You sort your clothes for washing; you should do the same for drying, so you’re not mixing slow- and quick-drying items. And wash your hands after transferring loads to the dryer. “People assume washed clothes are germ-free,” says Sandra Phillips, a cleaning consultant and the author of A Clean Break (Live-Right Books, $10, amazon.com). “But the dryer helps kill even more germs.”
Unfasten all buttons, including the tiny ones at the collar, before laundering. Otherwise, the agitation in the machine and the weight of other garments may cause buttonholes to tear. It’s a good idea to pretreat collars every time you wash them. “Once stains from body oils build up, they are very difficult to remove,” says Chris Allsbrooks, a textile analyst at the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute, in Laurel, Maryland. Use a stain remover (see Essential Laundry Products), or spot-clean with a mixture of water and liquid detergent. Pour it over the area, then rub with a soft toothbrush. It’s especially important to spot-clean permanent-press shirts and other items that have been treated with resins so they retain their shape, because these fabrics tend to hold soiling. Wash permanent-press shirts with all-purpose detergent on the permanent-press setting, which is gentler than the regular one, uses warm or hot water, and has a long cool-down rinse to further minimize wrinkling. Opt for the dryer’s permanent-press feature, which has a cool-down period at the end. Wash non-permanent-press shirts on the regular cycle in cold or warm water.
Hats and Gloves
Wash knit hats and gloves like sweaters. Spot-clean structured hats, like newsboy and baseball caps, which could become misshapen. You can hand wash gloves with small sections of leather if the leather is the same color as the knit; otherwise bleeding may be a problem. To dry, insert the handle of a wooden spoon in one finger and set the spoon end in a vase. This will help the glove retain its shape.
Down and Polyester Coats
You can wash down coats in front-loading machines with a mild powder detergent and warm water on the gentle cycle. (If you have a top-loader, take these coats to a dry cleaner; most top-loaders have agitators that can compress and displace down filling and prevent pieces from tumbling freely.) Smaller items, like children’s jackets, whether filled with down or polyester, can go in a front- or top-loader on the gentle cycle; tumble dry on low. Put a few clean, dry towels in the dryer to help soak up excess moisture and speed drying.
Many knits made of cotton, synthetics, or blends can be machine-washed in cold or warm water on the gentle cycle with all-purpose or mild detergent. To combat wrinkles and stiffness, dry items on low for 5 to 10 minutes before laying them flat on a mesh sweater rack ($9, organizeit.com) or a towel. Place a wool, cashmere, or fine cotton sweater in a zippered pillowcase; wash on the delicate cycle with cold water and lay flat to dry. Delicate knits, like crochet and silk, are a different story: Dry-clean these, or 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) and hand wash in cold water with mild detergent. Some knits may stretch out; reshape after washing and lay flat to dry.
Most denim is top-dyed, meaning only the surface of the fibers is colored. To keep jeans from fading or acquiring white streaks, wash in small loads in cold water (with more water than clothes) with all-purpose detergent. This cuts down on abrasion, says Allsbrooks. “It’s common for jeans to shrink in length” when washed, says Steve Boorstein, author of The Clothing Doctor’s 99 Secrets to Clothing Care (Boutique, $20, amazon.com). Hold them by the waistband and legs and gently stretch them vertically before drying. Dry on low or medium heat; overdrying causes unnecessary wear and tear, so take jeans out when the legs are done but the seams and the waistband are slightly damp.