How to Wash Clothing and Fabrics Successfully | Sew Simple Home
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How to Wash Clothing and Fabrics Successfully

One of the biggest fears many people have when it comes to sewing is fabric care.  You've spent good money on some beautiful fabric and you want to make sure that you take care of your fabric and clothing in the best way possible.  Should you wash it before you sew?  Or wait until you have a finished garment?  Will it shrink?  How do I wash my clothing?  Should I use detergent or just wash it in water? Or should I wash my clothing by hand? All of these are valid questions when it comes to caring for fabrics.

This post contains affiliate links to products I recommend.  I do make a portion off any you may purchase.  See full disclosure here.

I remember one time buying some fabric I thought would be really great.  I loved the pattern and couldn't wait to start sewing.  I got it home, washed and dried it and was super upset.  It had once been a nice thick fabric and now it was limp and thin.  What did I do wrong?

Has this ever happened to you?  It can be very disappointing to purchase fabrics {or even clothing} that becomes ruined or looses something when it is washed.  Today we've come up with some tips that should help you know how to to wash your clothing and fabric.  Whether your buying fabrics for sewing and crafting or purchasing a new shirt, the care for your fabrics is the same.

Tip #1 Read the Clothing Care Label
Did you know that all bolts of fabric have care labels?  Yep.  At the end of the bolt you will see what the fiber content is of the fabric AND care instructions.  It might simply be "dry clean only".  But it will be there.  Make sure you check before purchasing.  Especially if it is a new to you fabric or a specialty fabric that should be handled with care or only spot cleaned.

Care instructions on clothing labels look a little different than on fabric bolts.  Most care labels will either list how to care for the fabric or may include fabric care symbols.

Fabric Care Symbols

Tip #2:  Always Prewash
Now that you can read the care instructions, you'll need to know whether you can prewash your fabric.  Many fabrics can be prewashed and should be.  In fact, many fabrics that say dry clean only can also be prewashed.  The manufacturers just put dry clean only because it is easier.  My rule of thumb is if I plan to wash after each wear, I prewash.


There are several reasons, but here are just a few.  Remember that story at the beginning of the post when my fabric went from thick to thin?  Well, my fabric was starched.  Yep, you know starch.  Maybe your Grandma use to use starch to stiffen her sheets or even protect her furniture.  Many fabric producers use starches on fabrics for easier production and to make fabrics more desirable.  Sometimes you can tell, other times you just have to wash it to know.  But you would be super disappointed in a skirt that was made with off the bolt fabric that got super thin after the first wash.

Another good reason to prewash is shrinkage.  Many fabrics will shrink in the washing and more importantly drying process.  If you sew before washing and drying, the likelihood of your project shrinking is extremely high.  Unless you are using a fabric like polyester which shouldn't shrink, but could melt if dried too high.

There are some exceptions to the prewash rule.  Like don't wash leather, suede, velvet or specialty fabrics.  If you would normally dry clean the end product, that is a good sign that you need to dry clean the fabric.

Tip #3:  Select quality detergents
Selecting a good cleaning products is an important part of caring for fabrics.  Detergents are designed to "scrub" your fabrics and clothing.  But if you are washing a delicate fabric, you may not want it to be scrubbed so much.  You also want a detergent that keeps the colors from fading or from leaving behind residue that keeps the fabric from having the right texture. 

One way to ensure your fabric stays fresh and keeps it's natural feel is to use a good quality detergent.  I like to use products I find from Grove Collaborative.  This company provides products that are safe for the environment, your home and especially for your family.  My children have sensitive skin and I have found that the products from Grove Collaborative have helped keep their skin healthy and cut back on things like rashes and eczema. Plus, they have tons of great smelling products that keep your clothes smelling fresh and clean.  {Best part, you can get free products on your first order like a hand soap, dish soap, kitchen spray and towel.}

The other product I often use during the first wash of my fabrics is a Color Catcher.  Now I will admit, some people swear that color catches actually cause certain fabrics to bleed more during the wash.  But personally, if I have purchased a dark red or blue fabric, I won't combine it in the wash with other fabrics.  That is a bad choice.  But adding a Color Catcher helps to pull out the colors so that the fabric won't bleed on the second, third, fourth, etc., wash.  I will often add vinegar to a first fabric wash as well.  Vinegar helps to set the colors and keep them from bleeding.  You can get inexpensive vinegar on Amazon or Grove Collabortive has vinegar as well.

Tip #4:  Press
I cannot say this enough but pressing your fabric and clothing is SO important.  

Yes, it is not a fun job.  

No, I don't always press my clothing.

But pressing really does make a difference in the look, feel and overall presentation of clothing.  Pressing your seams on your finished clothing helps set the stitching.  Which in turn, helps your clothing to last longer.  Plus, pressing your seams makes your final product look more professional and finished.

Don't have an iron?  I really like my iron because it has an automatic shut off.  Which means, if I walk away and forget about it, my little people won't accidentally grab a hot iron.  It is also a great quality iron.  You'll get a nice, crisp pressing and the iron gets hot enough to actually press seams nice and flat.

With these simple tips and tricks, you should be able to successful care for your brand new fabrics or clothing.  Just remember to start by reading the care labels and making sure you know what the fabric content is.  If in doubt, spot treat on your fabric to see how it takes water and soap.

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