How to take care of one’s clothes is a balance between the feeling of being fresh and clean when leaving the house, what is good for the garment, how much water is responsible to use on textile care and, if we go far out on that axis, social acceptability.
I will advocate for the garment’s perspective. Keeping in mind, that textiles are responsible for much of the water pollution in this world, and an astonishing amount of that happens after sale. Whilst I’ll both propagate that we all still wash our clothes and that the industry keep working on innovating on the systemicly decreased use of water, there is something that we can do. Lets just not overwash!
What do you do to your jackets, coats, trousers, scarfs, skirts, shirts?
Here’s wool explained and a couple of rules of thumb:
1. Wool can be aired and unpleasant odours disappear
How: If you are in the countryside, this should offer no challenge, but as an urban dweller it can easily seem out of our way. It needn’t be so, you can simply have your garment on a hanger close to an open window. The open window will guarantee freshness of the air and the garments increased proximity to the window increases the air circulating through. How long the garments need to be aired isn’t possible to say absolutely, because it basically needs to more fresh air circulated through than unpleasant odours. But humid weather will increase the self-cleansing properties of wool and the simple subjective measurement tool of the nose will tell you when is enough.
In general, if you can leave the garment in the open window on a day whilst going to work, that will more than suffice -even a bus road in central London air gives a fresh smell, so don’t despair!
Why: Wool is a living fibre. It can be understand this as staying “alive” even after it is separated from the sheep, goat, rabbit or camel. This has a couple of implications on the caretaking of woollens, some beneficial, some fatal.
Firstly, wool allows for air circulation. On the downside, that means that when you are in a restaurant with open kitchen or smoky room, that is exactly how your woollen garment smells, also after you’ve left the establishment. But fairly enough, that absorbed odour can be removed by simply airing the garment.
2. Hand wash in plenty of water
How: The best medicine against shrinking and felting garments is prevention: Hand wash!
One is best advised to set up against the three felting provocateurs by not washing in water warmer than hand temperature (30-35ºC is ideal), using only wool detergents and allowing the garment enough space to move and not wrinkle, fold and crunch, the ideal is a bathtub if you have one, otherwise the largest hand basin or other container in the house, then wash by leaving it there for a bit and in intervals moving the garment about the water peacefully and more like waves than spins.
Why: The wool fibres are crafty little barbed creatures and they react on chemical, mechanical and thermal influences, and in particular when all three are in place. That might sound rather unlikely, but it is exactly what happens in a washing machine: soap provides the alkaline chemical stimuli, the spinning movement the mechanical and the water temperature the thermal circumstances. The reaction is that the barbs hook –on fibro level- and this is what we know as a sweater shrinking beyond repair and in the furthest degree creating felt.
When drying the garment, it is usually rather heavy as it absorbs substantial amounts of water. Use a trouser hanger or two to hang the wet garment in a wet-room (bathroom or outside) to let it drip, even refashion its hanging a couple of times if you pass by. Once the dripping is over, it can be moved to a washing line or similar.
Alternatively, the dripping stage can be overcome by letting the garment dry in a lying position on a towel, also add towel inside the garment’s two layers, if sweater, trouser or the like.
– Don’t undo all the careful washing by impatience in the drying and start wrenching and wriggling the garment dry
– Do not dry your woollens over the radiator, principally that provides some of the insurgents for felting;
– Also, wool is in essence hair and can easily burn, like hair does. You know that your jacket is of pure wool if a burn in the fabric carries the unpleasant smell of burned nail or hair. A very warm radiator can give a near-burn experience to a woollen garment.
– Be aware of hanging your woollen garments, even if the hanger seems to fit perfectly, it hangs into that shape and this is the most certain way to get a long thin shaped sweater with a heavy look and two corners sticking out on the upper sleeves.
– Iron with care. Rather use low temperature and lots of steam than be tempted by the quick fix of a temperature. The barbed fibres and thermal sensitivity results in irreversibility of ironing mistakes, the classics are a shining surface from over ironing or to iron through the visible lines of seems.
3. Dry clean to regain shape
How: ..pretty straightforward.
Why: This leads us the third option of taking care of your woollen garments, to dry clean. Dry cleaning can substitute or alternate with the two above options. In essence, dry cleaning is a hot air and perchloroethylene solvent slow washing cycle and isn’t directly environmentally friendly. However modern dry cleaning systems both remove the chemical from the garment and recycle it within the system, as a result it can be recommended at low frequencies. The dry clean is of benefit to the garment and it returns ironed perfectly back into shape.
That all been said, a woollen garment is a faithful and flattering piece of clothing. Treated well it might very well last you a lifetime and drape elegantly around you.
Do you throw garments in the machine if its lying on a chair and you’ve lost track on whether it was clean or not?
How about that shirt you were wearing when cooking?
Or the jacket that hung over the chair at the open-kitchen restaurant?
Are you thinking, I’d better wash this now that I’ve actually worn it?
Think about that for a second: How dirty do you perceive yourself to be? How gross do you think the world is, ok ok, but how much of that is likely to stick to your clothes?
Garments that have stains, whites and under-clothing will have to have a fair amount of washing, that is both hygienically advisable and a good way to take of your clothes and your social respectability.
But what about the rest?
– Washing powder non clorine
The good ol’ textile industry has brought us much good and much bad, may I just point to the industrial revolution and the binary system? Yes, the binary system, more about that later…