blue fabric draped in a bowl

What Fabrics Can You Wash?

It seems like every time you have to do laundry there are that confusing few minutes while you read labels and try to decipher which fabrics go in what loads. Let’s break down each common type and go over the general guidelines for them.

blue to brown tone fabrics in a row


Cotton, a plant-based material, generally resists shrinking (unless it is 100% cotton). To wash, pretreat any stains, wash in warm or cold water, and use a general detergent. Best to air dry, but if not, dry on low heat. It doesn’t need anything more than avoid high heat and it will last for quite a while.

Linen is a plant-based material like cotton. That’s where the similarities end though. Linen is easy to wrinkle, easy to shrink, and can be a chore to maintain. Never put it in the dryer unless on no heat. Use cold or warm water to wash, never hot. After it air dries, it will need ironing as well.

Synthetic materials generally won’t shrink although they will get quite a bit of static buildup. High heat can also permanently wrinkle some of the synthetic fabrics, so keep them on a low heat drying cycle.

Dry-Clean/Hand Wash Fabrics

delicate colorful fabrics

Rayon is made out of wood pulp and chemicals, so it is kind of semisynthetic. The best ways to take care of rayon are either dry-cleaning or hand washing in cold water. If ironing is needed, only when slightly damp.

Silk is made from the fibers a silkworm spins. It is very light and durable, although it doesn’t like the washing machine. It is best to dry-clean silk. Hand washing is okay as long as it is in cold water. Keep in mind that it isn’t always colorfast. The colors may bleed, so test in an inconspicuous place and if it passes, wash by hand. Lay flat or hang to dry.

Wool is not meant to be washed in a conventional way. Hand wash in cold water or dry-clean so it doesn’t shrink. Wool will shrink down to the size of doll clothes if washed and dried in the hot heat. 

Overall, the instructions on the labels of clothing will be your guide to the proper washing mechanics. Follow these steps and your clothing will remain in good shape.