How to wash anything – handling tricky laundry

July 8th, 2015

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Do you own a few special items of clothing that you can’t just toss in with the rest of your laundry load? These are usually those really nice things too, the ones that are the most expensive and the most difficult to replace.

So what if they get dirty?  What then?


Fear not, loyal reader.  Though the night be dark, Appliances Online be delving into the darkest depths of the interwebz in search of cleaning solutions for those tricky clothing styles and fabrics.


IMPORTANT NOTE: When in doubt, follow the instructions on the laundry tag!

How to wash silk

Whether it’s a silk dress, a silk tie, or a silk pillowcase, on thing is certain – silk is a fine and delicate material that must be handled with care.


Hand-washing is the kindest way to look after silk, though it can be machine-washed on a a delicate or gentle setting using cold or lukewarm (40 degrees or lower) water and a mild detergent without enzymes or artificial brighteners.  Also, make sure the washing machine is set to a low spin speed.

Silk should be drip-dried out of direct sunlight (heat can be bad for wet silk), or rolled up in a towel – do NOT wring your silk out!  If you need to use a dryer, put it on a cool temperature air-dry mode if possible, for as short a period as you can.

How to wash pillows

Pile_of_pillows source: Danpape on Wikimedia Commons

While most pillowcases can be tossed in with the rest of your laundry load, the pillows themselves may require some special treatment, depending on their material:

  • Foam pillows should just be wiped down with soapy water (without immersing them), and drip-dried out of direct sunlight – don’t squeeze or wring out the pillow, as this might change its shape.
  • Polyester and hollow fibre pillows can be machine-washed on a delicate cycle, but you should wash at least two per load so they can balance each other out – an unbalanced washing machine in the middle of an intense spin cycle is not a pretty sight.
  • Feather and down pillows can also be machine washed, but they tend to get very heavy when wet.

However you choose to wash your pillows, drying one involves laying it out flat, out of direct sunlight if possible, in order to help maintain its shape.  Be sure to allow plenty of airflow to the stuffing, and to shake and stretch out any lumps or clumps that threaten to form.  Don’t wring them out like a wet towel, as this can warp their shape.

For any pillow, if it’s turned a nasty yellow colour, you can deal with this with a little baking soda – don’t use bleach, as this can actually lock in old sweat stains.

How to wash a doona

Doonas and duvets are, in many ways, oversized pillows, so a lot of the same advice can apply when you’re cleaning them.

White-duvetSource: Wikipedia

Whether you have a fibre or feather doona, they can usually be machine-washed if your washer is large enough.  Be mindful that feather doonas especially will get very heavy when soaked, so be sure that the load is well-balanced.

When drying a doona, try to lay it out flat, and shake or strech out any bunches of clumps.

An alternative way to clean both pillows and doonas is to place them in the bath in warm water and give them a good stomping with your feet, before removing them and laying it out flat to dry.

How to wash baby clothes

Babies are notoriously messy, so their clothes require thorough laundering.  However, strong detergents and fabric softeners can irritate sensitive baby skin, so cleaning their clothes may require a special touch.

Baby laughs at vacuumVacuuming your baby is not a great solution, though it can be cute

To clean junior’s first suit of clothes, use milder detergents without chemical additives, and wash on an extra-hot cycle to kill more germs.  Check if your washing machine has a Baby Care setting – that ought to do it!

Washing cloth nappies can be a bit special. To start with, they should actually be washed a few times before they’re used for the first time, partially to remove any lingering residues attached to the cloth, and partially to increase their absorbency before they’re put to the ultimate test.

When the cloth nappies have been… used (ahem), rinse them off first, then wash them with an Antibacterial or Baby Care cycle as described earlier.

How to wash cashmere

Made from a special variety of goat fleece, cashmere is a very soft, very difficult, and sometimes challenging to wash luxury fibre.

cashmere scarves

Cashmere deserves careful attention, so if you’re not washing it by hand, then machine-wash it on a hand-wash cycle, or a delicate wool setting.  Stick with a cold wash, or at least keep the temperature below 30 degrees, and if possible, use a special detergent intended for delicate items.

How to wash a down jacket or parka

Beneath its rugged exterior, a down hiking jacket or parka is filled with a fluffy insulating material.  This means you can wash wone by following a lot of similar guidelines to pillows or doonas.

576px-Men's_black_PVC_down_jacket_01Source: Wikipedia

A gentle hand-washing or a machine wash on a delicate setting should be the order of the day, followed by a light squeeze to remove excess water before drip drying, or a tumble drying on a low heat.  Make sure there’s plenty of air flow through the lining to ensure that it dries properly!

How to wash denim

The question really should be “SHOULD you wash denim?”.

769px-Denim_texture_03 sourcE: Nikodem Nijaki on Wikimedia Commonssource: Nikodem Nijaki on Wikimedia Commons

There’s a sizable contingent of folks who say that denim jeans fit, feel and look best when they’re never washed, which lets the material shape itself to perfectly fit your body.

The usual counterargument is that intentionally not washing your clothes is really gross, and can lead to germs and odours building up in the material.

Smeg FAB denim fridgeThere’s also SMEG’s denim fridge to consider…

Some people reckon you can kill off germs in your denim jeans by sticking them in a bag in the freezer, but science is not on their side – a freezer’s temperature will only make germs hibernate until they’re warmed up again.

If you do choose to wash denim, turning your clothes inside out first will help prevent fading and white creases from forming.  If your denim jeans are new, you might want to wash them separately for the first few washes just in case the colours run.

How to wash gym clothes

Clothes that you’ve been sweating in require some extra attention to keep clean and ensure they last for longer.  It’s often worth washing your smelly gym gear separately in order to keep all that sweat from mixing through with your nicer clothes.

Running-shorts-black source: Clemens Pfeiffer on Wikimedia Commons

To get rid of the sweaty smell, a little vinegar should help (seriously, that stuff can pretty much do anything).  Lighter clothes may need a little baking soda to deal with the sweat stains – apparently bleach just makes them worse, due to the chemical reactions involved.  A hot wash is also great for killing germs.

Don’t put your workout shoes in the wash, either – it’s bad for both the shoes and the machine.  Instead, stuff them with newspaper or cotton wool to absorb any moisture, then attack the outside with a toothbrush, and maybe a little soap and water.

You might want to think about washing the bag you use to carry your gym clothes as well.  Who knows how much sweat it may have absorbed?

How to wash a gi (martial arts uniform)

Much like gym clothes, a martial arts uniform or gi usually sees a lot of action, and thus requires some special care to keep one looking pristine.


You’ll want to wash a white gi separately to your colourful clothes, in case any colours run – nothing’s more awkward than a pink karate uniform.

Wash in cold water, so that any stains (such as sweat, or after some particularly… intense training, blood) aren’t set into the fibres by the heat.

If possible, try to avoid using harsh chemicals to clean your gi – this can weather the material, leading to it wearing out faster.

How to wash inside your ugg boots

Uggs are wonderfully warm in the winter, but their woolly lining can also be quite absorbent, which can become problematic once your sweaty feet have spent some time habitually lounging inside the things.

534px-Uggs2source: wikimedia commons

Opinion is divided as to whether ugg boots can or should be machine-washed.

Sheepskin uggs can resist small amounts of water, but more than that could start to affect their material.  It may be best to turn them inside out and wash them by hand, just in case.  If you’re willing to risk it, stick with a gentle Wool setting to provide the best care.  And avoid detergents, as the chemicals can be rough on the sheepskin-leather.

Faux-fur uggs may be able to take a bit more punishment, but you should probably still stick with a delicate cold-water setting to prevent hot water from melting the artificial fibres.

How to wash leather

Leather is a pretty tough material and should last a long time, provided it’s well cared-for.

800px-Leather_jackets source: Sekmous on Wikimedia Commons

You probably want to avoid sticking your leather jackets (and for all you rock stars, leather pants) in the washing machine, as this could lead to extra wear and tear.

Instead, treat the tough leather exterior with a specific leathercare product and/or oil, and hand-wash the material lining.

How to wash onesies

Once solely the fashion of choice for the under-fives, the onesie has seen something of a renaissance in recent years, with roving bands of terry-cloth animals and cartoon characters becoming a semi-regular sight on nights out in the city.

Washing-Your-Kigurumi-Onesie_1_largeSource: Kigurumi

A big part of the fun of a onesie’s appeal comes from just how ridiculously baggy it is, so be sure to avoid anything wash techniques that could lead to shrinkage.

Use a cold water wash, and avoid a hot dryer cycle (if you must, use a cool air drying mode).  You might want to stick with a delicate cycle as well, as onesies aren’t renowned for their ruggedness.

How to wash pashmina

“Pashmina” is a name for both a type of material (essentially a lighter, finer cashmere) and a garment such as a scarf or shawl.


Either way, pashmina is delicate, and should be cared for following the same guidelines as cashmere – it’s also made from a type of goat hair.

How to wash soft toys

Adorable plush toys beloved by babies can get pretty gross after extended play and/or dribbling.  Proper cleaning and care really depends on what materials they’re made from – check their labels to see if they have washing instructions.


Remember, any toys containing metal, batteries/electronics, moving parts such as eyes, or cardboard inserts (usually found giving shape to hands and feet) can’t be safely washed in a machine.  Wipe these gently with a damp cloth instead.

To machine-wash a soft toy, follow our advice for pillows and make sure the wash load is balanced, as the stuffing may get heavy when soaked with water.  In most cases, it’s best to wash on a cold cycle to prevent dyes from running or materials from shrinking.  A soft wool cycle should be good for anything fluffy.  Use fabric softener if you want the toys to turn out extra-soft, but beware that some fabric softener residues can irritate sensitive baby skins.

If the toy has sewn-on buttons or eyes (or eye buttons), place it inside a pillowcase or delicates bag in case they come loose.

If you’re confident with a needle and thread, you might be able to open up the back of a soft toy, remove the stuffing, and launder the skin on its own, before sewing Teddy back up once he’s dry.

Share your cleaning questions and tips!

Got your own miracle cleaning tips for one of the above topics? Need some advice on cleaning something unusual yourself?  Let us know!

Mark joined Appliances Online in November 2011 and has since learned more than he ever expected to know about appliances. He enjoys looking for new and unusual ways for to solve everyday problems using typical household appliances. When he’s not toiling at the desks of Appliances Online and Big Brown Box, he tries to find time to write the next big bestseller and draw satirical cartoons, but is too easily distracted by TV, music and video games. Mark’s favourite appliance is the Dyson Groom Tool, as he loves the concept of vacuuming your dog. Google+

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