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How To Wash Delicates (and Not Damage Them)

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If you own a lot of high-end, delicate clothing, properly washing them can significantly affect how long you can keep them. Delicate fabrics such as silk and lace can become stretched and discolored if the garments are not washed correctly.

To wash delicates, wash gently in cold water with mild detergent. A mesh bag should be used to protect the delicate fabric from becoming snagged or torn. Follow the wash recommendations to keep your clothing looking fresh and new.

Every item of clothing is different, so we should not wash or care for them the same. There is a reason your washer has so many settings, and many kinds of detergents exist. If you want to learn about doing their laundry properly, then learning to take care of your delicates is essential, as they are some of the most fragile pieces of clothing you own! 

1. Read the Label

The tag on this robe instructs us to use a colder water wash, and to avoid bleach.

The first and most important step with every garment is to read the tags to see the recommended wash settings. Most clothing will come with a tag that tells you the material and the recommended laundry process. Before washing, you can create piles of “like” recommendations for your clothing items to give each load the proper attention and care.

If you have trouble understanding what the labels mean, there are many guides online that can help you learn about the different symbols and meanings. In general, for delicates, you will want to look for:  

  • A hand and a bucket. This means you will want to hand wash the garment. 
  • A water bucket with one dot. This indicates washing with cold water in the machine. 
  • A water bucket with two lines underneath. This means using a gentle cycle in the machine. 
  • A circle. This means you will want to dry-clean this garment. 

These are just a few examples of what you might see on your garment tag. If you see a symbol you are unfamiliar with, I recommend researching so you make the best decision on how to wash it.

2. Decide Where To Wash Your Delicates 

Once you have read the labels and separated your items, you can decide where to wash your delicates. Many delicate items will need to be hand-washed or sent to a dry cleaner for care.

Following the wash recommendations is critical to keep your clothing in good shape. It takes more time and effort, but you’ll thank yourself in the long run as you will not need to replace your delicate clothing as often.

3. Begin Pre-Treatments 

Pretreating the garments with stains saves the other garments from the harsh treatment required to remove stains.

Unless you take your items to a dry cleaner, you will want to pre-treat your delicates for any stains. Pre-treating stains is vital because it helps to break down the proteins and oils found in sweat and dirt. This makes it easier for the detergent to do its job during the washing process. 

Additionally, pre-treating stains can help to prevent the stain from setting in and becoming permanent.

Taking the time to pre-treat stains will save you time and effort in the long run, as it can help prevent extra scrubbing or the use of harsher cleaning products. Pre-treatment will depend on the type of stain and material of the garment you are washing.

Many different types of stain removers are available on the market, so read the label to figure out which will work best for your delicates.

Here’s a list of my favorite stain removers.

4. Use the Right Detergent

A gentle detergent is the best option for your delicates.

Next, you will want to choose the best detergent for your delicates. Delicate fabrics such as silk and lace should be washed with a mild detergent, as harsh detergents can cause the fabric to become discolored or stretched.

Choosing suitable detergent can ensure that your clothes are properly cleaned and in good condition. If you need help choosing one, take a look at my list of the 9 best laundry detergents for delicates. This guide has options for every situation, so you can feel confident that your delicates are treated with the best care.

You can also make your own homemade solution. There are many DIY recipes online, but I recommend 1 part baking soda to 1 part water for your delicates. 

4. Use a Delicates Mesh Bag

Consider using mesh bags to further protect your delicates. Learn more here.

For delicates, using a mesh bag will help save the items from catching on the drum of the washing machine or on other garments you’re washing.

Bras and lingerie can significantly benefit from the mesh bag. Otherwise, lace can fray and tear. Investing in a mesh bag for your delicates will keep them safe and help them last longer through many machine washes. Mesh laundry bags can be found both online and in stores.

5. Set Your Washing Machine to the Correct Setting

Mastering the Delicate Program (Washing Machine Setting)
Here’s a video I made on how I like to use my washing machine to wash delicates.

For delicates, I recommend washing on a “delicate” or “gentle cycle” with cold water if you are washing in the machine. I have an article dedicated to the delicate wash setting, so be sure to check that out.

Choosing the right washing machine cycle is important to ensure that clothes are properly cleaned and cared for. Be sure to use the mesh bag, especially if you plan to wash delicates with other items in the same load.

6. Follow Hand-Wash Only Steps

If you choose to hand-wash your garments, find a clean container to soak and rinse delicates by hand. Cold or warm water is recommended for hand-washed items, and you should choose a detergent that’s specifically designed for hand-washing.

When washing, swirl the delicates slowly through the water and detergent, handling gently to not stretch or tear items. Then, rinse clothes with cold, clear water until there’s no more detergent residue. This process takes more time than a washing machine’s typical “set it and forget it” process, so be sure to set enough time aside on laundry day to do this. 

Hand Wash Cycle on Washing Machines (Safe to use on delicates?)
Here is an explanation of the hand wash cycle. It is similar to the delicates cycle in many ways, just gentler.

You may notice some machines also have a “hand wash” setting and may be wondering if this can properly replace hand washing some items. You can learn more about that in our article about hand wash on washing machines, but if you go with this setting, make sure you use hand-washing detergent. 

7. Drying Your Delicates

The best practice for drying your delicates is to air dry them, regardless of how you washed them. Be careful to never ring them out. Instead, put down a clean, fresh towel and place the delicates on it. You’ll need to place them the way you want them to look, as they will dry to the shape you’ve placed them in. 

Heat can ruin delicates’ color, shape, and elasticity. Direct sunlight is also not a good idea.

Some delicates also indicate how they need to be dried on the label. 

  • A circle with one dot will indicate low heat in a machine is ok. 
  • A square with a horizontal line in the middle means to dry flat. 
This symbol means you should line dry your garment.

There are many other combinations of dryer symbols, so be sure to look them up to find out what is best for your garment. Either way, it is important to know that heat is not good for delicates, so do not use heat when drying.

What Is Considered a Delicate?

Delicate laundry includes but is not limited to materials such as silk, lace, satin, synthetics, velvet, and chiffon. We often think of items like silk blouses, bras, or lingerie. Anything with a lightweight fabric can be considered delicate due to needing a gentle washing process. 

Delicates need special attention. They require a different washing process than your normal clothes in order to keep them in good shape. Taking the time to properly clean delicate items will help to extend their lifespan and ensure they remain looking their best.

Use Dry Cleaners for Dry Clean Only Delicates

If your garments say dry clean only, it is best to leave them to the professionals. Dry cleaning services use a unique process that removes dirt and stains without causing damage to the fabric.

Additionally, the chemicals used in dry cleaning can help to disinfect and deodorize the clothing. Dry cleaning services can also prevent shrinking and potential discoloration. For these reasons, it is vital to use a dry cleaning service for any items labeled as dry clean only.

Dry cleaners can be expensive, but they’re worth the cost if you want your delicates to look new for a long time. The final cost will depend on the type of fabric and the extent of the cleaning required.

Although dry cleaning a single piece might not be expensive, the total quickly grows as you bring in more clothes.

There are a few ways you can skip the dry cleaner as long as the garment is made of the right material. Note that this only works for light cleaning—anything heavily soiled or stained will be best at the dry cleaners.

Can I Iron Delicates?

Typically, delicates can’t take direct heat exposure from an iron. Steaming is the recommended way to remove wrinkles from delicates.

If you only have an iron on hand and you can’t take your items to a dry cleaner, there’s another method you can try.

  1. Place aluminum foil on the ironing board.
  2. Place the delicate garment over the piece of aluminum foil, laying it flat.
  3. Use the steam button on your iron and hold it 3-4 inches above the garment. The iron shouldn’t make direct contact with the garment. The aluminum foil helps heat the garment from below.

An additional method would be to use a damp cloth over the delicate material so the iron doesn’t directly come into contact with the delicate material. The iron on the damp cloth should create a “steaming” effect.

If you can invest in a steamer, this may be the easiest option to keep up with your delicate laundry needs. Just be sure not to fold after steaming to avoid setting in any creases. 

If you´re looking for a steamer, it’s difficult to beat the Conair Turbo ExtremeSteam at its price. It’s easy to use and maneuver and has useful accessories.

Many delicate items will have a “do not iron” symbol on the tag. However, even if it doesn’t have the symbol, you should still not iron delicate fabrics. An iron can damage them to the point of no return.

How to Store Delicates

More on folding your clothes here.

If you need to store your delicate laundry for a long time, you must take care to do so without creasing the fabric. Delicates tend to wrinkle easily in storage, but there are a few ways you can avoid this.

First, purchase some acid-free tissue paper to wrap them into. If the delicate is small enough, rolling rather than folding can help avoid creases even further.

Place the wrapped delicate in a dry, ventilated storage container and place it somewhere dry with limited access to dust. It is not recommended to place other items on top that could flatten down the delicates or break down the fibers. 

How Long Do Delicate Clothing Items Last

Each clothing item is different, but no matter how well you take care of your clothing, they will still need to be replaced someday. Delicate items are no exception. 

Bras should be replaced every 6-9 months or when they lose their elasticity. Underwear can typically last 6-12 months with good care. Lingerie would fall into these timelines as well. Items such as silk blouses can last for several years when well taken care of.

If your delicate clothing items develop holes, are stretched, or have an odor even after washing, this is a good indication that they are in need of replacement. This will happen faster if not properly cared for. Washing them properly will help you avoid a lot of these issues.

Final Thoughts

Washing delicate laundry properly ensures the fabric is not damaged. Delicate fabrics such as silk and lace should be washed gently in cold water and with a mild detergent. A mesh bag should also be used to protect the delicate fabric from being snagged or torn.

Taking the time to properly clean delicate items will help to extend their lifespan and ensure they remain looking their best. 

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