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How to Wash Your Clothes Without Damaging Them, According to an Expert

An expert explains how these common washing mistakes are contributing to billions worth of clothes ruined every year.


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There’s no worse feeling than looking for your favourite top or pair of jeans and finding it sitting in a heaving pile of dirty washing, waiting for it to be cleaned. And while laundry might be a less-than-enjoyable household task, it turns out that most of us are actually washing our clothes wrong.

According to sustainable cleaning service Oxwash, people in the UK wash more than £6.8 billion down the drain each year in shrunken and damaged clothing, all because they don’t understand laundry care symbols.

Indeed, the average adult annually ruins £128.99 of clothing due to a vicious cycle of confusion over the endless symbols that denote everything from washing temperature to ironing guidelines and drying methods.

So to help dispel the myths once and for all – and teach us our handwashes from our dry cleans – Stylist spoke to the experts at Oxwash to find out how we can keep our clothes clean, fresh and damage-free.

According to Dr Kyle Grant, founder of sustainable, on-demand laundry service Oxwash, some of the most common mistakes people make when doing laundry include things like using fabric softener in every wash, washing clothes on a temperature that’s too high, using too much detergent and washing stains into clothes, rather than removing them properly.

“This can lead to a number of problems. You might find yourself with clothes just as dirty (or smelly) as you started, and you might find your clothes don’t last as long as you’d like – or worse, they can end up shrinking or damaged,” he tells Stylist.

How to wash your clothes without damaging them

How often should you wash your clothes?

There really is nothing nicer than clothing your skin in something soft and fresh, but how often should we be washing our clothes to make sure we preserve them for as long as possible?

“We’re all guilty of wearing something once and throwing it in the laundry basket to then be washed with a mixture of other items without looking at the wash labels properly. But over-washing can often be more of a clothing killer than over-wearing,” Dr Grant says.

While it does depend on the garment and its material, washing machine manufacturer Whirlpool suggests that shirts and blouses should be washed after one or two wearings whereas sweaters worn with undershirts can last up to six wears without washing. Workout clothing, due to the amount we sweat, should be washed after every wear. Jeans, on the other hand, don’t need to be cleaned after every wear unless they’re very dirty; however, they should be washed regularly (every four or five wears) to get rid of any germs or bacteria that have clung to the fibres. 

How often should you wash your clothes?

How to wash your clothes without damaging them 

Tackle stains with immediate pre-treatment

“Don’t just throw stained clothes in the wash and hope for the best; tackle the problem head-on with an immediate pre-treatment. Use a soft brush or toothbrush with some washing detergent to brush the stain away. Oxwash has a guide dedicated to getting rid of common stains such as curry, chocolate, deodorant and nail polish, which explains what to do in those annoying situations,” Grant shares.

Don’t use fabric softener in every wash 

As Grant explains, when you use fabric softener, it leaves behind a coating that makes clothing less absorbent. 

“This might seem like a sacrifice for fragrant and soft clothes, but when you look closer you will realise you’re making certain garments less effective,” he says. Instead, he recommends avoiding using fabric softener when you’re washing the likes of gym wear, underwear and towels, because these fabrics are designed to absorb moisture from the skin to the outside of the garment, where it can then evaporate.

However, if the garment is covered in a waxy coating, produced from the fabric softener, sweat remains trapped in the clothing and can create a smell that lasts longer.

Woman hanging laundry

Don’t use a high temperature wash for every

 If you find that the colour in your clothes is fading, or your clothes are shrinking in the wash, Grant suggests this is because you’ve washed your clothes at a temperature that’s too high. 

“High-temperature washes are only necessary for heavily soiled clothes or for when a high level of disinfection is needed. Washing on an eco-wash is perfectly fine for the majority of weekly washing; it can even make life easier. Because when you wash on 20°C or 30°C, you don’t need to separate colours as it won’t be hot enough for the colours to run. This means you can save time, water and energy,” he says.

Don’t use too much detergent

“Using too much detergent can make a wash less effective because the excess soap traps the dirt and pushes it back into your clothing, leading to a build-up of bacteria. You’ll be surprised to know that the standard detergent cap is 10 times bigger than the amount you need for a standard load,” Grant explains. Instead, he recommends that you only need one to two tablespoons per wash. 

Images: Getty

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This post originally appeared on Stylist and was published November 30, 2022. This article is republished here with permission.

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