After our article on quality vs. quantity in a mom-drobe….many of you asked us to do an article on the proper care of our clothes. If we’re going to invest in quality basics, how do we best take care of them, given the general grime/dirt/food/paint/snot/spit-up that moms face every day?
Uhhh…good question. Here’s my far-from-perfect method that’s been working OK so far:
1. Get Good Boots (or shoes)…and Take Good Care of Them
Boots (or even great flats) can seriously make the outfit. This is one area I recommend spending money on. Get ’em, then wear the heck out of ’em. Boots can tromp through mud. Boots can play at the park. Boots can get dirty. (Ummmm…one caveat: Don’t get light-colored suede. These boots will not tromp through mud or play at the park. These boots are just for shopping and ogling at parties. These are not everyday mom boots.)
Every summer, however, it’s time to give your boots some R&R. Bring them to a cobbler. Have him fix the heel, re-cover the sole if necessary (he’ll be able to advise), and do a full clean and polish. If your boots are really in tough condition, let him do a whole re-conditioning treatment. This service will cost you anywhere from $20 – $70, depending on the condition of your boots. NOTE: the only time I spent close to $70 was when an ancient vintage pair needed cracks repaired, etc.
Getting good boots and taking good care of them is SO worth it. High quality boots, when well taken care of, will last you decades. You’ll be measuring your price-per-wear in pennies.
2. Stop Dry Cleaning Your Cashmere
I do think cashmere is one of the best values for moms. It’s soft, holds it’s shape, has great drape (which is important when pooch-hiding and/or dealing with shifting sizes and body shape) and never needs to be dry-cleaned. In fact, dry-cleaning does awful things to cashmere. Don’t do it.
Instead, throw your cashmere into the washing machine. If you really want to be on the safe side, you can wash it on the gentle cycle with delicate laundry detergent (I don’t). Dry it flat on your kitchen table, flipping it over a few times to dry completely.
The result? Your sweater will be beyond soft. The sleeve circumference does tend to shrink a bit, but you can take care of that by re-stretching it when still wet out of the washing machine.
3. Rule of Thumb: Dry Clean Merino Wool, Wash Acrylics
An acrylic sweater can safely be washed in the machine (my mother even throws hers in the dryer!!). Merino wool, however, should not be washed. Not in cold, not ever. It will shrink like a mutha. See my cute little cropped sweater? See how well it fits through the shoulders, and under the arms? It’s teeny-tiny, right?
(wearing: Mike’s shrunken sweater from Banana Republic, Echo Designs scarf, James Perse tee, Paige denim, 9West bag, Dansko boots….on R: Crewcuts hoodie, Peek denim, Merrill boots)
Yeah. This was Mike’s sweater. And looked, once upon a time, like this (but in gray):
So what happened? I washed it – on cold! Once! And it shrunk just enough so Mike couldn’t wear it, but I could…as a slightly over-sized, but cozy sweater. Thinking I was safe, I washed again (still on cold!). It shrunk further to it’s current cropped-and-fitted shape. Thankfully, it keeps shrinking in proportion. I’m thinking that if I ever get sick of it I’ll just keep washing it and give it to the kiddos.
In summary: Don’t wash merino wool. At least not Extra Fine, 100% Merino.
So the big question: what do you do with sweater blends?
My mom washes them (most she wins, some she loses) and I dry clean (too paranoid). That said…
4. Stop Washing, Start Spot-Cleaning (and Airing Out)
Rule of thumb: If an item of clothing rarely touches your skin, you really shouldn’t wash it all that often. I have sweaters that I only wash….once a year? I know this sounds crazy, but you’d be surprised at what a little spot-cleaning can do. I’ve found that washing machines are the quickest way to make clothes look old and tired. So view all of your laundry with a critical eye: Does it *really* need to be washed? Right now? Or could you just try a little soap and water? My mom swears by Fels-Naptha to remove just about any stain.
I’m also a huge believer in airing out your clothes. From denim, to sweaters, jackets, dresses and dressy tops, I almost always try airing out before I succumb to the dry cleaners or the washing machine. I used to rely on Febreeze (a long, loooong time ago) but I found that most things will air out with time (out-of-doors helps). However, to speed up the process, I’m intrigued by this article on using vodka instead of Febreeze. God knows we always have some handy….
Bottom line: I only dry clean or launder items like sweaters, jackets, denim and dresses when I can’t fix the issue by airing out or spot-cleaning.
5. Go Buy This Fabric Shaver
M got me this nifty little gadget for my birthday last year. It’s from Brookstone, and I LOVE it. Ignore the fact that it states “Not for use on fine fabrics or weaves such as cashmere, angora, mohair“. Hunh. I use it on cashmere constantly. Cashmere will clog it up after a while, but it can be easily cleaned out.
Wanna see a before and after? Warning: It’s cah-razy:
6. Get Better Jeans and Wash Them Less
It makes me mad when jeans stretch out after each wear and require washing to retain their shape – especially if I’ve just spent $200. Unless I’m pregnant (maternity jeans are the worst offenders)…I simply don’t tolerate it. Find denim brands that fit you perfectly without losing their shape. You should be able to go several wears without washing your jeans. (Even my $30 pair of Levis rarely need to be washed).
When you do wash your denim, turn them inside out. Theoretically, you should air dry them…but I hate how it makes them feel. My mom has had luck with air drying them until they are almost dry…then popping into the dryer to soften them up. I wash mine so rarely that I do just stick them in the dryer.
But yes – some of my jeans are often covered in some unidentified substance. If a quick spot-clean doesn’t work, I often just tell myself it’s part of the premium wash and move on. I’m more focused on how my bum looks in denim anyway.
7. Find a Good Tailor
I have everything fixed: holes are sewed shut in my cashmere sweaters, elbow patches are added, and torn t-shirt necklines are fixed. If you know your way around a sewing machine, this gets even easier.
However, this piece of advice makes no sense if you are wearing an ill-fitting t-shirt that you can replace for $10. However, if you’ve spent a little money, chances are that the shirt still has great drape and is worth a few bucks to fix.
8. Moms Need Play-clothes Too!
Most kids don’t make mud pies in white faux-fur jackets, and neither should you. For the messiest of days, try play clothes! My play-clothes consist of either loungewear that I luuuv (totally washable yet totally cute), cute workout gear that I mix with normal clothing depending on the situation, or my favorite: Mike’s old, soft tees and my paint-splattered Gap boyfriend jeans.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I can be found in either my loungewear or play-clothes every morning, again at nap time, and again at the end of the day. And some days? If we’re having a baking/painting/mud-pie bonanza? I’m in ’em all the ding-dong-day. So I try to find cute ones. It’s better for my self-esteem.
9. When Buying Cheap, Go Dark
With the ca-razy body changes of pregnancy, post-partum, nursing, and then back again…sometimes we just need a d@mn shirt. One that will get us through the next X months days.
Darkly colored clothing hides a multitude of cheap-construction sins. My favorite turtleneck sweater (that you’ve seen here) is acrylic and cost $30 from the Gap. It was also available in a gorgeous light plum/pink. But the cheap acrylic fabric in the light plum looked, well, cheap. Every mis-weave and fuzzy bit showed up in the light color…and would only get worse over time.
The same is true for denim. If the jeans look cheap, try the darker wash. Very few low-cost denim lines can do a light wash correctly, and fit issues can often be (slightly) hidden by a darker wash.
10. Minimize What You Have To Store Away
Proper storage of clothes is a huge hassle. They have to be cleaned, then stored in a way that protects from moths (something I quite haven’t figured out), and hinders mildew/mold, yet still lets the clothes breathe. I try to keep my wardrobe seasonless, as much as I can, so I don’t have to worry about storing tons of clothes. I try to restrict myself to one or two small boxes, at most. I store these boxes on a closet shelf, and try to avoid putting anything in a damp (or moth-filled) basement. I don’t have any great storage-words-of-wisdom, other than to keep it to a minimum. So yeah – this does mean that my striped cashmere sweater above? The one you’re sick of by now? You’ll probably see me in it this summer, as a bikini cover-up on a cool summer night.
Mamas, I’d love for you to weigh-in. Are there any clothing care/tips that you can’t live without? Any special fabrics that can take a beating, then a cleaning, and still look great?
Just bought my first bar of Fels Naptha last week, and armed with it and my watered down bottle of Oxyclean, I’ve been pretty damn invincible in the spot-treating department recently. I’m allllmost keeping up with the stains attracted by all the males of my household.
Front loading washing machines do wonders on clothes and aren’t as tough on them.
This may sound a little 1950’s, but I’ve been rocking aprons when we’re around the house. I have a bunch – all gifts – and they are all made out of heavy cotton which washes well. Most importantly it doesn’t matter if they get stained and my outfit is protected.
I’m hoping that I can transition out of the aprons when my 1yo gets a little bigger, but I know that is a pipe dream!
Totally agree about washing clothes less often! My jeans get worn 2-3 times a week but I wash them only every 2-4 weeks. They last for years and fit better too. Another trick is to wear them several times before washing them the first time and they seem to fit better.
Also, use good laundry detergent, use less, and skip the fancy softeners. I get great results with just a couple tablespoons of Rockin’ Green (marketed for cloth diapers but works wonderfully on everything else). In the dryer I use baby dryer sheets by Green Mountain. That’s it. Our clothes are clean and soft all the time even with our hard water. Too much soap just seems to make clothes stiff and worn down.
I’m so happy to hear you say you spend much of your day in play clothes! I’m not a mom yet, but I intend to be soon and love your blog. One of my main concerns about making the foray into motherhood is – Will I really be able to keep myself in skinny jeans all day when my comfy yoga pants beckon? The answer, I know, is NO! So I’m glad I’ll be prepared to rock some cute momiforms when I’m out the door but not feel guilty about cozying up at home!
A good shoe cobbler is KEY! Another tip is to wash most of your clothes on the gentle cycle. Our clothes aren’t dirty enough to warrant 20 min scrub cycle even jeans that have been worn 5 times.
What a great post! Love your tips!
I’ve been wondering, is this a Thing for other moms: do your kids PULL at your clothes? Mine sure do. And it’s stretching the heck out of my clothes and making them lose their shape. And sometimes I think about buying some elusive “better quality tops” that will Hold Their Shape? But I’m so afraid to do it, because say I drop $80 and then I’m dealing with the same old thing — grrr.
How do I find stuff that will wash up well and *HOLD ITS SHAPE*? (Meanwhile, I’m TRYING to break the littles of the habit, but…you know.)
Love this -have to say that we love our front load washer and wash using the short cycle in cold water only. It works great. I also second the recommendation for using a cobbler – my boots are there right now. I have two pairs that I alternate between every day through the winter here in Boston. Thanks to our cobbler they look brand new – I get asked about them all the time and they are over 5 years old.
Shana – thanks for reminding us mamas about play clothes and loungewear. Just got off of a month of having one or both of my crazy cakes home sick and my outfit of the day consisted of stretched out sweatpants and oversized tees. While I was healthy I felt horrible every time I caught a glimpse of myself! Nothing like wearing schlumpy clothes when taking your kiddo to the pedi and having your pedi look like a rock star! Truly – she is an amazing doctor, is beyond fashion forward and the mama of two young kids. I always put of spending money on lounge clothes, but after this month see the value in them.
Is the Fels Naptha natural? We try to steer clear of chemicals due to my kiddos medical issues.
Do less laundry? Im sold!!! Haha This all sounds so familiar, i normally go through 3 outfits a day too. The play clothes, the errand/playdate outfit, and the lounge clothes… it makes sense not to wash them everytime!
AGH! Don’t dry clean merino sweaters! It’s just as bad as dry cleaning cashmere! Also, bad on the environment, expensive, etc…
Good wool sweaters are like good jeans- wear often, wash infrequently. Hand wash. Get some delicates detergent, let it sit in the sink while you go about your business, swish for a minute, drain, roll in a towel to get out extra moisture, lay flat.
When you don’t have time for hand washing, don’t wear wool. But make the time- it’s worth it!
(I love your blog, by the way. Sorry that my first comment is so contrarian, but I’m a knitter and wool is a very personal topic for me!)
I’m with Cheralyn above, no dry cleaning for us, ever and I LOVE merino… In fact I have knit several soakers (diaper covers) with merino wool. I use Eucalan wool wash, which requires no rinsing, is made from natural ingredients, and smells great. I even use the spin cycle in the washer to get all the water out without issues.
I love this blog, thanks!!
Gang, these are AWESOME tips!! Thank you so much!
Lauren & Erin – Please don’t apologize for setting the record straight! I love this kind of helpful feedback! God knows I don’t knit, so I’ll be the first to listen to a wool expert. 🙂 And I also hate dry cleaning – always saw it as a necessary evil. But hand-washing…hmmm…am going to try that. If only I could figure out a way to hand-wash my husband’s suits, I could do away with dry cleaning altogether…
Beth – Fels Naptha is NOT natural. I only use it on stains I can’t get out with simple soap and water. We tend to only buy the hippie stuff here, as well. The Fels is my one exception. 🙂
Sara – the clothes pulling? Yeah…I’m not sure how to help here….perhaps offer you a glass of wine? 🙂 Raines was much more of a carry-me-around-all-day kinda baby (and toddler)…so I used an Ergo all of the time, EVERYWHERE. Even in the house. Eventually he got over it. And now he just wants to run outside and get on his bike. 🙁
Shannon – Welcome to motherhood!! And don’t worry – your skinnies will still be used. But those first few post-partum weeks will break you in to wearing loungewear, LOL!
Rachel – M got me a cool apron for my birthday one year, and I do wear it from time-to-time, but she bought it because it was sexy and she thought Mike would like it…in a “Hey Big Boy look at me dusting in my sexy little french maid apron” kind of way.
Aaaannnddd…this is the last time I’ll be commenting after a couple glasses of wine. 😉
Thanks Shana! I am one of the people who requested this post. This is super helpful.
Thanks, Shana, for this helpful post and for commenting back, even if it was after a couple glasses of wine! 😉
With kids pulling on my clothes, I guess I may just have to wait out buying nicer tops for awhile, and/or get more hardcore about teaching them to keep their little paws off (they’re old enough to learn!) Love them to death, but I can’t believe how much that little habit drives me nuts. It always makes me want to scream, “THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS”, LOL.
One last thing — I love your mustardy-colored Nine West bag in the shrunken sweater pic! WANT.
Thank you, Shana!!! Great info. I wanted to mention that I have moths too and when I was reading about them, I saw some people mention that moths are attracted to clothes with dirt & sweat on them…and that clothes should be washed frequently in hot water to get rid of them. Soooo…maybe this is the choice we have to make – take better care of our clothes with less frequent washings, or have moths eat them…wahooo, welcome to life on the east coast!!!! 🙂
Sara – I hear you on the kids-pulling-on-clothes thing, my boys do that, too! And it elicits the same response in me – drives me nuts and makes me want to scream! I find that my kids tend to do it more with things that hang down – a drapey cardi, a long blouse tie or a scarf. I try to not wear those kinds of things around the house a lot, just if I’m going out. And I have really tried to make an effort to stop and talk to them (down at their level) when they start pulling on my clothes and explain that it makes me unhappy. Hang in there, I do think they will learn and grown out of it eventually!
Rachel – the apron is such a good idea! I have some that I use for cooking, but I might just have to put my sewing skills to use to make some cute ones for “everyday wear”!
Thank you for the pill shaver suggestion! It is going to rescue several of my sweaters from the donation pile.
Shana…love, love, LOVE your blog! Started reading around Thanksgiving and it has literally changed my life! Anywho…loved this post about caring for clothes. Growing up, I was taught to wear jeans (and bras!) 3 or 4 times before washing, so I’m already in the habit there (though I do draw the line at biologicals; sorry, but nothing short of a wash gets eau de spitup out of clothes, and spot-cleaning poop? – no thank you).
I wanted to share a laundry secret that has saved many of my favorite pieces from the donation pile. I discovered it 10 years ago as a newlywed, when I was making $20,000 a year & my husband was in college fulltime (suffice it to say we needed to make every penny count). I started washing our dark clothes in Cheer for Darks (http://www.amazon.com/Cheer-Ultra-Liquid-50-Ounce-Packaging/dp/B001KYW3E6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1332254694&sr=8-1) or Woolite Extra Dark Care (http://www.amazon.com/Woolite-Extra-Dark-Care-Ounce/dp/B0019D546C/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1332254694&sr=8-2). Both of these actually do what they promise and keep clothes looking just-purchased dark. In fact, today I’m wearing my favorite peasant blouse (courtesy of Target circa 2005) and it’s just as black as the day I bought it!
Just wondering…has anyone ever tried Dryel, not as a substitute for dry cleaning but as a means of freshening up clothing without laundering? I was never impressed with its faux-dry cleaning capabilities, but have wondered about it as a freshener. As a mom of three (ages 4, 2 and 6 months) anything that means less laundry is music to my ears!
Thanks for the links Carley!
I’ve used Fels Naptha for years – my grandmother taught me about it. One warning – be careful when spot cleaning with it – make sure you rinse well. I mean WELL. I did bleach something out using it to pretreat something once.