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10 Easy Tips for Making Your Favorite Clothes Last Longer

If you're investing in wardrobe pieces you love, it's worth wearing, washing, and storing them responsibly, so they can last for several seasons. We caught up with top fabric and fashion experts to see how you're really supposed to care for your favorite clothes.

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Down and winter coats

Care and storage of winter coats is especially important if we want them to keep their original feel, fit, and warmth for several years. “I always recommend washing coats by themselves—don’t forget to empty the pockets and zip up all the zippers,” says Jody Schwartz, president of Free Country, a popular outerwear brand. “Down and other winter coats can go in the dryer, but be sure to follow the instructions on the tag.” Any sort of fur trim should be removed before drying so it doesn’t melt or get matted, and save your money on dryer sheets, she adds, because the fabric is likely already finished with fabric conditioners.

Schwartz’s favorite tip is to add a tennis ball or two to the dryer (one of our favorite additions to the mind-blowing laundry facts list) to help keep the quilted, padded, and stuffed parts of your coat fluffy and as close to their original condition as possible.

When the weather gets warmer and you’re looking to store your coat for a season or two, clean the outwear, fasten all buttons and zippers to maintain the coat’s shape, and store it in a dry, dark place with cedar blocks to prevent moth damage.

Psst! Speaking of buttons, here’s something interestingdo you know why women’s and men’s shirts button on different sides?

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Your 100 percent cotton basics

You can feel good about washing, drying, and wearing your cotton basics like tees, underwear, and socks, but just make sure you don’t mix in garments made of synthetic fibers when you throw them in hot water or a dryer. Natural, plant-based fibers are porous, so heat helps deliver detergents throughout the garment and whisk away odors, dirt, and bacteria. Synthetic fibers are more similar to plastic, and can easily melt and degrade when heat is applied!

“Typically for basics in 100 percent cotton, you can machine wash in warm water with like colors, tumble dry low, and iron if necessary,” says Michael Lubin, vice president of fabric innovation at Delta Galil, a large manufacturer of popular leisurewear brands and undergarments. Here’s what’s critical: While just about any supermarket laundry detergent is fine for cotton basics, fabric softener isn’t necessary, as most fabrics are finished with industrial softening agents now. Most cotton basics do best when gently folded and stored on shelves or in drawers versus being hung. You can also use this pantry item to deodorize your cotton clothes in a cinch.

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Baby and children’s clothes

First of all, you should be folding all that adorable, little clothing instead of hanging it. Most children’s clothing is made from malleable materials like cotton, fleece, and blends that are easily misshapen by hangers. You don’t want that dreaded shoulder bump look on your little ones, right? Then there are stains—lots of them. “Stains are an everyday occurrence with babies,” says Michael Frey, Dreft brand manager and father of two little ones. “Stains should be pretreated before going in the laundry machine.” Frey also recommends washing all articles of baby clothes and linens in a baby specific detergent, like Dreft, to remove any dirt, excess fabric dyes, and processing chemicals that can linger on fabrics before they touch baby’s skin.

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Don’t even think of throwing your favorite unmentionables directly into the washer, says Pilar Quintana-Williams, vice president of merchandising at Yandy, a popular lingerie retailer. “Always hand wash all your intimates because the delicate structure of intimate items requires delicate cleaning.” We’re talking about intimates like bras, or anything made with silk, lace, and other delicate details. To wash bras, either hand wash them or put them in a delicates bag in the washing machine. Do not put them in the dryer because it will compromise the structure of the cups.

After you pull your bras and underwear off the line, make sure they’re folded and put into drawers dedicated to your delicates. They’re not meant to be on hangers despite what you see in store windows because it can loosen or alter the fit of your pieces.

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Generally speaking, they don’t need to be cleaned that often, so if you’re the one who secretly re-wears a sweater over and over and just layers a clean tee underneath, you’re actually doing it right. “Wool garments do not need to be laundered as often as non-wool garments,” says Michelle A. Lee of The Woolmark Company. “It’s a tribute to the fiber’s natural odor-management benefits.” Instead, air the garment before folding and placing back in the closet. If you ever have a wrinkle or a pucker in your sweater that doesn’t seem to go away, try ironing it on the wool setting, with steam, using light pressure. Don’t use ironing aids such as starches or conditioners.” Sweaters are always to be folded and stored in cool, dry places as well. Don’t forget to take steps to keep moths out of your closet.

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Khmelnitskaia Evgeniia/Shutterstock

Shirts, jackets, and pants with wool fibers

If you’re worried about how to care for wool-blend pants or other items, the answer is to keep it cool. “We do not ever recommend machine-drying woolen items,” explain Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd, co-founders of The Laundress New York. “Wool will shrink if exposed to too much agitation and heat in the washer and dryer.” Instead, air dry your item flat, in its natural shape. Never hand or drape wet wool, as it can stretch and disfigure with any tension. Woolen sweaters and shirts without firm structures are best folded, while coats, pants, and other pieces may benefit from hangers once they’re totally dry.

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Paul Biryukov/Shutterstock

Yes, you can wash cashmere

This tip may shock you, especially if you’ve spent years dry-cleaning your favorite cashmere sweaters. It’s just not necessary, says Greg Meyers of Cleanly. “Most cashmere sweaters say they’re dry clean only, mainly to ensure that the item doesn’t shrink. However, if you hand wash an item using mild detergent, the garment will actually remain softer over time.” After hand washing cashmere, he instructs, press out as much moisture as you can but do not wring out the item. From there, lay the sweater flat on a towel to complete the drying process. Do not hang the item as it will cause shoulder dimples.

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Activewear and athleisure

The traditional detergents we’ve relied on for decades weren’t built for modern, synthetic fabrics, according to Drew Westervelt, founder and HEX Performance, an athleisure-safe detergent company. “Activewear is made of synthetic fabrics. Synthetics are essentially plastic! Traditional detergent surfactant and enzyme blends were designed decades ago to clean natural fibers like cotton. Cotton is easy to clean because it’s porous. The recent boom in activewear has introduced a completely new type of fabric. And you need a different type of solution to penetrate the fabric and remove sweat, stains, body oil, and bacterial odor.”

Westervelt says activewear fabrics don’t react well when washed with traditional fragrances, dyes, optical brighteners, and fillers, and suggests staying away from gooey, brightly colored detergents, fabrics softeners, and dryer sheets.

In general, the right way to wash workout clothes and athleisure is to use a detergent built for synthetics, cold water, and a gentle cycle. Most clothes can be tumble dried on low, but air drying is safer. Plus, polyester usually dries super fast anyway!

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Dress shirts

If you or the man in your life wears dress shirts, they don’t always need to be dry-cleaned. “Dry cleaning and starching will slowly break down the natural cotton fibers of the shirt,” explains Lorraine Kwong, a men’s wardrobe consultant. “I would also recommend using collar stays to maintain the integrity of the collar and its shape. The shirt should be air dried on a hanger and ironed while it’s still damp.”

Dress shirts are actually better off on padded, thick hangers to avoid dents and lumps in the shoulder areas.

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Knit scarves, hats, and other accessories

Dryers are normally very useful, but they can also be the biggest enemies of your knitted piece! “Dryers use hot air to dry your clothes, which is great for fabrics that can handle high temperatures, but not so much for your favorite knits that can be ruined with high temperatures,” says Alberto Bravo, creative director at We Are Knitters. “If you put wool items in the dryer, they will shrink and possibly begin to disintegrate.” Instead, wash them on a cold cycle and lay them on a towel to air dry.

Even if you feel like your scarf is absorbing the bulk of your day-to-day grime and sweat, Alberto advises against washing it too often. The best solution is to layer your scarves on the outside of your clothes so they don’t make too much skin contact, and remove hats and gloves if you’re starting to sweat. You can check out our guide to how to layer all your winter clothes too.

Bryce Gruber
Bryce Gruber is an expert in gift ideas, shopping, and e-commerce. You've likely seen her work across a variety of women's lifestyle and parenting outlets and on TV shows. She lives and works in New York's Hudson Valley with her five small children.