When Do Clothes Need Washing?
All new clothes, sheets, and other household fabrics that are launderable should be washed once before they are used. After this, wash launderable clothes, linens, and household textiles when they look, feel, or smell dirty. Even if they look fine, you should launder them if you know that they have accumulated dirt and dust, because particulate dirt and dust will contribute to wearing them out. Particles of dust cut into cloth like tiny knives, weakening it and rendering it susceptible to holes and tears. Perspiration, food, and other substances that get on clothes during wear cause deterioration or discoloration in many fabrics.
On the other hand, because laundering and dry cleaning also age cloth, you should avoid resorting to them too frequently. Most of us today do tend to over-launder simply because laundering is so easy; children find it much easier to deposit a barely worn garment in a laundry hamper than to hang it nicely for airing or fold it neatly for the shelf. Of course, if you have perspired heavily in a garment, you must wash it before wearing it again, and what used to be called “body linen”—underwear and other intimate clothing—always needs washing after just one wear. But if you get a spot on a fresh garment, try washing or cleaning off just the spot with plain water or a commercial spot remover or a cleaning fluid (unless the garment is a silk or other fabric that may water-spot or unless the spot cleaning may leave a ring or faded spot—test your procedure first in an inconspicuous area). And rather than throw the shirt you wore for an hour into the laundry hamper, put it on a hanger and let it air, then replace it in your closet for wearing again. Brush and air clothes and blankets, especially woolens, after use. Sometimes you can simply wipe down wools and synthetics with a barely damp, white, nonlinting cloth to keep them clean longer. (If you do this, be sure to air them until they are absolutely dry before replacing them in drawers or closets.) Wear T-shirts under dress shirts, and use camisoles, slips, or dress shields under blouses and dresses. By these means, you can often keep launderable garments free of visible soil and heavy perspiration so that they remain fresh enough for two or more wearings before laundering. If you are on a tight budget, all this is even more important for clothes that must be dry-cleaned.
As clothes and linens become soiled through regular use, collect them in a clothes hamper or other receptacle. Let towels and other damp articles dry before you put them into the hamper, and place the hamper in a dry room, not in the bathroom (unless you have a bath suite with a dry room separate from the shower and tub). Stored damp laundry may mildew or become malodorous, and the odor can taint the air in the room where they are stored. Gathering soiled laundry in an airy container, such as a wicker or woven basket or hamper, will help avoid this problem. (You can sprinkle baking soda in a hamper to deodorize it as well; the soda can go right into the washing machine, as it is a gentle detergent booster.) Lidded baskets of wicker or similar material with a polyurethane coating are a good choice for hampers; air can enter through the interstices, and the smooth coating protects clothes from being snagged and the container itself from being damaged by moisture.
Very greasy, muddy, or heavily soiled clothing should be stored separately if there is any danger of the soil getting on other articles in the hamper. Fine and delicate items should also be stored separately for laundering so as to avoid their coming into contact with soil, odors, snags, or anything else that might harm them. A smooth cloth sack that will breathe and can be hung in some convenient place (not your clothes closet) works best. Later on, these items are laundered separately to protect them from harsher cleaning methods that they will not easily withstand.
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