Professional Wardrobe Tips: Laundry

I did about 8 years worth of costuming and wardrobe for a professional theatre while I was trying to figure out who I am/what I want to do with myself.  Truthfully, I wish I could’ve stuck with it, but I’m too chicken to stay in an industry that has a very low glass ceiling.  I like the security of a retirement fund, and non-profit theatre does not a nest egg make.

Never once did I wake up in the morning and think, “Guh, I don’t wanna go to work today.”  Not once.  I worked with an amazing set of people, learned more about fabrics and materials than I could have just about anywhere else, and got a primo education in clothing maintenance, couture sewing techniques and tailoring… and I got paid for it.  Then I went back to school and paid them to get a piece of paper that says I know how to do all that I learned while working.  Ha.  Amazing how this world works, eh?

Anyway, I learned quite a bit about how to launder/take care of clothes, and I wanted to share just a few tips for keeping your lovelies, well… lovely.

1. Wash anything that isn’t a towel or a  sheet in cold water (this may be labeled the “Bright Colors” cycle on some machines).  Cold water keeps stray particles (such as stray dye or dirt) from sticking to your clothing–it also helps stains let go.  Alternatively, hot water opens up the fibers in many fabrics, making them more susceptible to absorbing unwanted particles (but it kills the bacteria in sheets and towels).

For goodness sake, zip up your zippers and un-button your buttons. Wanna know why all your favorite softy rayon and cotton tees get those strange constellations of little holes??  Cuz you washed your jeans in one big, unsorted load (for shame!) with the zippers all hungry for soft rayon-y goodness and they ate them!  Unbuttoned buttons won’t stretch the fabric where they button (this makes even the skinniest of us look rotund–the “bursting button” look is never attractive, ladies).  It also keeps the buttons from falling off.  Sorting is never a bad idea, but if you have to crowd everything into one load (hey, I do it too!), make sure that your zippers are at least closed.

Don’t shirk on the hand-washing.  Lingerie, fine silks and anything else that’s fragile means you need to take a little extra time.  It’s not so bad.  Keep a separate hamper for these items and do them all at once.  Many will tell you Woolite is the way to go–I was taught that Woolite is not so gentle as many would have you believe.  We used Dawn dish detergent (a little dab’ll do ya) for all flimsy unmentionables.  Don’t try to cut corners by throwing them all in your machine on delicate with a bit of dish soap, either, or you’ll have something akin to the time my boyfriend loaded the dishwasher with hand-washing detergent: a big-ol’ soapy mess (or your very own impromptu suds party, if you’re the “glass full” kind of person).

Swish your silkies in a cold soapy basin–do not wring them or twist them.  Any make-up or other stains should be pre-treated before washing.  When you’re done swishing them in the cold soapy water, move them into another basin full of water (coldish, please) and rinse.  Again, do not wring or twist the silkies.  Once they are rinsed properly and are free of soapiness, squeeze them gently to remove as much water as possible.  Then lay them out on a large bath towel.  Cover with another bath towel and roll the whole thing up like sushi.  Use your body weight to lean on the roll and squish out any remaining water into the towels.  Unroll and hang somewhere private.  🙂

2.  Some things cannot or should not be washed at all (such as fragile vintage items).  To keep these items fresh between dry cleanings, spray them with a mixture of 2 parts cheap rot-gut vodka (the kind you wouldn’t even serve at a frat party) to one part water (distilled if you have it, but no big deal if you don’t).  If you wanna get extra fancy, add a few drops of your favorite essential oil (2-4, don’t go crazy).  The alcohol kills any bacteria it hits (concentrate on pits and extra-sweaty areas), and there is no smell because it all evaporates as it dries.  This ONLY WORKS WITH VODKA–don’t go tryin’ this with gin or whiskey or anything else because you run the risk of smelling like a total lush or worse, staining your beloved clothes.  There you have it: your very own wardrobe spray for pennies-on-the-dollar compared to buying Febreze, etc.  It works better, too.  I taught that trick to Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath’s road crews.  This works well for anything else you might wear more than once between washings, too (like those jeans you need to wear three times before they look perfect).

3. Stain Removal:

Blood:  use your own saliva (it has enzymes that break down your own blood better than anyone else’s).  Any saliva will do,  but your saliva is best if it’s your own blood.  Chew on a piece of scrap muslin and get it saturated, then use it to remove the stain (this saved my butt when I had a nosebleed on a one-of-a-kind vintage silk floral dress I was tailoring).  I know, I know, gross.  But it works!!  The sooner, the better.

Make-up:  pre-treat using a degreasing agent, such as dish soap with a toothbrush.  Lipstick needs a bit more finesse–a chalk pen (such as “Janie On The Spot Dry Chalk Stick”) works well for this sort of thing.

In general, Ivory soap is a gentle pre-treatment for lingerie.

Toothpaste (plain white paste, NOT gel) has a mild abrasive and works nicely for stubborn stains with a tooth or nail brush.  Use a whitening paste where just a touch of bleach may be needed.

Always use cold water on stains.

Always read the label (even if you don’t follow it exactly).


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