Friday, September 6, 2019

Laundry Tales

via Unsplash

Although I have strong opinions about my laundry and how my clothes should be washed - I can't envision a scenario in which I would entrust the task of washing my clothes to anyone else; and now that K and I have experienced the profound luxury of having in-unit laundry in our NYC apartment, it's something I'll never want to give up so long as our budget allows - I don't actually write about laundry or "clothing care" that often. Admittedly, even with all my strong opinions and somewhat quirky preferences, there's not actually that much to say. Laundry is simply not that complicated!

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Plus, it's not like I'm an expert on laundry anyway. I can't fully vouch for the necessity of many of my preferences about what should be hand-washed, versus what can go in the machine. Fabrics that other people generally have no trouble with in the machine - provided that items are washed carefully, most likely in cold water,  preferably in a mesh baggie, and then line-dried, in my case on a drying rack drying rack (exact) indoors - have a history of shrinking in the wash on me. By this, I'm referring mainly to merino wool sweaters. (Over the years, I've had the most heinous luck with merino wool sweaters from the J.Crew or Madewell-ish price point.) Furthermore, I still have not the faintest idea about how to get stains out of silk without damaging it.

And if at all in doubt about whether I can wash something at home without causing damage, I'll send it out to the dry cleaner. More structured, expensive items like my suits, my wool-blend coats, and my cotton twill Everlane trench coat (current version) all go to the dry cleaner as a matter of course. I'll probably also send my cotton, polyester, and merino wool-blend J.Crew Sophie and Juliette sweater blazers to the dry cleaner as well, as I don't know if they'll hold their shape well if hand-washed. (Though, after wearing those frequently last fall/winter, none of them have needed cleaning yet.) I don't end up at the dry cleaner that often, mainly because none of these items need laundering that much, but I also don't see any likely alternative solutions for those items.

Today's post is all about laundry, a chore I quite enjoy. I even enjoy hand-washing things, though it can be a bit time-consuming, especially if I've let a backlog of items accumulate. (I hand-wash clothes in a Rubbermaid dishpan in the bathtub or the bathroom sink. I bought a bottle of Laundress Wool and Cashmere Shampoo for sweaters and Laundress Delicate Wash for everything else while I was still in law school, and am still using those bottles today, even though it feels like I hand-wash things frequently. I often put a capful or two of white vinegar in with the detergent as well.)

In particular, this post is about a few laundry-related questions that were giving me some trepidation, some of which I now have answers for, some of which I still don't: How do I wash my down coat? Does that secondhand Tory Burch stretch cotton poplin dress I bought last year actually need to be dry-cleaned? Why is some viscose or rayon so poorly behaved and unpredictable in the wash? Spoiler alert, I don't have an answer for that last question.

Machine-Washing and Drying my Down Coat

I found the prospect of washing my down coat so intimidating that I'd never done it once, in all the years since I bought it. It's not as icky as it sounds, I swear! Because one wears so many layers underneath, it never got sweaty or smelly. But I also got the sense that I shouldn't put off the chore any longer. Three full seasons without a single washing is... a very long time.

There's a dizzying amount of advice online about how exactly to wash a down coat. Does it need a special detergent, lest the down filing be damaged? Should it be taken to the dry-cleaner instead, or is there actually some reason it absolutely should never be taken to the dry-cleaner? Could one inadvertently leave the down filling clumped up with improper washing or drying, causing the coat to lose its insulating properties?

Once I actually tried washing the down coat, though, it was all a bit anticlimactic. After removing the furry collar, I put the coat in the washing machine on a delicate cycle - in cold water - and decided to use the Laundress Delicate Wash. And then I put it in the dryer, with some tennis balls tossed in along with it, to help keep the down filling fluffed up. The coat plus the tennis balls banging around in the dryer weren't loud enough to disturb my neighbors, which I was worried about. And it all turned out fine, my coat looks the same as before. The only thing I'd do differently next time is to pick another detergent, as the Laundress Delicate Wash does have a noticeable scent - even if it's pleasant - that's initially left on the coat. Though once I aired it out a bit, the scent dissipated.

Of course, I won't be able to test my newly washed coat outdoors in cold weather until winter actually sets in. Hopefully I don't wear it outside for the first time, only to discover that I've actually damaged the coat's insulating properties through how I washed and dried it! In hindsight, maybe I shouldn't have been so stressed out about machine-washing my down coat. While writing this post, I recalled that my mom has definitely just tossed another down coat into the washing machine and then into the dryer with no fuss at all in the past, to no discernible ill effect.

Machine-Washing "Dry Clean" Labeled Cotton Poplin

One other laundry question that was giving me some pause was whether that slightly stretchy cotton poplin Tory Burch dress I bought secondhand last year could be machine-washed, despite the "dry clean" label. It was probably a little silly to spend as much time as I did worrying about whether reasonably sturdy - albeit somewhat thin - 97% cotton, 3% elastane fabric would shrink or be damaged in the washing machine.  It's only fabrics blended with silk, wool, and/or some viscose or rayon I've had reason to worry about in the past. But I really want to do my best to take good care of my clothing and continue wearing everything as long as possible. I'd be very disappointed in myself if I damaged something due to careless laundry practices or an avoidable laundry mistake!

I finally just put the Tory Burch dress in the wash, in a mesh bag, and it came out fine after line-drying. The fabric does dry quite wrinkly when laid flat on my drying rack. So I likely do need to steam or iron it to get it closer to how it originally looked. But there was no shrinkage or any discernible damage.

Super-Fickle Rayon and Viscose

The final set of laundry-related questions that have been on my mind - and one I don't have any answers to, unfortunately - is about the highly unpredictable behavior of some rayon and viscose in the washing machine. Which is unfortunate, because a lot of the American mall-based retailers that I'm somewhat reliant on for work clothing (think Ann Taylor and J.Crew) use a lot of rayon and viscose!

I don't know if it's just me, but I've had terrible luck with rayon or viscose clothing in the wash. Sometimes, seemingly at random, items will shrink dramatically, even though they're labeled "machine wash." Originally, I would have said it was only jersey-textured rayon that shrank unpredictably - both of those H&M rayon summer dresses from 2017, for instance. But then one of my smooth, polyester-texture rayon items - from Old Navy - also shrank suddenly in the wash, though it'd been thrown in the washing machine several times before with no ill effect. Meanwhile, other rayon items I own seem completely resistant to shrinking, even if I accidentally throw them in the dryer. (Those Everlane Ryan tanks I bought years ago have survived several accidental trips into the dryer with no problems.)

Unlike, say, polyester or nylon-blended clothing, I find some 100% rayon or viscose items - both the jersey-textured and polyester-textured kind - to have some tendency towards intractable stains. I'm admittedly not the most skilled when it comes to getting bad stains out of clothing. My current primary strategy, unless the item is a more fragile or expensive natural fiber that I don't want to damage, is to scrub at it the stains with a paste of Laundress Stain Solution and Laundress All-Purpose Bleach Alternative before soaking in hot water with more of the Bleach Alternative. This strategy tends to work with most fabrics I treat that way, except for some of the aforementioned 100% rayon or viscose. Over the years, I've had a few such  items in otherwise good condition get a completely immovable stain that was entirely resistant to all my efforts to clean it off.

Does anyone else have terrible luck with shrinkage or intractable stains with certain fabrics? What's your laundry routine like? Has anyone else noticed that viscose and rayon are increasingly commonly used, even from retailers that didn't rely on it as much before? (I generally do prefer viscose or rayon over polyester, by the way, as I find the former much more breathable and comfortable to wear. But the fickle behavior in the washing machine is a huge downside with viscose and rayon.) 

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