A woman in the process of doing laundry pauses to examine a worn-out white t-shirt

Keep Clothes Looking New Longer than a Movie Star’s Facelift

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If you want to keep your clothes looking new longer than Kim Kardashian’s latest relationship, start by understanding what wears them out. With clothing, the culprits are usually water, friction, and heat.

Luckily, a few adjustments to how you handle your laundry and clothes storage can work wonders to keep your favorite outfits looking fresh.

Why Clothes Stop Looking New

Clothes and people start looking old for similar reasons. For us, it happens when our skin gets thinner and drier, and become too fragile to hold its shape. The same thing happens with fabric fibers. Staying hydrated can help us delay signs of aging for a while, but water is one of the main reasons clothes wear out. 

When fabric gets wet, the fibers open up. This makes it easier for colors to fade because the dye can slip away. Also, wet fibers can break or split more easily. Drying shortens the fibers again but can also make them brittle

This cycle is known as “thermal stress” and, like all stress, it takes its toll. Then, your clothes may need a few cosmetic tweaks to revive them temporarily, at least. So your first step is protecting them from stress so they stay looking good longer.

Laundry Tips to Keep Clothes Looking New

Since fibers are fragile when wet, the best laundry practices protect them from friction and fading in the wash. So consider making these tweaks to your laundry routine to help your clothes keep their new look longer.

  • Set the dye on new garments before washing.
  • Fasten things that cause snags.
  • Sort!
  • Wash clothes inside and out.
  • Stick with cold water.
  • Use the right detergents and treatments.
  • Dry using less or no heat.

Set new clothes’ dye so they stay looking new

To set the dye on new clothes, soak individual items overnight in a sink of cold water with 1 cup of table salt (for cottons or linens) or 1 cup of vinegar (for all other fabrics). Rinse and air dry the item before you wear it.

This process helps the dye bind more firmly to the fabric fibers, so the color is less likely to leach or rub away in the wash.

Don’t skip sorting

Surprise, I’m harping about sorting laundry again! But if you want to keep your clothes looking new longer, it’s a must.

  • Sorting by color keeps vivid or dark dyes from making lights and whites dingy.
  • Sorting further by weight protects lightweight clothes from friction damage caused by heavier ones.
  • As for delicate items? Stick with hand-washing — most spin cycles are too rough for delicate fabrics.

Fasten things that cause snags

Fastening clothes helps keep them from snagging on other items in the wash. So, zip up any zippers and fasten the buttons on cuffs, collars and waistbands. Then skip every other button on the front of shirts and the tabs on camp-style sleeves. 

If you aren’t confident that hooks, clasps and snaps will stay closed in the washer, put the items in individual mesh bags or white pillowcases — they’ll get clean without snagging other things.

Wash clothes inside out

Hollywood isn’t the only place where appearances matter more than what’s inside. It’s true with your outfits, too, at least when you’re trying to keep clothes looking new.

That’s why it’s a great idea to turn your clothes inside-out before adding them to the washing machine. You’ll protect the outside from friction that can rub away dyes or cause pilling.

This is especially helpful to keep jeans from fading and protect the designs on graphic t-shirts, or anything with embellishments that might get caught on other garments.

Choose laundry products with care

The more vivid the dye, the more gentle the products you need to use. Yep, that means you might need more than one type of laundry detergent on hand.

For example, you’ll need one that’s designed specifically for cold water washing for most loads, but may want one that contains oxygen bleach to work in hot water cycles and disinfect underwear, socks, and towels.

Here are some other things to keep in mind to help your clothes stay looking new longer:

Dark and bright colors: Look for laundry detergents formulated to avoid fading. These usually contain a small amount of fabric conditioner that helps keep dyes from leaching. 

Remove stains with enzymes: Plant-based enzymes target the organic matter causing the stain to eliminate the mess without stressing the fabric fibers.

Brighten whites with oxygen: Chlorine bleach opens fabric fibers to brighten whites and release stains. This also strips the color and weakens the fabric. Oxygen bleach creates bubbles that break down germs and the organic compounds that cause stains, so they’re washed away more easily without wearing out your clothes.

Cold water washing makes clothes last longer

Hot water causes fabric fibers to expand and contract, which weakens the fabric fibers so your new clothes look worn out before they should. It’s like a rubber band that’s pulled and released too many times: eventually, the fibers give out. 

Heat also sets some stains by making them bond with the fabric. Things like blood, ink, and chocolate all have compounds that react to heat by clinging more tightly to the fabric. Then as the fibers cool or dry, they contract around the discoloration and make it part of the fabric’s structure. 

Use low or no-heat drying

Protecting your clothes goes beyond washing—dryers can be tough on them too. The heat and tumbling can shrink and fade your clothes, so skipping the dryer helps them stay new-looking.

No backyard or balcony? No problem. You can air dry clothes indoors on a rack. If you must use a dryer, opt for low heat and rely on the moisture sensor to prevent over-drying.

Pro Tip

Don’t let allergies make you skip line-drying. A 5-minute tumble through a no-heat dryer using the fluff cycle will knock off most pollen and send it back outside through your dryer’s lint hose.

The Case for Rewearing Clothes Before Washing

The less often you wash and dry clothes, the longer they’ll stay looking new. Most things that haven’t touched your pits, privates or pedicure can be worn several times before you need to toss them in the wash. And hey, who doesn’t enjoy doing even one less load of laundry? 

Now, don’t worry, wearing your clothes more than once doesn’t mean you’ve got to walk around smelly and stained. Follow these three steps to freshen clothes after wearing them and you can skip the wash.

  1. Spot clean spills: You can remove most food stains and soil with cool, soapy water and a white rag. Avoid heat for the reasons covered below.
  1. Eliminate odors: If you’ve been in a smoky environment or your outfit has that not-so-fresh feeling, a quick spritz with 50-50 water and white vinegar will neutralize odor molecules. 
  1. Let them air out: Spread your clothes over the back of a chair overnight or drape them over the arm of the treadmill in your bedroom that you aren’t using. This gives the fibers a chance to slowly contract after they’ve released your body heat, which helps them keep their shape.

Then, store them properly so they don’t develop permanent wrinkles or stretch out of shape.

Help Clothes Keep their Shape in Storage

How you store clothes when you’re not wearing can help keep them looking good. Here, your focus is on protecting them from gravity so the fabric’s weight doesn’t pull it out of shape.

Protect shoulders: Use padded hangers to keep the shoulders of your shirts and dresses from stretching out. 

Double-over pants: Drape pants over the hanger’s crossbar so there’s an even amount of weight to either side to avoid stretching. 

Avoid overcrowding: Give them room to breathe. Cramming clothes in closets or dressers can cause permanent wrinkling, plus the lack of air circulation promotes mildew

Quick Ways to Help Old Clothes Look New

Since fabric fibers wear out for the same reason our skin does, age eventually shows up on both. Obviously, you can’t plump up your favorite outfit with fillers and Botox. But if you’re not ready to let its true age show, here are some other cosmetic enhancements that can help.

Change the buttons: Shiny new buttons can give a garment a whole new look. Make sure they’re the same size so you don’t have to change the button holes.

A dye job: Refresh the existing color or change it completely with fabric dye. Follow the label’s instructions and don’t forget my tip above about setting the dye so the new color lasts.

Change the hem: Fraying hems make clothes look old but shortening them can change the whole look. No sewing skills? No problem! Use fabric hemming tape and an iron.

Stiffen the fabric: A small amount of starch, either in the wash or while ironing, can give worn-out fabric the heft it had when new. 

Soak away residue: If you’re a liquid fabric softener fan, buildup can make your clothes look dull and limp. To fix this, soak them overnight in a bathtub filled with cold water and baking soda to loosen the residue. After soaking, wash them in cold water with 1 cup of vinegar, but skip the detergent. This strips away any buildup without harming your clothes.

As any Hollywood star can tell you, cosmetic changes can only fix so much. So, your best bet to keep your clothes looking new is following the laundry tips I mentioned. Then, when time finally takes its toll, check out my tips for what to do with the old stuff.

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2 Comments

  1. I bought some sweaters & they are looking worn out quickly.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Make sure you’re washing them in their own load using cold water, a gentle cycle, and don’t fill the washer more than halfway to avoid too much friction.

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