Cotton is one of the most forgiving fabrics when it comes to wearability and also washability. It can simply be tossed in the washer at even very high water temperatures with any detergent or fabric-safe bleach. It can be dried in the dryer as well. Most cotton garments are pre-washed and will not shrink.
Wool requires a little more maintenance than cotton, but it is well worth it -- especially during the cold winter months. Carefully remove stains with a brush or damp sponge, taking care not to rub too hard to avoid pilling the fabric. Once worn, hang up your wool garment for a day to release wrinkles caused from wear. Wool fabrics should be dry-cleaned, but not too often. Avoid getting wool wet and subsequently letting it come in contact with heat, which can cause shrinkage.
Dry-cleaning is also recommended for silk fabrics unless they are pre-washed. Only then should you hand-wash your silk garments with a gentle soap or detergent and barely warm water. Do not use bleach to clean silk fabrics.
Some rayon fabrics can be hand-washed and others require dry-cleaning. Always check the tag on your rayon clothing before washing it. If it can be hand-washed, use a gentle detergent or soap and just warm water. Never wring or twist rayon fabrics to get the excess water out. Simply shake or smooth out as much water as possible and hang or lay flat to dry. The fabric can withstand ironing, if set on cool.
Polyester can generally be tossed in the washer with fabric softener and cool or warm water. Always use the tumble dry low option when drying polyester clothing. If drying causes the material to wrinkle, run an iron over the garment using a warm setting.
Linen has been around forever, and it is a wonderful fabric to wear as well as wash! It requires no dry cleaning and, in fact, generally fares better with a simple hand wash or jaunt in the washing machine on the gentle setting. Use cold water in the washer to clean linens with a mild detergent.
Nothing's cozier than cashmere, but it takes special care to ensure the fabric stays in shape. More often than not, dry cleaning is the way to go. However, if you really want to soften your cashmere, gently hand-wash it with baby shampoo or a very mild detergent. Press/smooth out excess water -- never wring it out. Lay flat to dry, reshaping as you lay it out. Once completely dry (this can actually take days) fold rather than hang cashmere garments.
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