Is Your Washing Machine Ruining Your Clothes?

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Doing laundry; it isn’t glamorous, but it plays a part in how we present ourselves in our wardrobes, at home, at work, and at large.  Is your approach to doing laundry actually harming your clothes? If so, what can you do?

Well, one thing to do besides thinking about how often the clothes are washed, is to think about washers and dryers in general, and how we use them.

Fashion expert and writer Adria Saracino is here to address the issue of how to wash our clothes without doing them undue damage, helping us to extend the lifespans of our favorite outfits.


Whether we realize it or not, we spend a lot of money on our wardrobe. Some of us have thousands upon thousands of dollars of clothes and shoes in our closet!

Since we spend so much money on our appearance, it’s important to make sure our wardrobe lasts as long as possible. That includes following the directions on clothing tags and storing our items properly.

However, what if we are already doing all of this? Some of us separate our clothes religiously and make sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions to a tee. Yet, our clothes still become ruined or don’t last as long.

The culprit might be your washing machine itself. Whether it is a hidden glitch in your appliance or an innocent procedure gone wrong, your washing machine could be shortening the lifespan of your garments. Here, we’ve outlined some of the little-known reasons your washing machine may be ruining your clothes.

First, stop washing your clothes so much

In a society obsessed with cleanliness and hygiene, it may be second nature to wash a garment the moment you take if off. However, excessive washing can speed up the natural degradation of your clothes. So before you throw it in the wash, consider if you really need to or if you can wear it again. Items you don’t need to wash consistently include denim, suits/blazers, sweaters, cardigans, and skirts.

Okay, you need to wash it. But do you need to dry it?

We know this article is talking about the washing machine. But it’s important to consider exactly what you are throwing in the dryer.

The dryer is infamous for shrinking clothes. Excessive heat does more than just visibly shrink your garments, though. It also breaks down the fibers in clothes, making items fade and lose their elasticity. This is most pronounced in dark colors (fading) and elastic materials, such as spandex. Thus, consider air drying dark colors and items with elastic fabrics, such as leggings or gym pants. This will help keep the structure and color of your clothes.

Excess detergent left in clothes

Sometimes detergent is left behind after we wash our clothes, usually unbeknownst to us. Why is this a problem? First, excess detergent can cause allergic reactions on your skin. Second, it breaks down the fibers in your clothes. Powdered detergents can make your clothes stiff, while liquid detergents can cause fading. Thus, it is really important to make sure your clothes come out of the wash detergent free.

How do you do this? First, only use the recommended dose of detergent. This is especially important for high efficiency appliance models. Second, make sure your agitator is working properly. This is the appliance part in your washing machine that tosses and tumbles your garments during a wash load.

According to this appliance repair infographic by PartSelect Appliance Parts, a defunct agitator is one of the most common problems found in older washing machines. Since this is relatively inexpensive ($15) and easy to fix, check your agitator annually to make sure everything is in good working order.

stains appearing on clothes AFTER washing

Fabric softener is one of the biggest culprits behind random stains that appear on your clothes after you take them out of the machine. Fabric softener is often oil based, so if you use too much or don’t put it in at the precise time during the cycle, it can leave stains on your clothes. To prevent this, make sure to follow the directions on your fabric softener bottle exactly, or avoid using fabric softener altogether.

Those stains might not only be caused by something you are putting into the machine. Another way stains can appear on your clothes is from rust that accumulates in your washing machine. To avoid this, make sure to periodically check your washer and use appropriate rust-remover enamels when necessary.

Already have a mystery stain on your clothes? HowStuffWorks takes you through removing fabric softener stains.


Thanks, Adria!

Adria Saracino is the Head of Outreach at Distilled, an online marketing agency. When she’s not talking to interesting people on the web, you can find her talking about Seattle style on her personal fashion blog, The Emerald Closet.

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Cate Morgan-Harlow

Cate Morgan-Harlow is an all arounder, writing about how-to, DIY, and design with gusto. She is a shadowy figure with a mysterious past.