Although automatic washing machines and dryers have removed much of the misery of doing laundry, someone still has to sort it, load the clothes into the washer, select detergent and water temperature, move the clothes to the dryer, fold the dried clothes, and press some garments. In other words, it's still a chore.

The multitude of fabrics and special care instructions can make the job even more complicated. In this article, we provide guidelines and hints on how to care for your favorite clothes that are made from natural fabrics -- including cotton, linen, silk, and wool.

Cotton

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Cotton fabric is strong, long-wearing, and absorbent. It will shrink and wrinkle unless it is given special treatment. Cotton is often blended with other fibers or treated with a finish to make it wrinkle-resistant. It is available in a wide variety of weights and textures.

  • Machine-wash and tumble-dry cotton fabrics, using a water temperature ranging from cold to hot, depending on the manufacturer's care instructions, and an all-purpose detergent.
  • If needed, chlorine bleach can be used on white or colorfast cotton unless a fabric finish has been applied. Do not use more than the recommended amount of bleach; this can damage the fibers.
  • Use a fabric softener to improve softness and to reduce wrinkling, but be aware that fabric softener makes cotton less absorbent and should not be used on towels, washcloths, or diapers.
  • Iron cotton with a hot iron for best results. Use spray starch or spray sizing to restore a crisp appearance.

Linen

Pure linen fabric wrinkles easily, so many manufacturers make linen blends or add wrinkle-resistant finishes to overcome this problem. Linen is absorbent and comfortable to wear, but it can crack or show wear at the seams, along the creases, or on the finished edges of the garment.

  • Machine-wash and tumble-dry linen. An all-purpose detergent is the best cleaning agent.
  • Chlorine bleach can be used on white linen, following the manufacturer's recommended amount.
  • Press with a hot iron while the fabric is still slightly damp for the best results.

Silk

Silk is a delight to wear, but it requires special care. Most silk garments are marked "Dry-clean Only," but some can be washed by hand. Always test a corner of the fabric for colorfastness before washing a whole article made of silk. Some dyed silk will bleed.

  • Use a hair shampoo containing protein and warm or cool water for hand-washing. The protein in the shampoo feeds the protein in the silk. Handle washable silk gently during washing; never twist or wring it. Hang silk out of direct sunlight to dry.
  • Press silk while it is still damp with a warm iron (below 275 degrees), or use a steam iron.

Wool

Wool fabric is highly resilient, absorbent, and sheds wrinkles well, but it will shrink and mat if exposed to heat and rubbing. It is popular in both knit and woven fabrics. Wool fabric textures range from fine wool crepe and jersey to felt and mohair.

  • Woolens (except felt) should always be dry-cleaned unless it is specifically marked "Washable."
  • If the garment is washable, allow it to soak for a few minutes before starting the washing process. Use only cold water and a gentle cycle.
  • Handle woolens carefully when they are wet to avoid stretching. To remove excess moisture, roll a wool article in a towel, then block it into shape and dry it on a flat surface.
  • Clean felt by wiping it with a dry sponge; for a more thorough treatment, hold the material over the steam from a teakettle, brushing lightly with a dry sponge or lint-free cloth to smooth the surface. ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.To clean felt, hold the material over the steamfrom a teakettle and brush lightly with a dry sponge.
  • Machine-dry woolens only if the manufacturer's instructions recommend it.
  • Press wool with a hot iron, using lots of steam. Cover the article with a damp cloth.
  • Allow any wool garment to dry thoroughly before storing it.

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