Susie Bubble On Her Graveyard Of Destroyed Clothing — & How To Do Laundry Sans Disasters

Photo: Christian Vierig/Getty Images.
Laundry — it’s arguably the least sexy part of the shopping-styling-getting dressed cycle we all repeat week in, week out. Whether you find it to be a joy or a chore, it’s pretty much necessary, yet it rarely comes up in conversations about fashion. How we clean our clothes is a weirdly elusive topic that probably merits more attention that it’s being given. After all, what the hell really needs to be dry cleaned? How do you navigate the mishmash of settings and temperatures that go into each wash and dry load, and what’s the best goo/powder/pod cocktail? Perpetually fretting over whether this cycle is the fateful time your absolute favorite cashmere pullover will be irreversibly shrunk to doll-like dimensions: The fear is real.

Blogger Susie Bubble (a.k.a. Susannah Lau) was in Barcelona last week at Procter & Gamble’s annual Future Fabrics conference for some frank talk about her beloved clothes being ruined mid-laundering, “wash anxiety,” and taking a hiatus from the dry cleaner. “I hadn’t given clothing care a lot of thought; I certainly had no knowledge in the area,” Lau told Refinery29 of her limited laundering intel before she got schooled at P&G’s Fabric Care HQ in Brussels earlier this fall. “It’s the final step in the life cycle of a piece of clothing. If you’re a fashion-lover, or even just a fashion enthusiast, why wouldn’t you want to learn how to care for your clothes properly? Unfortunately, it’s not really something that’s talked about. There seems to be this assumption that [laundry] will magically get done.”

When a load does get done, stress can ensue — especially when there are designer items that don’t quite seem to merit a dry cleaning drop-off, but are any more complicated than a simple cotton T-shirt. “Wash anxiety is for every wash for me, not just the first wash. I especially have that anxiety about my lightweight, bouncy-looking Christopher Kane jerseys, which are made from viscose and elastane fiber. I had a disaster with one of those jerseys because I washed it at too high a temperature; it was terrible,” Lau said.

In addition to the fear of screwing up those favorite pieces, whether they’re everyday workhorses or special-occasion-only members of your wardrobe, that graveyard of formerly adored clothes completely wrecked in the wash can make you feel kind of guilty or, as Lau says, like a bit of a failure. “It’s not just my clothes; it’s my boyfriend’s clothes as well. We share the laundry responsibilities, though he’s better at it than I am,” Lau says. “I always feel like a bit of a domestic failure when things get ruined. You feel dumb; you have all the modern apparatus to equip you to wash well, but when things get messed up, it’s like, how did this happen?”

This year’s Future Fabrics conference was themed around athleisure, that trend that’s giving denim a run for its money, became Merriam-Webster dictionary official recently, and basically just won’t quit. The focus honed in on the complicated, high-tech, super-stretchy fabric blends that the gym-and-far-beyond garb is comprised of. To wit: 60% of laundry loads now involve fabrics that aren’t just cotton.
Photo: Courtesy of P&G.
Elaine Cella (L) and Mary Johnson (R), P&G Fabric Care fiber scientists
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Your jeans are more complex to clean than ever, too — 78% percent of jeans today contain Elastane, and that’s a major shift in the fiber breakdown of denim that’s gone down over the past five to 10 years, according to Mary Johnson, a P&G Fabric Care fiber scientist. “Elastane and other synthetics are dirt and odor magnets,” Johnson says. “These are not your grandmother’s or mother’s fabrics!”

And if you’re often afflicted with ambivalence about dry cleaning — the steep costs, the logistical hassle, the sneaking suspicion that the stuff doesn't even get all that clean — you’re not alone. Apparently, 90% of the stuff in your closet that claims to be dry-clean-only can actually be tossed in the machine, according to Andres Franco, P&G Europe Fabric Care’s head of communications.

Though Lau isn’t necessarily choosing her sartorial purchases any differently as a result of all that newfound laundry intel, it has shifted her shopping experience slightly: “It’s made me more weary of what’s on the tag,” she told Refinery29. “I’ve noticed that Uniqlo does put a lot of information, in proper sentences, about washing, piling, things like that on their tags. Why don’t more brands do that, instead of only listing simple instructions, like ‘cold wash’ or ‘hand wash’?”

Lau has also noticed major contrasts in terms of labels based on the type of retailer: “High street companies and French brands tend to have really long labels, but younger designers often put very vague labels,” Lau says. “They might just not have the same, advanced washing information. But they shouldn’t put ‘dry clean only’ on there if it’s not true, just because they haven’t tested it. Brands are scared of people saying they washed an item correctly and then returning [the item]."

Ahead, check out Lau’s trio of laundry revelations to make that often-overlooked part of the getting-dressed chain of events a little easier to deal with.

Your own body creates the vast majority of dirt on your clothing — and you don’t even know it’s there.
“The invisible dirt factor really struck me: 80% of the dirt in our clothes, which is from our bodies, is not visible. I’d never thought about that! My whole objective is just to make things looks ‘clean’ on the surface, rather than clean within the fibers,” Lau says. Wondering just how much dirt your body is creating in a single day — without any working out involved? (Make sure you’ve finished your lunch before reading on…) A liter of sweat, 40 grams of oil, 10 grams of skin flakes, and 10 grams of salt.

Opt for the cold cycle — yes, even those sweaty sports bras will get clean.
“I had never used cold cycle, because I didn’t think it would actually make my clothes clean. But with the right detergent, like Tide or [the European iteration] Ariel, it works," Lau says. “The ingredients really differ from brand to brand, but that information isn’t really given [to consumers] to compare and contrast, the way you can with beauty products.”

Fabric softener isn’t as frivolous as you thought.
“The vernacular of making your clothes ‘softer’ didn’t fit right, and I sometimes forget to buy it, and I’ve just thought it makes clothes smell nice,” Lau says. “It’s actually the equivalent to conditioner, for your clothes. That makes so much more sense to me, if you think of it like hair or skin.”
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