Different fabrics – such as cotton, silk, or wool – require different approaches in fabric care; as they are not all created equal, they should not be treated as such. Below are a few basic tips on caring for several common fabric types. If in doubt about a particular piece, check the clothing care label, which contains important information on whether, for example, the item can be dry cleaned, and maximum allowable water and dryer temperatures.
While cotton is more resistant than other fabrics, you should nonetheless avoid blazing heat (or even high heat, especially for extended periods), which can cause shrinkage and wrinkling. Try to use warm or cool water when washing (unless you are cleaning items such as bed linens), and don’t use too high a heat setting in the dryer. Use bleach if needed, but no more than is necessary. With proper fabric care, your cotton clothing will last for years.
Silk items are very sensitive, and should, depending on the piece, be hand-washed, dry cleaned (check beforehand that the dry cleaner has experience with silk items), or machine-washed on a delicate setting. If you hand-wash silk, be sure to use gentle soap; avoid wringing at all costs (dab with a towel, then hang to dry). Don’t store silk items in plastic or leave them scrunched up in your closet or drawer. Sunlight can damage silk, so keep silk items out of direct light.
Dry clean, or carefully hand-wash, your wool items. Certain pieces may be washed on a delicate cycle (consult the tag). Never hang wool to dry, as this may cause irreversible damage and stretching. Use heavy wood hangers, and, if storing in bags, use cloth, to ensure that the garments can breathe properly (also avoid packing wool items too tightly in your closet). And be sure to keep in mind that some insects, particularly moths, will go after wool, so use cedar or other natural deterrents in your closet. Wool probably calls for one of the most sensitive fabric care out there.
While suits may be made from several different fabrics (but are very often wool), they all require special attention. When wearing a suit, treat it with care, avoiding any sudden movements. Brush your suit with a natural fiber brush after wear, and hang it on a heavy wood hanger in a cloth bag. Do not over dry clean; favor brushing and steaming the suit over bringing it to the cleaners, unless you are storing it for the season, or there is, for instance, a problematic stain.