Do you follow the care labels on your family’s clothes? I don’t, not always. If they’re just a little bit dirty, I wash my daughter’s clothes in cold water, per the instructions. Wash in cold water seems to be the default instruction these days for all types of clothing– it’s more environmentally friendly. But sometimes her clothes really need a blast of hot water to get them thoroughly clean. Just to be safe, I add a half cup of vinegar to the load to prevent colors from bleeding. I haven’t ruined anything so far, but I do realize that I disobey the instructions at my own risk.
Using hot or even warm water when the label says cold could cause her bright cotton clothes to fade more quickly or the elastic on her underwear to fray sooner than if I followed the instructions to the letter. (Which reminds me, these days many of the labels don’t even have any actual words– they are just tiny symbols which can be very difficult to read, never mind decipher. For a great chart which explains what each symbol means, click here.)
I don’t always follow the care instructions on my clothing, either. Bras, for example– Do you wear bras with underwires? And do the wires work their way out of their casings and poke and scratch you? This used to be a pet peeve of mine, and years ago it was a very common problem. When I first did production for Victoria’s Secret, we often received complaints about bras with popping wires. In those days, it was an extremely common problem for several reasons. The original shaped wires had raw edges, which were often jagged and sharp– the perfect instrument for poking a hole through fabric. The wire channels, which house the wires, were made from thin fabric– an easy target for the sharp edges of the wires. And often the wires did not have any play– meaning that they were tightly encased in the channel with no room to move; this meant that each movement of the body torqued the wires, allowing them to rub directly against the fabric, eventually wearing a hole right through the channel. Another contributor to the wire popping issue was the way bras are washed. Despite care instructions which say, “Hand wash. Lay flat to dry,” most women put their bras in the washing machine and some even use the dryer. The washing machine agitation twists the bras, causing the wires to rub against the fabric, and the dryer can shrink the wire channel– the perfect recipe for popping wires.
Victoria’s Secret soon learned that despite their best efforts to test the garments to determine the best wash method, and then putting these instructions on the bras, most of us wash our bras in the washer. I even do it, but I do use the gentle cycle and a lingerie bag for protection. And many of us throw them in the dryer– I never do this; I always flat dry my bras– it saves wear and tear on all the materials, especially the elastics and pads and my bras last longer if they’re air dried.
Eventually, after years of customer complaints and returns due to popping wires, Victoria’s Secret finally decided the customer is always right. Even if the Hand wash, Lay flat to dry care instructions lead to a longer life for the bra, customers will do what they will do and then return the bra when the wire pops. And customers were right to expect that they could launder their bras in the washer (and even use the dryer) without fear that a wire would pop out of its channel and jab them during a dinner party. That drove Victoria’s Secret to look for a way to prevent those wires from popping through their channels regardless of the laundry methods customers were using. Materials suppliers were eager to solve this problem because customer returns meant factory returns– and suppliers could lose business over this. One supplier in particular, Stretchline, an elastics supplier with a focus on R&D, developed Fortitube, a wire channel material which was strong enough to prevent the wires from ripping or tearing the wire channel and poking through. This patented fabric, in combination with using wires with plastic tips, virtually eliminated the problem of popping wires in Victoria’s Secret bras. By 2004, all Victoria’s Secret underwire bras were made with Fortitube.
The lesson for us as consumers is that care instructions are there for a reason and ignoring them can have consequences. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires that all wearing apparel have care labels which, if followed properly, will prevent any harm to the garment. The FTC provides explicit instructions to manufacturers regarding care instructions, which must include information on washing, drying, use of bleach (only if it cannot be used), and ironing (again, only if ironing would harm the garment). These care labels must be permanently attached and remain legible for the life of the garment. Care labels should clearly and accurately describe regular care procedures appropriate for the garment. Manufacturers also must have a reasonable basis for using these instructions. In other words, they can’t just make them up. They have to either rely on industry expertise or test their products to ensure the instructions are accurate. They are a guideline so consumers will know how to take care of a garment to prevent damage to the garment itself, or to other garments washed with the garment due to dyes bleeding when exposed to water. If we choose to wash our garments using a different method than the care label suggests, then it’s possible we will shorten the life of our clothing.
I wrote recently on durability and how I look for clothing which can stand up to frequent laundering. Good brands recommend care instructions which will prolong the life of a garment by preventing fading, damage to elastic, shrinkage, and more. They also realize that customers will use their own judgment and sometimes prefer to wash in ways which are not optimal. Therefore, smart brands (like Lucky & Me) test their garments using multiple wash cycles, often 20 or more, to ensure durability. I recommend washing all your clothes according to the care instructions whenever possible to enhance longevity. Bras, especially, need to be treated with care and will reward you with a longer life. Washing all your clothes in the gentlest manner possible will ensure that your clothes last as long as possible.
Featured Photo Credit: AllPlayKitchens.com
Liz Smith has worked across the globe for many of the world’s major apparel brands, including Victoria’s Secret, Chico’s, Justice, and Hanes. She has earned thousands of airline points and worn out several suitcases visiting factories in more than 20 countries to ensure that production is of the highest standard. Liz has managed all aspects of garment production, from design through fabric development to sewing and merchandising– so she knows what it takes to make high-quality apparel. Liz is thrilled to share her knowledge about clothes to help discerning customers choose the finest products.