Mastering your machines is only one part of becoming a Laundry Day champion. To really level up, you must understand how different fabrics — everything from gym clothes to fine woolen textiles — behave in the face of water, detergents, agitation and heat. Understanding how to use fabric content information will also largely free you from needing to interpret those inscrutable fabric care runes on the tags of your clothes.
Cotton is highly washable but can be prone to shrinking. Machine or hand wash cotton using cold water, and avoid exposure to hot water or high-heat drying. Fine cottons should be air dried.
Linen is highly washable but also prone to shrinking and wrinkling. Machine or hand wash linen using cold water, and air dry or press immediately after washing, while still damp, to eliminate wrinkles.
Nylon is also highly washable, but prone to static. Air drying will prevent static, so skip the dryer.
Polyester is highly machine washable and can be machine dried on medium- or low-heat.
Rayon and viscose are not highly washable. Always dry clean rayon and viscose clothes.
Silk is highly prone to color loss and to water staining. Silk, despite its water-averse reputation, can be hand-washed using cool water and a specialty detergent, or sent out for dry cleaning. If you opt to hand-wash silk, make it a very short operation, as silk doesn’t benefit from overexposure to water, and keep the water temperature consistent.
Spandex is machine washable, but it can hold onto odors, which means that it should be dried on a low-heat setting or air dried. Avoid the use of chlorine bleach with Spandex or with blends containing Spandex.
Wools, including cashmere and merino, are prone to felting and shrinking when washed. Felting, which is when woolen fibers become matted, occurs because of exposure to agitation and fluctuating water temperatures. Because of that, it’s best to hand wash woolens in cool water and allow them to air dry, flat. Wools can be machine washed, but should be placed in a mesh wash bag, and you should opt for cold water and the delicate cycle to reduce exposure to agitation. Air dry woolens.
Blends should be washed according to the instructions for the more sensitive fabric.