While you may occasionally snag your new blouse on something sharp or spill coffee on your fave pair of jeans, the number one culprit behind ruined clothes is your washing machine and/or dryer. Think about it: how many times have you shrunk a nice sweater in the dryer or (oops!) accidentally washed that dry-clean-only skirt and had it fall apart?
However, if you put some extra effort into how you wash and dry clothes, it can really extend the life of said items. Seriously, I have tops and dresses from fast-fashion retailers that I bought ten years ago and they’re still in great shape. It all depends on how you care for your clothes!
Below, I’ll show you exactly how to keep clothes looking new, just by doing your laundry. Now, some of these tips may seem obvious, but if you follow each and every one, your clothes will stay in top-notch condition. Read on to learn more:
1. Pick the right washer setting.
Whether it’s a $10 blouse or a $100 dress, a majority of my clothes are washed on my machine’s least-harsh speed/setting. Depending on your washer, this could be labeled hand wash, gentle, or delicate.
Using a gentle cycle eliminates a lot of the wear and tear your washer can inflict, and is especially fab for delicate fabrics. In fact, I’ve washed many “dry clean only” items on the hand wash cycle and have never had a problem with said items getting ruined.
More durable fabrics like denim or clothes that you aren’t too worried about (pj’s/loungewear) can be washed on a machine’s normal setting. Just remember to read the label on clothing and to use your best judgement when washing certain items!
However, not all washing machines have gentle cycles, which is where my next tip for how to keep clothes looking new comes in:
2. Buy some mesh laundry bags.
If you’re washing your delicates on the regular cycle or just want your clothes to stay extra-safe, a mesh laundry bag can help protect your clothing from any damage.
You probably already own one for your bras, but if not, they’re well worth the under-$10 price tag.
Place items into the bag, throw it in the washer, and you won’t have to worry about any snags, rips, or tangled clothes. Score!
3. Wash clothes inside out.
No guide on how to keep clothes looking new would be complete without this simple and often overlooked tip.
It seems like a no-brainer, but be sure to turn all your tops, dresses, and other clothing items inside-out before putting them in the washer. That spin cycle can put a lot of wear and tear on items, so it’s much better to have the inside of your clothes take the brunt of damage rather than the outside.
Plus, if you’re washing something that has beading, sequins, or buttons, washing inside-out can prevent these embellishments from coming loose or falling off.
4. Choose the right detergent.
Think all laundry detergents are the same? Think again! Certain detergents can keep colors from fading, prevent shrinkage, and are made for delicate fabrics. Also, powdered detergents can be harsher on clothes, so opt for a liquid one.
I’ve used Woolite brand detergent for as long as I can remember – it’s specially formulated to be gentle on clothes. However, I’ve also heard excellent things about Mrs. Meyer’s and Method detergents, which are both made with plant-based materials. Do some research, read online reviews, and pick out the best laundry detergent for your clothes.
5. Always use cold water.
According to HowStuffWorks, natural fabrics (like cotton, wool, and linen) tend to shrink if washed in warm or hot water.
Washing in cold water is not only extends the life of your clothing, but it’s also better for your wallet and the environment, since it takes more energy to heat up all that water for your washing machine.
6. Air dry!
The only clothing items that I put in the dryer on a regular basis are jeans, pajamas, sweats, and basic cotton t-shirts (that I’ve already washed a few times and know won’t shrink). Everything else gets air dried. Just like hot water can shrink clothes in the washer, using hot air to dry your clothes will also shrink them and/or damage them – and even more so in most cases!
If you’re lucky enough to have a backyard or outdoor space, buy a clothesline and allow your clothes to air dry. If you live somewhere warm, the outdoor heat will dry clothes pretty quickly, plus laundry that stays out in the fresh air always smells amazing. If you’re in a dorm or apartment, consider buying a collapsible or foldable clothes-drying rack, which is the ideal way to dry clothes in small spaces.
If you absolutely must use your dryer, try drying your delicate clothes on either a cool or “air fluff” setting to prevent shrinkage.
What do you think of our guide to how to keep clothes looking new?
How do you wash your clothes? Do you already follow any of these methods? Any laundry tips you’d like to share? Do you ever air dry your clothes? Tell me what you think by leaving a comment below!
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2013; it was completely updated and revamped in 2019 with new photos and information.