Yesterday was laundry day, *le sigh*. After finishing up the regular mix of towels, sheets, etc., I landed on my hand washables. With a few new additions to the mix, I decided to look at the tags before tossing them in the washer. WTF? When did reading the laundry tag become a process of deciphering hieroglyphics? After flipping over the tag to three more garments it became clear to me I have been blissfully unaware of the changing world we live in. What ever happened to, “Wash Cold. Lay Flat to Dry” or “Machine Wash with Like Colors?” Apparently, alot.
The Symbols. To Date there are over 35 differing symbols one may find on that shirt tag of yours. If you feel like mentally checking out right about now, hang tight, things are just about to get interesting. If you are looking for a quick and dirty break down, there are only 5 symbols you need to learn and you can figure out the rest later. WASH. BLEACH. DRY. IRON. DRY CLEAN (scroll to the bottom for the picture).
A History. While the masses were wearing army jackets, burning bras, and smoking the devil’s lettuce the FTC decided in the 1970’s to instate The Care Labeling Rule. This was an act that required clothing manufacturers and importers to attach care instructions to garments. In a time when the world was a bit smaller and fabric choices, washing machines and home life was a bit simpler this system was straight forward with basic directions such as machine wash or hand wash.
1997 marked a monumental change when the FTC allowed manufactures to offer directions to consumers via written directions, symbols or both. With a growing world economy a move to a universal labeling made sense. My question remained, “how did we get to a label with pictures and who decided on this?” To be precise, the ASTM International is the party responsible for this.
Who. The ASTM International, never heard of them? Me either. The ASTM stands for the American Society for Testing and Materials, yet with all they do to date this can be misleading. In a nut shell, they are an international standards organization that, “develops and publishes voluntary consensus technical standards for a wide range of materials, products, systems, and services.” I had no idea how big this organization is until I stumbled across the website. According to the site, “…over 12,000 ASTM standards operate globally. Defined and set by us, they improve the lives of millions every day… they enhance performance and help everyone have confidence in the things they buy and use.” Ok that part about having confidence in the things we buy and use, I am going to call bullshit. I am writing this blog because I have no confidence in my ability to read a label. However, these guys are the ones who bring all sects of the world market to the table. They find common language to discuss the verbiage of products and do a pretty great job of creating a world standard of commonality. While there is a lot of corporate mumbo jumbo mixed in there, if you think about it, they are kind of bad asses. While someone may have gotten a little symbol crazy along the line, it does make sense in theory.
Becoming a Laundress or Suds Goddess. While many of these symbols still seem like overkill, peek at this handy dandy graphic the ASTM came up with. Basically, if you know the main 5 you can figure out the rest along the way. If you are feeling real fancy you might even print out this darling printable from Clean Mama and put up in your laundry room. However, if your laundry room in anything like mine, it’s a glorified closet and no one’s hanging anything in there lest it be consumed by lint.
The Wash Icon. It looks a lot like those little dixie cups your grandparents used to keep in the bathroom for mouth wash. If you see that in any variation you can assume its safe to wash in water. If you look at the sign for delicate it has 2 little lines under neath. If your dixie cup is on a pedestal she’s high maintenance and must be handled delicately. Done!
Bleach Triangle. While I wish I had some witty jingle to help you remember the symbol; a good rule of thumb is if it isn’t 100% cotton and white, don’t bleach it. End of story. Or bleach it and be ready to trash it if things go south.
Drying. The least amount of heat is always going to be the best option for longevity of clothing. Unless it has a square with circle in it assume it needs to hang dry. If its particularly delicate keep your eyes peeled for the lay flat to dry. Learn this box with a line through it or that dress will never look the same again. I have learned this the hard way when one very special Free People dress got one very droopy shoulder.
Iron. If you are reading the label to iron, well I’m at a loss for words. You are a better person than I who probably has never melted a pair of her husbands dress pants with too hot of an iron. But really, just start low and keep amping up the heat until you get those wrinkles.
Dry Clean. I call shenanigans. 9 out of 10 times I can wash my dry clean only articles. I always test a small corner and see if it stains when dipped it in water. If it doesn’t stain I wash it on gentle with Woolite and hang dry. If it does stain and is not soiled but only smells. I steam it. Whip out that steamer and give it and once over, it does a fantastic job of killing odors. If we are talking Brooks Brothers or Armani Suits, don’t be a dip, take those to the dry cleaners.
Delicate Shirts (Lace, silk, or similar)
Bras & Lingerie
Machine wash on gentile cycle, cold with Woolite.
Yes, Woolite is a bit pricier than many detergents but it saves the fabric and will do a much more thorough job at washing in machine on delicate/gentle than you will by hand. This is pretty much how I wash most of my wardrobe. I have washed heaps of dry clean only clothes this way. If you paid a pretty penny for it wash it this way for longevity and for goodness sake turn those jeans inside out so they don’t bleed blue all over. When drying, pull out all the delicate items and hang dry and throw the rest in dryer on tumble dry with no heat.
Most Men’s Clothing
Machine wash normal cycle on warm with Tide.
This is tricky. If its super stank, you want to use as hot as water as you can muster but many of the breathable engineered fabrics don’t do well with heat. Tide on a normal warm cycle will most often do the trick. Tumble dry on medium heat and if you have drytech yoga pants or similar pull those out and hang dry. However, full disclosure the hubby gets a special load each week of Tide in Hot Hot Hot water with HOT tumble drying for 60 minutes. This kills off any bad odor causing nasties and if the shirt melts at least it died going for a spin in the shirt sauna.