How To Do Laundry: A Man's Guide To Washing Clothes

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We talk a lot about the right kinds of fits, colors, and brands around here - but is that even useful if your stuff gets ruined by your bad laundry practices?

Learning to care for your clothing is a large part of your sartorial journey. If you learn to take care of your clothing, your outfits will look better and you'll save money over time since you won't be replacing worn out items. 

Today, we're going to discuss:

  • The details of washing your clothing correctly

  • What detergent and products to use

  • How to keep your clothes wrinkle free

  • Some tips for colors and whites

Why You Should Care.

I hate laundry. But there is something I hate more: Clothing that looks worn out. In the past few years, I've invested in more quality items and I'll be damned if I have to drop money to replace them prematurely due to poor care. This is why I choose to spend a little more time on my laundry than I used to, and why you should to.

You usually buy an item because you like it, and when you like something you care for it. It’s like seeing how my father takes pride in detailing his car. There’s a special feeling you get when you take care of the items you own - making whatever it is, looks it's best.

This is also why I choose to do my own laundry. I care about my stuff way more than the cleaners do. I spent time and money acquiring that shirt dammit! It shouldn't be washed with some random man's skivvies. I'll handle things myself, thank you. 


How often should you launder your clothes?

Not all items are created equal. Some items should be washed after every use, and others shouldn’t be washed at all. A lot of men make the mistake of washing items after every use.

Any item that collects a lot of sweat (and potentially bacteria) should be washed after each use, like socks and underwear. Other items like button up shirts and chinos can be washed as early as every other wear. Jeans can be washed inside-out every 4-5 wears as long as they’re not raw denim. Use your discretion. If something is gross, wash it. But not because you wore it once. Compare it to washing your car after every drive.

Remember that anytime you wash your clothing, you’re breaking down the fibers it's made from. If you have some items that have been chemically processed, like non-iron shirts, you’ll be washing the non-iron coating out of them with each cycle. In short, just try to wash your clothing a little less.

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How to Wash Your Clothing.

Before you wash your clothes, separate them out. I know that sounds like a pain in the ass, but I just keep it simple by doing three loads.

A load of lights.

A load of darks.

and finally...

A load of crap.

(The crap is the stuff that sees a lot of use, mainly underwear and socks.)

Once everything is separated, double check your pockets. A random set of headphones, a stray cigarette, or old ticket stub will create a serious headache later on.

Now, fill up the washer with water before you put your clothing in. Cold wash everything besides the load of crap. That sweaty stuff needs to be hit with some heat to kill any bacteria.

Heat kills bacteria but it also kills clothing. It warps and shrinks the fibers in the fabric, distorts the shape of a garment, and drains the color out of it. If there is one take away from this whole thing, this is it: please stop washing all your clothing in hot water.

Now it’s time to add soap. I prefer to use a dye and fragrance-free detergent for many reasons. The first is that I don’t want the smell of my shirts competing with the scent of my cologne. I want to let that shine through without interference. The second is that I want something gentle cleaning my clothing. I don’t need chemicals eating away at those fibers. Finally, those detergents are great for people with sensitive skin, like me, since they contain far fewer chemicals. Also, use less detergent than what’s recommended. Most washing machines are very efficient and you only need about half of what is suggested.

Along with the soap, I always add a bit of white vinegar to the mix. Distilled vinegar will do wonders for your laundry by fighting odors and keeping colors bright. About a half a cup will do.

A lot of people will add fabric softener at this point. Skip it. It leaves behind a chemical coating on your garments that doesn't allow the fibers to breathe, eventually making them resistant to detergent. Fabric softener can also gum up parts of your washing machine. Instead, use a dryer sheet. They essentially do the same thing.

Your clothing needs to be treated with care. You don’t want to rough up your stuff more than necessary. When choosing settings, you need to think about cycle length and cycle speed. Longer cycles should only be used for very dirty clothing. The more soiled the item, the longer it should be washed. Generally, keep cycle times on the shorter side. This is especially important for more delicate items.

Now for the cycle speed. This is how fast the machine washes and spins your clothing. For everything other than the load of crap, I use permanent press cycle or the delicate cycle. This spins the clothing at lower speeds so you’re less likely to get wrinkles straight out of the washer.

 

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How to Dry Your Clothing.

Once your clothing is finished washing, take them out as soon as possible. If you leave your stuff in there for a bit, it's not the end of the world. Just watch out for that mildew smell that starts to develop after about half a day. If that happens, you can rewash your clothing with just a little bit of detergent.

Throw your items into the dryer one-by-one rather than chucking them in by the heap. This allows your clothing to separate and dry better, meaning fewer wrinkles.

You can use a dryer sheet at this point if you want. Like the detergent, you actually don’t need a whole sheet. Tear it in half and toss it in. be warned, dryer sheets can sometimes create stains on clothing that look like grease stains. When a heated dryer sheet stays in contact with one piece of clothing for too long, it will release residue onto it. You can avoid this by not over packing the dryer. Overpacking also constricts the clothes from moving around and prevents them from drying correctly.

Now, shut the door and clean out the lint trap. Do this with every load of laundry. It helps the dryer work more efficiently. Plus, something is oddly satisfying about pulling all that lint off the screen. Or is that just me?

By now you know - heat is the enemy of your clothing. The same rules apply to the dryer as they do the washer. Use a medium or low heat setting. Permanent press is a good option. It might take a bit longer, but your clothing will be in better condition and you’re less likely to get wrinkles.

Your clothes should never be overly dry. Having them just ever so slightly moist will help keep them wrinkle free, especially if you hang your clothing. But I understand how great a warm shirt feels right out of the crisper.

If you find that your clothing is still wrinkled after pulling them out, you can hit them with a steamer, which I prefer over an iron. I rarely use this though.

My preferred weapon of wrinkle war is actually a spray bottle. This method was taught to me by my mother when I was in college: Right after I pull my clothes out of the dryer, I hang them up and then lightly mist them with a spray bottle and smooth out the wrinkles with my hand. This works very well and only adds a couple of seconds to the routine, resulting in wrinkle-free clothing.

Hang or fold your clothes asap after you pull them out of the dryer. I alluded to it earlier, but I hang all my clothing. I just think it’s easier to deal with, and you can conveniently see everything in your closet. I only fold gym clothes, random t-shirts, etc.

Try to give your items some room to breathe when they’re hanging in your organized closet, especially if they’re still a bit misty from earlier.

Here's this post in a nutshell: treat your clothing like a damn baby.

Be gentle.

No harsh chemicals. No boiling water. No hurricane speed spin cycles.

Be a good parent and your clothing will repay you with a lifetime of wearability.