March 12, 2012

Care and Maintenance: Wool

Since it is a pretty safe bet that winter isn’t coming this year, you can probably pack up most of your winter clothes. But before you do, here are some important things you should know about keeping it looking nice, both while you are wearing it and while it’s packed away for next year.

Wool can sometimes seem daunting, especially because there are so many different types and blends. However, with proper care, wool can be one of the longest lasting materials you’ll find (and thus a great reason to invest in quality wool pieces). The first thing you should know is that, unless explicitly stated, never machine wash wool. Chances are, your wool should be dry cleaned, and sparingly at that.

Unless you get your wool garment especially dirty, you don’t want to dry clean it more than a few times a season. Especially with coats that never really touch your skin (assuming you aren’t a flasher walking around with nothing under your trench…), I would suggest having your wool coats dry cleaned only at the end of the season. I know there are many recommendations out there that say the beginning and end of the season, but if you store it properly there is no need for that. Remember, dry cleaning degrades the fabric and shortens the life of the garment so it should be used sparingly.

If your wool piece gets a small spill on it, be sure to dab the liquid to prevent as much of it as possible from soaking in. Do not scrub at the spot or you’ll just push more of the spill into the fibers and make it harder to get out. With oily stains, you can also try dabbing with a small amount of dish soap, which will help cut the grease better than laundry detergent. For daily dirt, try using a suede brush.

If you need to do any ironing, do so on a cool setting and opt for steam. Try to iron your wool as infrequently as possible, often times just letting the item hang will take care of a lot of the wrinkles.

If you have some wool pieces that you need to hand wash, I recommend using a little dish soap mixed with the regular detergent because it is less harsh on the fibers. Use warm water and soak the garment in the soapy water. I usually do this in a giant mixing bowl in a bathtub, but that is just because the kitchen sink in my apartment is miniscule. Don’t knead or wring the clothes as that will only serve to stretch out the fibers. After about 10 minutes of soaking, rinse the pieces out, applying light pressure, until the water runs clear; then lay the garment flat to dry. A small collapsible drying rack works great, otherwise the bathtub is another good option.

When it’s time to pack everything up, make sure you are using the right kind of hanger for your garment. With wool coats, which usually have a heavier-than-normal weight to them, make sure you are using an actual coat hanger with a wider shoulder rest, rather than just a standard thin hanger. Though this is especially important for end-of-season storage, when the coat is going to hang for a lengthy period of time, I would also recommend this for daily use as well.

Also, I always like to make sure the garment is properly hung or folded on a hanger before hiding it away for the season. No reason to give yourself more set-in wrinkles to deal with next year. For pants, make sure they are folded on the crease before folding over a hanger, and button up any coats while hung to keep everything in place. Sweaters should never be hung like a shirt, as it will result in hanger stretching in the shoulders. Instead, carefully fold the sweater for storage in a drawer or, if you must hang it, check out my instructions in the Winter Edition for proper technique.

Once you’ve got your wool garment properly hung (and protected by cedar), I recommend placing it in a garment bag, just to keep it even more protected from accumulating dirt and dust over those long hot summer months. Don’t use a plastic garment bag for long-term storage though. Fabric needs to breathe to prevent it from getting musty, so pick up some cloth bags instead. They will keep the dust off without keeping the moisture in.

As always, investing in quality pieces isn’t worthwhile unless you properly care for them. Of course there are more tricks and intricacies to dealing with wool, so please feel free to send me any specific questions you may have. Lastly, get to know your drycleaner. Do some research to find one with a good reputation, preferably who does the work in-house, as they can be a crucial resource in maximizing the life of your clothing.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

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