are produced completely chemically, often from crude oil.
Acrylic is a synthetic fibre that is often used in knitted garments, seeing as it resembles wool. Manufacturing acrylic requires a lot of energy and chemicals, which means that it is a material with a high carbon footprint. Acrylic is a dimensionally stable fibre that can withstand washing at 40 degrees. The material easily creates static electricity, which can be counteracted by using fabric softener when washing. Tumble drying acrylic should be avoided, as the garments can become deformed and lose elasticity.
Cotton is the most common material from which clothes are made. Cotton bushes that are not grown organically are sprayed with a lot of pesticides, and the large amounts of water required to grow and manufacture cotton often leads to water shortages in the places in the world where it is grown. Cotton is the textile that can withstand the highest temperatures and is the only one that can be washed at 95 degrees if needed. If the material is not shrunk or shrink-treated, the garment risks shrinking when it is washed. White cotton garments can be washed at higher temperatures with bleaching detergent for particularly difficult stains, but first make sure that the garment is not a cotton/synthetic mixture, because synthetics cannot be bleached or dyed.
Elastane is mainly found in garments that need to have high elasticity, such as sportswear and swimwear. It is always used together with cotton or polyester, for example, to give garments stretch. Elastane is sensitive to both heat and sunlight. The material can be washed at up to 60 degrees. Certain garments say 40 degrees, which would be due to the garment’s colour not being able to withstand higher temperatures. Due to elastane’s very low moisture absorption capacity, the garments dry quickly. That, together with the heat sensitivity, means that the garments should be dried without heat.
Polyester is the most common synthetic fibre and is often made from crude oil. It does not absorb water as well as cotton, which can make it more difficult to remove stains from polyester garments. At the same time, the material’s low absorbency means that polyester rarely shrinks. The fibres also have good elasticity, which means that it does not wrinkle. With polyester garments having a smoother surface and poorer absorbency than cotton garments, stains do not get as attached to polyester. Polyester also withstands heat worse than cotton, so the garments shouldn’t be washed and dried at temperatures above 40 degrees.
There are several different types of wool, the most common being sheep’s wool. Wool is sensitive to certain alkalis in ordinary detergents, which is why special wool detergents are used. However, wool garments do not need to be washed very often because the natural fat in wool, lanolin, keeps the dirt away and makes the material self-cleaning to some extent. Heat and mechanical processing in a washing machine or tumble dryer have a major negative impact on wool. This leads to so-called fibre migration or felting as the fibres move towards the centre of the fabric and the garment shrinks. Washing wool should therefore be done below 30 degrees and with few garments in the machine. When it comes to drying, wool garments are best shaped and dried by flat drying, preferably by placing the garment in a towel, which helps the garment not to change shape.
Viscose and lyocell
Viscose and lyocell are similar to modal regenerated fibres. Both materials are mainly manufactured by extracting cellulose fibres from spruce and birch. The difference between the two is that the production of lyocell is more environmentally friendly due to the chemicals used being in a closed cycle. In the same way as modal, viscose and lyocell are extra sensitive when wet and should therefore be washed and dried with low heat and without mechanical processing.
Linen and flax
Flax fibres are durable and have a long shelf life. The fibres are also stiff and have low elasticity, which results in garments easily getting wrinkles that can be difficult to remove. Linen is common in such things as towels seeing as the fabric does not shed any fibres like cotton easily does. Linen garments can withstand high temperatures, but should be washed with detergents free from optical whiteners or bleaches, which, in combination with sunlight, can bleach your garments. Linen can be dried using high heat and then ironed or calendered to avoid creases, but avoid tumble drying, as your garments will easily get wrinkled and the fibres get damaged.
Modal is a regenerated fibre, i.e. a fibre from natural materials that’s been extracted through a chemical process. Compared to another regenerated fibre, viscose, modal is a more cotton-like and softer fibrous material. All regenerated fibres lose a lot of strength when wet, because the manufacturing process makes the fibres resemble the material structure of paper. At too high a temperature when washing and drying, the garments can break, so wash modal with low heat and with few other garments in the machine. When drying, the garments may shrink like linen garments do, but this can be remedied by ironing with a steam iron.
Silk and silk cloth
Silk is a fibre made from secretions forming the silk moth’s larval cocoon. Silk is the name of the fibre itself, and when it is made into a fabric it is called silk cloth. Silk cloth is sensitive to sweat and can be damaged if it is in contact with sweat for too long, so the garments should be washed soon after use. Silk cloth is a sensitive material and dry cleaning is recommended if you are unsure how to go about things.If you would like wash your silk cloth garments at home, you should do so at no hotter than 40 degrees and preferably by hand washing. When it comes to drying, it is important that the garments are dried evenly, seeing as water can stain the fabric. The garment should be squeezed gently to get most of the water out, then rolled in a towel to remove the last bit. Hang the garment up afterwards, but do it indoors, as silk cloth is sensitive to sunlight.
Polyamide and nylon
Polyamide is better known by the brand name nylon and was developed by the US Army during World War II to replace hemp and silk in parachutes. The material soon became the most common material used for tights. The material can also be spun into thicker fibres and is then often used in children’s overalls under the name beaver nylon. Polyamide (or nylon) can be washed at 40 degrees. Children’s overalls and other garments in beaver nylon do not need to be washed after each use, but can instead be hung to dry with heat (but avoid using tumble dryers).
Gore-Tex is most certainly not a textile fibre, but rather a membrane that is placed between the inner and outer fabric. The material’s properties make it popular in outdoor clothing. The membrane has pores between the fibres which makes it waterproof, while the pores are large enough to let moisture and air through. Garments with Gore-Tex should be washed with liquid detergent at a maximum of 40 degrees, because powder detergents can clog the pores. Avoid using fabric softener and be careful with centrifugation, as it can damage the garment. Gore-Tex should be hang-dried. Once dry, the garment should be heat-treated for 20 minutes in a drying cabinet, tumble dryer or with an iron to reactivate the impregnation.