Extend the Life of a Well-Worn Wardrobe
Learning the right way to care for your wardrobe will help you prolong the shelf life of your favorite clothes—and save you money along the way.
If wearing a white top makes you a magnet for stains, Steve Boorstein has three rules to help make sure you never lose a garment to red wine again. Known as "The Clothing Doctor," Steve is a third-generation dry cleaner who has written books and created DVDs on clothing care.
Rule 1: Be patient. A spill can be fixed, but an ill-treated stain may be permanent.
Rule 2: Identify the origin of your stain. Steve says stains can be generalized into two groups: water-based (like coffee, wine, blood) and oil-based (oil splatters, french fry grease, vinaigrette dressing). A water-based stain can be treated at home; an oil-based stain should be taken to a dry cleaner.
Think about it this way: Oil repels water, so dousing water and detergent on an oily stain will only spread it. As the name implies, a dry cleaner can treat the stain without water. Steve says to try and get an oil-stained garment to a dry cleaner within 48 hours.
Rule 3: "Never rub a stain," Steve says. To treat a water-based stain, blot with a white cloth or towel—not a paper towel or tissue. "They break apart within the fibers and make the situation worse," says Joseph Hallak, vice president of Hallak Cleaners in New York.
A Tide to Go pen or other spot-stain remover can also work on water-based stains, Steve says. Just blot carefully, never rub and stick to durable fabrics.
Once you get home, immediately wash the garment and let it air-dry. "If you machine dry it and the stain hasn't come out, you'll limit the ability of the stain to come out," Steve says.
Next: Yellow underarm stains
The combination of perspiration and deodorant are to blame for the dreaded yellow underarm stains of a once-white shirt. It's not an easy task, but Steve says a sweat-stained shirt can sometimes be salvaged.
If the garment is washable, Steve says to treat the stain at home with a stain remover and an old toothbrush. Use the toothbrush to gently work the stain remover into the underarm of the garment and let it sit for three to five minutes. Follow by washing with the hottest water the garment's tag allows. As with any stained item, avoid the dryer and opt for air-drying.
If the stain doesn't want to budge, a home remedy might do the trick. A little bit of white vinegar mixed with water is acidic enough to change the color of a cotton shirt, Steve says. "It's aggressive, so make sure not to use it undiluted."
The bottom line is that an old sweat stain may never come out—the key to keeping stains away is to prevent them in the first place. "Make sure your deodorant is dry before you put your garment on," Steve says. In a rush? "It's not unheard of to use a blow-dryer to dry your underarms first."
If you begin to sweat, Steve says to pop into the ladies room and dab your underarms. At home, don't just put a soiled top into the hamper or back into the closet. "Just because you can't see the stain doesn't mean it's not there," Steve says. "Be proactive. If you know that you perspired, make sure wash the garment within 24 to 48 hours. If it's 'dry-clean only,' make sure to get to cleaner with in day or two."
At the dry cleaner, point out the stain to the clerk so that it's cared for properly. "Don't be embarrassed or shy about it," Steve says. "They've heard it all."
Next: Sweater pilling and dry-clean only
Sweater pilling is unavoidable—whether your sweater cost $50 or $2,000, Joseph says. Sweater pills are tangles of fabric that naturally come loose where the garment is rubbed the most. Typically, a sweater's arms and sides are first to pill.
Even an expensive cashmere sweater can pill, says Mary Scalco, senior vice president of the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute. As a rule of thumb: the softer a sweater is, the more likely it is to pill. Man-made fibers and acrylics are less likely to pill than natural fibers like wool.
To de-pill at home, try a rotary brush or pumice stone designed to remove sweater pills. For a hands-off approach, take the sweater to a dry cleaner. Joseph says de-pilling is typically included in the normal charge for cleaning a sweater.
If a "dry-cleaning only" tag really means "not gonna happen" to you, keep that in mind while shopping. Check the tag before trying something on and falling in love with a dry-clean or hand wash only garment. "Cotton, linen, polyblends and some microfibers are generally low maintenance," Steve says. "Anything that has a blend of poly or nylon in it generally won't have too many shrinkage issues."
Next: Dry cleaning dos and don'ts
The plastic cover dry-cleaned items come home in may seem like a convenient way to keep clothes fresh and dust-free, but plastic does more harm than good. "Long-term use of these plastic covers will suffocate the garment, possibly causing staining, mildew or other mishaps," Mary says. "Take them out of the bag and allow the clothes to breathe."
To store clothes between seasons, Joseph recommends using a cotton sheet instead of plastic.
Over Use of Dry Cleaning
A shirt with a worn-out, overly dry-cleaned look is usually the result of two problems, Joseph says. One, the dry cleaner isn't distilling his cleaning solvent regularly. "Rest assured, if you go somewhere that's charging $1.75, they can't afford to constantly distill solvent," he says.
The second culprit is likely overpressing, or what Joseph calls "the bang and hang." If a shirt is beginning to look overworked, Joseph says to ask for a soft press. At home, try ironing inside out with a cooler temperature.
Spray with Care
Many perfumes, hairsprays and lotions can ruin your clothes over time, Mary says.. "They either contain alcohol or an alkaline chemical composition that can cause some dyes to change colors," she says.
It may not look like your spritz of perfume did any harm, but the heat from a dryer or iron could eventually expose a nasty spot. To avoid this, Mary says to let all perfumes, hairsprays and lotions dry completely before getting dressed.
Next: Caring for darks, denims and delicates
Keep black from fading to the telltale musty gray with a trick that Joseph says will help stabilize the dye in dark colors and prevent fading. Add a quarter cup of salt along with detergent to a large basin of water and soak the garments overnight. Follow with a short wash cycle using cold water and a gentle detergent.
A new pair of dark denim will benefit from a salt soak, Joseph says. "Jeans, the first time around, will bleed no matter what you do—but this will help stabilize it."
To help your jeans maintain their color and shape over time, wash them inside out on a gentle cycle with cold water. "If using a dryer, we advise drying on the tumble dry low setting inside out," says Chana Taft Schuman from True Religion Brand Jeans.
Baby Your Delicates
For delicate items, Joseph says hand washing clothes in baby shampoo is a good alternative to detergent. "It cleans well, it's safe, it's very delicate and helps preserve the garment a little."
Next: Repair worn-out heels and soles
If you don't know who your local cobbler is, now is the time to find out. "A cobbler can really take an old pair of shoes and boots and make [them] look like new," says Donald Rinaldi, president of the Shoe Service Institute of America.
A trip to the shoe repair shop can extend the life of a shoe by years. Jim McFarland is a third-generation cobbler and owner of Jim McFarland's Shoe Repair in Lakeland, Florida. His most common request is for new heel caps, which can run $8 to $12. "Generally, what come on most shoes are plastic caps," he says. "In shoe repair shops, we use really long-lasting rubber." A rubber heel cap protects the heel tip of a shoe and creates a nonslip grip.
Protect Your Soles
To really make shoes go the distance, Jim says to ask a cobbler for sole protectors. Slip-resistant and waterproof, they protect soles from snow, rain and general wear and tear. "They make soles last about 10 times longer," Jim says.
The thin sole protector won't ruin the look of your shoes—in fact, Jim can even apply a red sole protector to a pair of worn Christian Louboutins to make the signature sole look like new. Sole protectors will cost about $18 to $30, with special requests like red soles at the higher end.
Next: Shoes that go the distance
A shoe shine can do wonders to protect and condition leather shoes, but Jim received an inside tip for keeping patent leather shoes looking like new. Applying furniture polish, like Pledge, will give patent leather shoes a great finish.
Buy Shoes That Last
When it comes to shoe shopping, Jim says you often get what you pay for. "If you're buying shoes for less than $20, 99 percent of the time it's going to be man-made," he says. These man-made materials can include plastic and particle leather—a mixture of leather, resin and particle parts. "If you get them wet, they'll wear out in a week."
For shoes that last and allow feet to breathe, Jim says there is nothing like real leather—look inside the shoe for a label or print to be sure it's genuine. "Unfortunately, unless you catch one heck of a sale, it's going to be hard to find decent shoes under $60, $70," he says.
To work with what you already have, Donald says insoles and arch supports can help make an inexpensive shoe feel more comfortable. Donald says the added arch support—either fitted by a doctor or purchased at a local convenience store—can make all the difference.
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