Earlier this summer when I wrote about all my beauty and style essentials, a reader (hi, Kayla!) commented and asked me about how I maintain my silk blouses, to avoid trips to the dry cleaner as much as possible. As she rightly pointed out, dry cleaning costs over the life of a top can drive up the cost astronomically. Was there a better way to clean or maintain these types of pieces at home? I think there is.
Kayla commented at the perfect moment, because around that time, I had also begun experimenting with not washing my denim (stay with me here). I’ve been trying a bunch of different at-home cleaning methods with pretty good success, so in the name of extending the life of your clothes, I thought I’d share a few tips with you.
Why I stopped washing denim
Last year, I started seeing a bunch of articles about people who didn’t launder their denim (here and here, for starters). It got me thinking. There’s nothing so sad as pulling on a freshly laundered pair of jeans only to have them not fit they way you remember pre-wash — especially if it takes another 3 wearings (minimum!) just to get them right again. But more importantly, my recent foray into building a “capsule collection” style wardrobe had meant I’d invested in lots of black and very dark blue and grey denim. Weekly or even bi-weekly washings were quickly fading all my jeans — no bueno! So, what to do about stains and odors in between the times you really, really have to launder your denim?
Freeze away odors // I’d read about the freezing technique, wherein you put your jeans in the freezer, which helps eliminate odors. I was a little skeptical of this, since many bacteria can still survive in most household freezer temps. But after using this method a few times, I have to say, it works pretty well! All I do is fold up my jeans and place them in a plastic zip top bag. Throw them in the freezer for a day (or even forget about them and leave them for a few — they’ll be fine). When you take them out, the odors are greatly reduced. It’s never going to be fresh-from-the wash-clean smelling, since you’re not adding any detergent or fragrance, but it’s a definite improvement. After a freeze, I find mine sort of smell like the rest of my clothes — I guess like me?
I save my plastic bags and re-use them every time I want to deodorize my jeans. The pro-tip here is to defrost your jeans at least 5-10 minutes before you need ’em…otherwise, that zipper is miiiiighty chilly.
Spot Clean as Needed // Inevitably, I spill something on my jeans and I’ll notice these spots as I’m about to freeze them. Lately, I’ve just been taking a dish towel, a bit of water and if needed, a little dish soap, then scrubbing any spots out of the denim. I’ve even frozen them while still wet in spots. If it’s a light enough stain, the spot is removed with no problem, and I eliminate odors at the same time. Easy!
I will say that in some instances, my jeans have simply been so dirty, you gotta wash them. Post horseback riding on my birthday was a prime example. I mean, ew — ain’t no way I wouldn’t wash those jeans. Even before my adventures in frozen denim, I would never, ever dry my jeans in the dryer. I always launder them on delicate, inside out, and then air dry them. While this still bleeds the color over time, not exposing them to dryer heat means the elasticity and fibers are preserved, so you can extend the life of yo’ pants.
Caveat: With white denim, I skip both spot cleaning and freezing and wash those puppies.
Fun with Silks!
Like denim, silk pieces are something that I’ll still drop at the dry cleaners every now and again, when they simply get too gross and I don’t want to deal with it. BUT, there are a number of methods I use at home in between wearings that help me extend trips between cleanings, and help deal with minor stains. With these tips, I can get away with at least 6-8 wearings before having to take a top to the cleaners (maybe more, depending on where I wore the piece!).
Removing oil stains // Use cornstarch! This trick really does work. If you get oil or grease splatters on your top, get thee a box of cornstarch. Lay your piece down on a table (somewhere out of the way where it can sit for a day). Then, spoon enough of the cornstarch over the stain, and let sit. The first time I tried this, I used a new, spare toothbrush to gently work the powder into the stain. It might’ve helped with stain removal, but I also found it made it harder to remove the powder later, so skip this if the stain’s not too bad. You let the cornstarch sit on the stain overnight. When you’re ready, use a soft cloth or soft dry brush to dust away the powder. Over time, the cornstarch absorbs all the oil, and the stain should disappear!
Other types of stains // Depending on the type of silk, I find that sometimes a little water can remove it with no damage to the silk. I mean, I’ve splashed myself with water while washing my hands, and the silk always dries fine, so don’t worry about spot treating with a little water. The Laundress makes a ton of different washes for super delicate fabrics like silk, and they’re huge advocates of always washing silks at home (for obvious reasons). I’ve never had the balls to fully submerge my silk tops in water, worried that the texture would be forever altered. So I tend to just spot clean with water and cornstarch as needed. However, I recently read about people using a diluted solution of distilled vinegar or even lemon juice for some stains. Again, depending on what the stain is, I’m guessing the acid can help break up the contents and remove it!
Ironing and Deodorizing Silk // Do you have a handheld steamer at home? You need one. I originally bought ours when we lived in New York, to help release wrinkles from some curtains. It’s ended up being a boon for sooo many of my garments, but especially silk. Despite it’s low reviews, I own and really like this one. It’s simple, no fuss, and does the job. Sometimes I like to put a few drops of an essential oil in with the water, to help perfume silk pieces and remove odors. I really find that steaming silk garments does wonders for neutralizing odors, so it’s a 2-for-1 — no wrinkles, no smell.
But about sweaters…
I actually took a trip to the dry cleaners just yesterday, to drop off a bunch of sweaters and a single silk top (which, for the record, hadn’t been to the cleaners in probably 4 or 5 months). While there are SO many articles out there on how to launder wool pieces at home, they’re the one clothing item I hate washing. Not only do they take forever to dry, but I also think the shape changes when I launder them myself. So here’s where you come in: any tips on laundering wool or cashmere pieces at home? I won’t lie, I have had a few dry cleaning nightmares over the years where a beautiful sweater comes back with a hole in it…but they’re few and far between, enough so that I haven’t gone through the trouble of really learning to wash sweaters at home. Share away, in the comments.
I hope this was helpful information! If you want to read more about laundering delicates at home, or how to preserve denim, here are a few articles I’ve read over the last few months:
How Do I Get the Stink Out of Silk??, XO Jane
How to Clean Silk, How to Clean Things
Recipe for Washing Wool & Cashmere, The Laundress
A Smooth Process for Washing Silk, The Laundress
A Delicate Issue: How to Wash Silk, Synthetics, and More, The Laundress