8 Things We Had No Idea Were Damaging Our Clothes

You don’t have to be an impeccably groomed street style star to care about what’s hanging in your closet. Really, you don’t have to be interested in trends at all to want to extend the lifespan of the clothes on which you’ve spent your hard-earned money. Yes, even that “ugly” jacket that just feels like home.
Unfortunately, some of the things we do to our clothes on the regular — like overexposing them to dry-cleaning chemicals instead of machine-washing with a reliable detergent like Woolite — are potentially damaging them...big time. That’s why we tapped stylists and tailors for a roster of simple tips and tricks to reverse common wrongs and get a few lessons on maintaining, storing, and cleaning those precious pieces the smart way. Read on for a crash course in damage control.
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ILLUSTRATED BY JOEL BURDEN.
Swap them for vinyl bags.
It might seem like a harmless (and even helpful — no exposure equals no dirt) act. But leaving on dry-cleaning bags will, thanks to the polymers leaking out of the plastic and onto your garments, discolor your clothes over time, says Stacie Patterson, head stylist at NYC’s Beyond Bespoke Tailors. Additionally, the plastic covers cause a greenhouse effect by trapping air inside; the added heat breaks down clothes faster. Instead, personal stylist Sarah Sulzberger Perpich suggests using bags made of vinyl, a totally neutral material. Added bonus: Moths happen to hate vinyl.
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ILLUSTRATED BY JOEL BURDEN.
Moisturize it.
This one may sound weird, but leather is skin, after all, and you should be treating it as such. If you want to maintain the longevity of your (typically expensive) leather goods, moisturizing every six months is key, says Patterson. And no, you shouldn’t use your average body butter for this job. Most dry cleaners are equipped to take on the task, but if you do choose to go for it at home, brands like Coach and Michael Kors sell quality leather moisturizers.
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ILLUSTRATED BY JOEL BURDEN.
Machine-wash whenever possible.
The cleaner the better, right? Not so fast. According to Jeremy Miller of Alterations Specialists NY, the main chemicals in dry-cleaning solution are, when used in excess, not so great for your clothes — or your skin. That’s because of chemicals such as perchloroethylene, a carcinogen that can cause irritation when transmitted via a dry-cleaned garment. Excessive dry-cleaning also expedites the aging of expensive fabrics and suits. Net-net, you don’t have to dry-clean after every wear. If the label of a garment indicates it’s safe to machine wash, do so with a gentle detergent like Woolite Darks with Color Renew™, and hit the dry cleaners only if, say, a stain is particularly troublesome.
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ILLUSTRATED BY JOEL BURDEN.
Fold them up.
It’s almost second nature to immediately hang up a new knit dress or luxe pullover. But dresses, especially finely knit ones, can, over time, grow in length by up to 30% when hung up. Wools and cashmeres should always be folded to avoid indentations (especially around the shoulder area), says stylist Sara Cooper. Folding preserves the shape and fit, so you won’t be surprised next time you put on a garment and find it’s suddenly stretched from tea-length to maxi.
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ILLUSTRATED BY JOEL BURDEN.
Stretch 'em back out.
It’s a tale as old as time: You accidentally threw one of your favorite oversized shirts in the dryer and ended up with a too-tight crop top. You likely figured it was a lost cause, but if you haven’t yet parted with the piece, you’ll be glad to know it’s still salvageable. In order to stretch something back to its original fit, Patterson advises soaking it in a cool-water-filled sink with 1/4 cup of hair conditioner, then laying it flat to dry. This fiber-softening trick works especially well for knits. Since wool or similarly derived fabrics are comparable to human hair, conditioner allows the fibers to give once properly moisturized and oiled up.
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ILLUSTRATED BY JOEL BURDEN.
Invest in padded ones.
Wire hangers tend to snag, distort, and indent most fabrics, according to Sulzberger Perpich, and buying the right ones (read: not wire) is a one-time investment that definitely pays off. Bottom hangers (a.k.a. the flat ones with the clips) leave impressions in fabrics like silk and leather, so you want to avoid those, too. Padded hangers, which won’t cut into and ultimately damage your wares, are a much better choice.
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ILLUSTRATED BY JOEL BURDEN.
Bring on the secret stain-removal techniques.
To think we once believed carpet cleaner was only meant for carpets. Store-bought carpet cleaner solutions also come in handy for removing stains of all kinds on difficult fabrics, including silk, according to Sulzberger Perpich. For a fast, effective spot treatment, spray the stain (like you would your carpet) and wait five minutes. And that’s not the only regular household item that could save your clothes. Baby powder is surprisingly powerful for removing tough grease stains (just dab, rub in, and brush off the excess powder). Also, if you, like us, tend to spill red wine on your blouse every so often, all you need is a dab of white vino to coax the stain out, says Patterson.
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ILLUSTRATED BY JOEL BURDEN.
Store them separately and carefully.
Climate is everything when it comes to storage. While it might seem like a no-brainer, Sulzberger Perpich confirms you should never, ever store winter clothes and any furs real or faux close to a radiator or heat source. Generally speaking, a warm, moist environment (where, by the way, moths and insects thrive) is more likely to cause clothes to break down faster. Work to find a cool, dry place instead. This goes for your summer wardrobe as well. Additionally, Sulzberger Perpich suggests storing heavy-duty winter pieces in cotton bags, which let items breathe during the hotter months. If you can’t find a cotton bag, a recycled bedsheet works just fine when wrapped tidily around your items.
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