6 Expert Tips for Washing Delicates

Most laundry experts agree that silk, synthetics with polyester, lace, fine knits, chiffon, velvet and other lightweight fabrics should be categorized as delicates. From silk ties to lacy bras, these special fabrics require a different approach than you use to clean your other clothes. Delicate fabrics require careful handling to help them maintain their shape, appearance and longevity. 

While you can machine wash some delicates, many of your items like hand knitted or crocheted fabrics will require hand washing and other special care. Some items may even require a trip to the dry cleaners. NEVER hand wash or machine wash extra fine silk, suede, leather, feathers, fur and other fragile fabrics. Give your delicate clothing the care it needs by following these expert tips. 

1. Read the Label On Your Delicates

The best place to start for learning how to clean your delicates is the item’s label. Some delicate fabrics like silk, synthetics, and fine knits will have tags that say “hand wash” or “dry clean.” While these terms don’t rule out using your washing machine, it does mean you’ll have to take extra care when machine washing your delicates. When in doubt, hand washing is the safest way to go.  

So can you machine wash delicates or not? Yes and no. Depending on the material, if the label says, “dry clean,” you can either hand wash the item or clean it in the washer—as long as you follow the manufacturer’s washing instructions. If the label says, “dry clean only,” then off to the cleaners it goes. We all want to save time and money, but the last thing you want is to ruin your expensive silk blouse or favorite rayon skirt trying to save a couple of bucks. 

2. Treat Stains Immediately

For the best results, take care of stains on delicate clothing as soon as you discover them. Before you begin tackling those stains, there are some extra steps you can take to make stains more manageable. Avoid using a commercial stain remover, especially on silk items. The same goes for bleach. Instead, use a natural stain remover like white vinegar, baking soda or lemon juice. Even with natural cleaners, it’s best to take it slow and use only as much cleaner as necessary to get the job done. 

Dab the solution on stained areas and rub it gently into the fabric with your finger. Lacey trim and other fragile areas will require a little extra time, so be patient. For heavy stains, let the stain remover soak into the stain for five minutes before you rub it in. If you’re not going to wash the garment right away, lay the item out flat on a clean, white towel. Move on to your hand washing or machine washing phase before it dries completely.

3. Learn How to Hand Wash Delicates

It’s best to use clean containers for washing and rinsing delicates by hand, but you can easily use the sink. Sort your delicates into lights and darks. Sorting delicate items lets you wash multiple items and avoid having them fade or bleed onto other fabrics. 

Use cold or warm water only because hot water may shrink your garments or fade colors. Use a detergent formulated for washing delicate items by hand. If a lingerie detergent isn’t in the budget, a homemade cleaning solution using one cup of hot water, one teaspoon of baby shampoo, and one drop of your favorite essential oil can make a great substitute. 

Mix your detergent in the warm water, but don’t overdo it. It may take some experimenting with different types of delicates before you get the detergent-to-water ratio just right. Swirl your clothes gently in circles, side-to-side and up and down. Be careful with delicate trim like lace, sequins, etc. Remember—delicate items need delicate handling.

Rinse your clean delicates in a second container with clean water or rinse them gently with a kitchen sink sprayer. In the container, swirl them like you did during the wash cycle to get out all the soap. Fold and press your items against the basin edge to remove excess moisture. NEVER wring out delicates or you will damage the fabric or trim and cause them to lose their shape. 

4. Wash Delicates in the Washer the Right Way

Just like with hand washing, you’ll start by sorting your delicates. But besides sorting by color, you’ll need to sort by fabric, too. Don’t mix cashmere with lace, knitwear with polyester, etc. or you run the risk of your delicates losing their shape. Be careful mixing and delicates with zippers and metal closures together to avoid snagging and tearing.

For any stains you may have missed before, you can still pre-treat them before throwing your delicates in the wash. Again, natural stain removers will get the stains out as gently as possible. Turn your delicates inside out and make sure any zippers and other closures are securely fastened. Put your delicates in a mesh washing bag, add your detergent and use the “Delicate” or “Gentle” wash setting with cold water. Choose your washing  machine’s lowest spin cycle to avoid damage.  

Whether you wash your delicates by hand or in your washing machine, the final steps are the same. Wet delicates can easily lose their shape if they aren’t allowed to dry correctly. After you wash them, gently reshape your delicate items to get them back to the desired shape and size. Lay them flat on a clean, white towel to dry. Once the exposed side is almost dry, flip your delicate garment over and let it completely air dry. You can use a drying rack to dry delicates too, just be mindful they don’t get stretched.  

5. Soaking Delicates Helps Get Them Cleaner

The beauty of handwashing undergarments and other delicates is that it requires just a few minutes of actual work. Sure, taking the time to soak your delicates takes extra time, but the payoff is worth the time spent. Soaking your delicates helps break down stains and gets your items even cleaner. Make a good soak your first line of defense against stains on delicates and save some wear and tear on those fragile fabrics. Here’s how to do it:

Fill a container or sink with enough lukewarm water to fully submerge your previously sorted delicates. Gently rub any area that is particularly soiled or stained and let the items soak for 15 minutes. Drain and refill with clean water and let your delicates soak for another five minutes. If you do it right, soaking will eliminate all but the toughest stains. Once you’re done with the soaking process, check for any remaining stains. Treat any stains you discover and move on to hand or machine washing.

6. Delicates Like Bras Need Special Cleaning Care

The construction of many bras includes underwires, padding, additional shaping elements and bendable closures. All these different materials mean machine washing is a big “no no.” Anything that can clean big loads of towels, comforters and workout clothes is most likely going to mangle your favorite bras. Help your bras maintain their shape and last longer by hand washing them with the same care you give your other delicates. 

Follow these six expert tips for cleaning delicate clothes and make them last longer and look their best. You take care of cleaning your delicates and let The Maids take care of the rest with our range of housekeeping services.


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