One of the most frustrating parts about shopping is understanding fabrics and how to care for them. In our new world of fast fashion, a lot of manufacturers of cheaper clothing automatically recommend to hand wash and hang to dry their garments. This is to prevent them from being held accountable when the fabrics perform poorly in a washing machine. In my experience, the only time you should have to hand wash a garment is if the fabric is cheap or it has embellishments like sequins, grommets, and embroidery. But, to safely NOT follow the manufacturer’s washing instructions, you need to understand fabrics. That is what this blog post will help you to do.
The following information was adapted from: https://www.masterclass.com/articles/28-types-of-fabrics-and-their-uses. This website will give you a comprehensive list of fabrics, but I am going to just focus on the the most common ones you will have to deal with when caring for clothing.
Cotton: This fabric is made from the cotton plant. According to the masterclass listed above, “Cotton is primarily composed of cellulose, an insoluble organic compound crucial to plant structure, and is a soft and fluffy material. The term cotton refers to the part of the cotton plant that grows in the boil, the encasing for the fluffy cotton fibers.” These fibers are then spun into a yarn and woven into fabric. The cotton fibers are uneven. In better cottons, the fibers are combed which removes the shorter fibers and makes the resulting fabric softer. Cotton can be machine washed and dried, but it will shrink so unless your garment tells you the fabric is pre-shrunk (washed and dried before production), you will need to take care to prevent shrinkage. I usually recommend hanging it to dry and then using a machine dryer for a 10 minute permanent press cycle to remove any stiffness in the fabric. Cotton is durable, soft, and breathable. It is always a great choice in clothing.
Georgette: This fabric can be made from silk or from Rayon, Viscose and Polyester. Obviously, the price of the Georgette will reflect which source fabric was used. Georgettes are often crinkled, sheer and have a non shiny finish. Care of georgette will depend on the source fabric. If silk was used, you will need to take greater care in laundering. Synthetic fabrics like Rayon, Viscose and Polyester can often be machine washed, but Rayon will shrink so you need to be aware of that possibility.
Jersey: This fabric is a soft, stretchy knit fabric that is made from cotton, cotton blends and synthetic fabrics. Sympli, as an example, uses Jersey that is made with polyester. The fabric can be light to medium weight. Jersey can pill and snag. For this reason, it is not recommended that you wash it with zippers, velcrow, items with grommets, etc, as these can catch and snag the fabric. Sympli recommends their jersey be washed in cold water in the machine and then hung to dry. Because jersey is wrinkle resistant, it will usually dry wrinkle free.
Linen: This fabric comes from the Flax plant. It is known to be strong and lightweight and breathable. It is often used in clothing for hot and humid places because it allows air to flow through and helps regulate the body temperature as a result. Linen should be washed in lukewarm or cold water and gently dried. It is important to use medium heat when drying your linen.
Modal: This is a, “semi-synthetic fabric made from beech tree pulp that is used primarily for clothing.” It is a form of Rayon but is stronger. You will often find Modal in fabric blends, and it is considered a high end fabric because it is soft and luxurious feeling. It is important to point out that Modal is more expensive than cotton or viscose.
Polyester: This fabric is man made and originates from petrochemicals, including coal and petroleum. It is durable and doesn’t shrink, making it very useful in clothing. It is often blended with other fabrics, as it can be used to strengthen more delicate fabrics. The big downside to polyester is that it is not breathable and can become smelly when it absorbs sweat. Polyester can be blended with other natural and more breathable fabrics to help with this. It also acts to stabilize fabrics that are prone to shrinking when it is used in blends.
Rayon: This fabric, like Viscose, is a semi-synthetic fabric that is made from wood pulp. It also requires chemicals which keep it from being considered a “natural” fiber. According to Who, What, Wear, “one of the most common types of rayon is viscose rayon, which has a lot in common with cotton. It’s breathable, moisture-absorbent, and a popular choice for casual and athletic wear. It also shows up in dresses, blouses, and outerwear. Secondary types of rayon include modal rayon (typically made from beech trees) and lyocell (seen in everything from denim to dress shirts).” This website also notes what we all have experienced in that Rayon is not durable and machine washing can cause it to shrink, loose its shape and bleed https://www.whowhatwear.com/what-is-rayon/slide4. As a result, clothing with Rayon or Rayon blends will often require hand washing and line drying.
Satin: The word “satin” refers to a weave and not a fabric, just like twill. Satin is elastic, soft and silky with a beautiful drape.
Silk: Silk comes from the fiber produced by Silk Worms to make their nests and cocoons. It is known for its strength, sheen, and luxury. It is often used in formal attire.
Spandex: This fabric name is interchangeable with the words “Elastane” and “Lycra.” It is a synthetic fiber that is used to add stretch to clothing. It can also be blended with other fabrics for this same purpose.
Tweed: Tweed is usually made of wool and is woven into a stiff and durable fabric that is characterized by warmth. This fabric is usually used in jackets and slacks, particularly suits. It is typical for this fabric to be made with different colored strands that are woven to create different patterns.
Twill: The word “twill” refers a weave rather than a fabric. It is characterized by a diagonal pattern. They usually have a darker side and a lighter side. It is durable fabric that is not see through. Twill is typically used in denim and in chinos.
Velvet: This fabric is known for its soft and luxurious feeling. It is shiny and soft and is often used for dressy fabrics, especially those for holidays. Velvet can be made from Cotton, linen, wool, mohair, and synthetic fibers, but it was first made with silk.
Viscose: This fabric is part synthetic and part natural. It resembles silk because of the wood pulp that is used in its creation. This wood pulp gives it a very similar look and feel to silk. It is often used in clothing items that might have been made from silk like blouses and dresses, but it is much less expensive.
I hope this has helped to demystify fabrics for you to some degree. Understanding fabrics helps us to know how to care for them properly so they last a long time. It helps us choose fabrics based on the environment we will be in and the level of care we are willing to be subject to. It also helps set our expectations of how fabrics will perform. Additionally, when we comprehend the pros and cons of certain fabrics, we are able to understand the fabric blends that we often find and how those blends might perform in our day to day life as well as in the laundry.
Typically, less expensive clothing will be made of synthetic fabrics, semi-synthetic fabrics or fabric blends whereas more expensive clothing will have more natural fabrics or a greater quantity of the natural fabric in the blend. For example, if you have a Rayon/Cotton blend, the fabric will likely be more durable than a Rayon/Viscose blend.
Personally, I have a cold water dirty clothes basket and warm water dirty clothes basket. My only clothing that goes into the warm water basket is underwear, pajamas, yoga wear, denim jeans, sweatshirts and tee shirts. Everything else gets washed in cold on delicate and hung to dry. If the fabrics dry stiff or wrinkled, I put them in a permanent press cycle just to soften the fabric and release the wrinkles. I always put a 1/4 of vinegar into my washing machine. Not only does it clean the machine and act as a natural softener, it also helps set fabric dye so I get less fading of colors.
If you’d like more information on this topic, you can watch me live on Wednesday, May 10th at 6 p.m. Mountain Standard Time for a live video on this topic. Watch that video here. If you miss the live video, it will be added to my YouTube channel as well.