The When-to-Wash-It Handbook: Winter Edition
Down Parkas and Vests
How often you should wash them: two times a season.
Washing guidelines: Overwashing down causes the feathers to break, so twice a season is plenty. Machine wash puffy outerwear in cold water with a non-detergent product, like Nikwax Down Wash ($9.50, rei.com), since “detergents and dry cleaning flatten the feathers,” says Rachel Cerny, an apparel designer for Sierra Designs.
What else you should know: After washing (or if your puffy coat is squashed), let it tumble dry on low with three clean tennis balls to redistribute the feathers. “To prevent the down from clumping, make sure the coat is totally dry, even if it takes several cycles,” says Rick Griffin, the director of quality assurance for the North Face.
Fleece Jackets and Sweatshirts
How often you should wash them: After six to seven wears.
Washing guidelines: Sweatshirts are low-maintenance, but fleece deserves extra care. To keep the nap smooth and soft (that is—not crunchy, static-y, or pilled), turn the garment inside out and wash it with like colors and without linty items, like towels. Rinse twice so there’s no detergent residue. Air-dry.
What else you should know: If the fleece has a water-resistant finish, avoid fabric softeners and dryer sheets, as they diminish the effectiveness of the fabric. And the easiest way to remove stubborn pet hair? Wipe down fleece with a wet rubber glove.
Hats, Gloves, and Scarves
How often you should wash them: three to five times a season.
Washing guidelines: Pay more attention to these often ignored items. “Think about the facial oil, makeup, and perfume buildup, plus the germs you pick up with gloves,” says Corinne Phipps, the founder of Urban Darling, a San Francisco wardrobe-consulting firm. Hand wash knits. Dry-clean leather gloves and structured hats.
What else you should know: Never store gloves in coat pockets. “The glove linings get damp from your hand perspiration and need to air out. Otherwise, they could smell like mildew,” says Lindsey Wieber Boyd, a cofounder of the Laundress, a line of cleaning products.
How often you should wash them: After every wear.
Washing guidelines: Since they serve the same function as socks, hand wash nylons regularly. (Hang to dry.) That said, if you’re stuck one day without a clean pair (be honest—haven’t we all been there?), you can pop yesterday’s tights in the dryer for 10 minutes with a Refresh’n Dryer Towel ($10, simplygoodstuff.com), a reusable cloth that deodorizes.
What else you should know: Stay on top of your inventory (and avoid recycling dirty hose) with this snagproof filing system: Place each pair into its own zippered plastic bag along with the packaging sleeve so you can ID the brand, the color, and the size quickly.
Leather and Suede Jackets
How often you should wash them: Once a season.
Washing guidelines: These hides are pretty durable, but annual cleaning is best left to an expert. You can spot-clean stains on leather immediately with Leather CPR ($12 for eight ounces, bedbathandbeyond.com) and brush suede often to keep it in top condition, says Bruce Gershon, a board member of the Leather Apparel Association.
What else you should know: Prevent makeup and perfume from staining the collar by being conscientious about wearing a scarf. Also, don’t overstuff the pockets—this leads to tears and a misshapen jacket. Avoid plastic bags or bins when storing or the leather will dry out and crack.
Leggings and Lounge Pants
How often you should wash them: After one to three wears.
Washing guidelines: Unless you’re slipping into these spandex-infused bottoms for exercise class, you can definitely get away with more wears. Turn the pants inside out and wash in cold water to prevent pilling and fading. If you paid a lot for a designer pair or a high-performance fabric, skip the dryer.
What else you should know: Want to avoid pants that sag between washes? Check the tag before you buy. “If there is at least 2 percent stretch, the fabric will bounce back into shape,” says Phipps. “If the pants are made of 100 percent cotton, then you’ll have a droopy behind after one day.”
Pants and Skirts
How often you should wash them: After five to seven wears.
Washing guidelines: Wintry fabrics—tweed, wool, velvet—are fairly tough but can be tricky to wash, so dry cleaning is safest. Of course, that can get pricey, which is why Linda Cobb, the author of Talking Dirty With the Queen of Clean ($12, amazon.com), suggests a do-it-yourself alternative, like Woolite Dry Cleaners Secret ($10 at supermarkets).
What else you should know: Try this refreshing trick used by many owners of vintage-clothing stores: Mist the garment with one part vodka and two parts water and let dry. Naturally scentless, vodka helps to deodorize, says Cobb. “Steaming also acts as an antibacterial between washings,” says Boyd.
How often you should wash it: After one to three wears.
Washing guidelines: Generally, if you layer briefs underneath, you can sport these suckers a few times. Prefer not to hand wash? Toss shapewear in a mesh lingerie bag and wash on a delicate cycle in cold water.
What else you should know: Ditch the fabric softener and the dryer, says Cobb. They damage the elasticity (hey, Spanx don’t come cheap!). Instead, lay pieces flat to dry.
How often you should wash them: After two to five wears.
Washing guidelines: You should wash cotton, silk, and cashmere after two to three wears, since these pieces are more delicate. Wool and durable man-made blends, such as acrylic and polyester, can withstand five wears. “Wool naturally repels dirt, dust, and liquids,” says Sue Benfield, a sweater designer for Woolrich. Whatever the fiber, follow the care instructions on the label.
What else you should know: Hand washing tends to be gentlest, but if you’re worried about moths, take knits to the cleaners. “Once larvae have bored into the fabric, it may be too late to prevent holes,” says Steve Boorstein, the host of the DVD The Clothing Doctor’s Secrets to Taking Control! ($20, amazon.com).
How often you should wash them: one to two times a season.
Washing guidelines: If it’s your everyday coat, clean it twice a season to keep it from looking dingy. Special-occasion coats may need to be taken to the cleaners only once before storing to deter moths. Occasionally, use a stiff brush, like the Caldrea clothes brush ($30, caldrea.com), to remove surface debris, and spot-clean the collar and cuffs with a damp cloth and mild soap.
What else you should know: To keep odors at bay, “when you take off your coat, hang it up where air can circulate, like on an entryway coatrack, not crushed in a crowded closet,” says Cobb. Or zap lint and smells in one step with the Bounce Lint and Freshness Roller ($5 at drugstores).