Fabric Care 101

Before you start washing, it's important to know your fibers.

Cotton

Cotton is made from the fluffy fibers of the cotton plant. Most are preshrunk, so "you really can't mess them up," says Chris Allsbrooks, a textile analyst at the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute in Laurel, Maryland.

How to wash: Machine-wash in cold or warm with all-purpose detergent.

Tip: Sun yellows it; line-dry in shade.

Synthetics

Polyester, nylon, spandex, acrylic, and acetate won't shrink and will resist water-based stains. Most produce static and may permanently wrinkle in a hot dryer, so dry on low.

How to wash: Machine-wash in warm with all-purpose detergent.

Tip: Use fabric softener to curb static.

Wool

Wool is woven from the undercoats of sheep, goats, and other hairy mammals. It's ultra-durable but shrinks in warm water, so take precautions.

How to wash: Dry-clean or hand-wash in cold with mild detergent. Air-dry.

Tip: Use cedar hangers to repel moths.

Silk

This durable, luxurious fabric is made from protein fibers produced by silkworms. It's treated with sizing and may have dyes that bleed.

How to wash: Dry-clean or hand-wash in cold with mild detergent. Air-dry.

Tip: Test for colorfastness. (Dip a cotton swab in detergent and hold it on an inconspicuous area for two minutes to see if the color bleeds.)

Rayon

Cool and comfortable rayon is created from wood pulp treated with chemicals and is considered a semisynthetic fabric. When laundered, it may bleed, shrink, or lose its crispness.

How to wash: Dry-clean or hand-wash in cold with mild detergent. Air-dry.

Tip: Iron it when slightly damp.

Linen

Linen is woven from fibers of the flax plant and is sometimes treated with sizing, a finish that makes it crisp. It wrinkles very easily and requires ironing.

How to wash: Dry-clean or hand-wash in cold with mild detergent. Air-dry.

Tip: Alternatively, machine-wash on gentle.

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