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Do Washing Clothes Damage Them? (+ How to avoid damaging them)

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It’s no secret that clothes need washing. The usual concern, however, is could it eventually damage them? 

Washing clothes incorrectly can damage and make them look old. Not sorting out the clothes correctly, using hot water excessively or the wrong machine cycle/temperature or detergent and fabric conditioner, and rubbing the stains are examples of improper washing. 

Let’s explore these factors that affect your clothes and what you should do to avoid them. Keep reading.

Why Do My Clothes Look Old After Washing?

Your clothes look old and damaged after washing due to sorting out your clothes incorrectly, improper machine washing, rubbing stains, and excessive use of hot water and detergent. Using fabric conditioners on sportswear will also make your clothes look older.

The following sections explain why your clothes look old after washing them in greater detail.

You Didn’t Sort Out Your Clothes Properly

If you don’t sort your garments by color or material, they’ll look older with every wash. But, of course, washing your darks together with your whites will discolor the latter.

Likewise, washing your delicates, say, alongside jeans, isn’t recommended. Denim is made of thick, abrasive fabrics that can destroy your undergarments. 

You’re Not Using the Washing Machine Correctly

Machine washing makes cleaning clothes better, but it could ruin your clothes whenever you do the following:

  • Setting the wrong water temperature and cycle
  • NOT using a washing machine bag for delicate garments 
  • Leaving the clothes in the washing machine for more than 24 hours (this causes germs to grow on the fabric)
  • Leaving buttons closed or zippers open during washing
  • Leaving clothes with buttons or zippers on the right side when washing

If you have expensive clothes or garments you especially love, it’s best to hand-wash them separately if you worry that the washing machine will ruin them.

You’re Using Too Much Hot Water on Natural Fibers

Cotton, wool, and other natural fibers can shrink when exposed to high temperatures, which is the case with hot water. 

For one, cotton clothes are often stretched before manufacturing, which is why they shrink 2–3% whenever they’re in a hot water wash. 

You’re Using Too Much Detergent

Detergents make your clothes clean, but using too much of them can make your garments look old and damaged. 

Too much foam will end up preventing your clothes from rubbing with each other. It’ll make rinsing harder as well. 

As a result, soapy residue will linger on the fabric, thus, serving as a breeding ground for destructive germs. 

I wrote an article on why your clothes smell like detergent that may interest you.

Certain Garments Don’t Go Well With Fabric Conditioners

Fabric conditioners can make your clothes smooth to the touch. That said, it shouldn’t be used in all your garments, specifically your athletic garb. 

This chemical creates a layer that traps sweat and bacteria in your clothing. So instead of keeping your body refreshed after a workout, the fabric conditioner ends up retaining sweat and the germs in it. 

You Tend To Rub Your Cloth Stains

If you’re like most people, then you may be rubbing the stain instead of blotting it.

This action can cause the dirt to penetrate the fabric deeply. As a result, the affected area may change to the color of the stain, thus, making your clothes look older than usual.

Likewise, it’s not good to leave the stain as is, for this will mean more cleaning time for your clothes. Also, the longer they stay in the washing machine, the ‘older’ they’ll look when they come out. 

Does Washing Too Often Ruin Them?

Washing your clothes too often can wear them out and ruin them along the way. Especially when you wash clothes on the wrong cycle (e.g., strong cycle for delicates).

That said, it’s not an excuse not to wash your dirty clothes because it’s unhygienic. For the best results, you should wash the following clothes as recommended: 

  • Underwear, swimwear, and sportswear after every wear
  • Tops, dresses, leggings, socks, and stockings after every one to two wears
  • Brassieres, pajamas, pants, skirts, and shorts after three to four times of wears
  • Jeans, jackets, and blazers after five to six times of wears
  • Coats every two months of wear 

You may need to wash these garments outside the recommendations due to spills or excessive sweating. 

Learn to handwash your clothes properly in my step-by-step guide.

Tips for Washing Your Clothes

Washing your clothes is necessary, but of course, you don’t want to end up damaging them. As such, you need to avoid making the mistakes I’ve mentioned above.

Simply put, it’s a matter of following the easy washing tips below:

Separate Your Clothes Accordingly

Separating your garments according to color and type won’t only save them from damage—it can make the process easier, too.

For example, you wouldn’t want to wash your towels with the rest of your clothes. The towels may leave fuzz that could quickly transfer to your dress pants and whatnot. 

Likewise, washing the same color or type will make the drying process easier. Of course, thicker towels will need more time in the dryer than your thinner undergarments. 

Machine-Wash Clothes Properly

To avoid the mistakes above, you need to do the opposite. That means:

  • Using the correct water temperature, especially for cotton and other natural fibers
  • Setting the proper machine cycle, e.g., gentle for delicates and strong for denim jeans
  • Placing your delicates in a washing machine bag
  • Drying machine-washed clothes right away
  • Keeping your clothes’ zippers closed and buttons open during washing
  • Washing zippered/button clothes wrong side out

Don’t Use a Lot of Hot Water or Detergent

Apart from setting the proper water temperature, it’ll help to use the correct quantity, especially on natural fibers. Likewise, it would be good to use cold water instead. 

These should prevent shrinkage, a common occurrence in cotton or wool.

Additionally, it would help if you fought the urge to use too much detergent. Not only is it bad for your clothes, but it’s terrible for your wallet, too. 

If you want to keep your clothes looking good, then make sure to follow the detergent manufacturer’s recommendations.

Here’s my complete guide to what temperature you should use on your clothes.

Skip the Fabric Conditioner

While you can use fabric conditioner on various clothes, it’s best to avoid it when washing athletic or performance clothes.

Likewise, it shouldn’t be used on any of the following garments:

  • Wool and other delicate natural fabrics
  • Swimwear
  • Linen
  • Baby clothes 

Blot the Stain

Leaving the stain as is—or rubbing it—won’t do your clothes any good.

As such, the best thing you could do is blot the stain. 

First, you need to dab the area with water and a bleach alternative. Next, apply a clean cloth or a paper towel to the stain to blot it. 

Doing this should lessen the stain and make everything easier for your washing machine. 

I wrote more on if drying clothes damage them more than washing them here.

Final Thoughts

Washing clothes improperly can damage them and make them look old. 

As such, you need to separate your clothes and machine wash them properly. Using the right amounts of hot water, detergent, and fabric conditioner should help maintain your garments’ clean and ‘new’ appearance.

Here’s how to line-dry your clothes to increase their durability, and how to fold them properly.

Dee Dee

Monday 6th of March 2023

Great article. My issue is I have new sweatpants and tops (hoodies etc) They produce so much lint and fluff in the washing machine that my clothes look years old. It sticks to everything. Multiple washes does not help and I have had to throw out a number of items after only a mths or 2. I wash on cold with mild detergent and vinegar. My brand new Rebox track pants were the last straw.


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