Clothes come in a variety of different fabrics, each of them requiring different care throughout the laundry process. This is particularly important in commercial and on-premise laundries, as you’re caring for other people’s clothes, while also trying to run a laundry efficiently.
There are a range of traditional materials which are still very much used today, including cotton, linen, silk and wool. More modern fabrics that are commonly used include rayon and viscose, polyester, elastane, and nylon, most of which are synthetic materials derived from crude oil. It is estimated that synthetic materials make up 65% of all fibres used in today’s fashion industry, and that percentage is expected to keep increasing.
Each fabric has their own advantages and disadvantages. Natural fibres are absorbent, have a smaller impact on the environment and are very durable. However, they require more delicate care, can be pricey, and sometimes absorbency may not be a benefit, depending on the occasion. Synthetic fibres, on the other hand, are more cost effective, stain resistant and water resistant, even waterproof. But synthetic clothes don’t age near as well, can lose their shape and colour quickly, and are made from fossil fuels, meaning they take up to 200 years to break down.
Here’s a list of some of the most popular fabrics used in today’s clothing, as well as how to look after them in the laundry. You’ll find some have similar care instructions and could be washed together. Another important note, is that when washing garments with blended fabrics, always treat the fabric as if it is composed entirely of the most sensitive fibre.
It’s a good idea to refer to AS/NZS 4146: 2000 Laundry Practice standards, which outlines how to treat specific materials, as well as how to achieve thermal and chemical disinfection.
Cotton is one of the world’s most popular materials, making it the most important non-food crop globally. You’ll find it in all types of linen, from towels and bed sheets, to jeans and t-shirts, underwear and more.
Cotton is generally a hardy and durable fabric. It prefers colder water temperatures in the washing machine. It’s critical not to over-dry cotton, in fact you could take them out of the dryer still damp, allowing the remaining moisture to evaporate on its own.
Silk is a highly luxurious and incredibly valuable fabric. The material is spun from the threads that line the cocoons of the silk worm, which explains why silk is so delicate. To wash silk, it requires handwashing in cold water or dry-cleaning. Too much heat when washing and pressing will damage the fabric and cause yellowing. Also worth noting is that silk should never be spot cleaned for stain removal. It is best to wash the entire garment during stain removal.
Linen includes fabrics such as flax, hemp and nettles, and have been used by humans for thousands of years. Linen is known for its breathability and is perfect for wearing in hot weather. It is similar to cotton when it comes to the care that is required. It prefers a cold wash, with a gentle cycle. Unlike cotton, linen actually gets better with each wash.
Wool is a traditional protein fibre that primarily comes from the Merino sheep. It is very warm and therefore worn in colder climates. Wool prefers to be handwash but can be machine washed on a gentle/delicate cycle with a wool specific detergent. Some woollen garments can be tumble dried, but not all garments, so be sure to check the care label.
It should be noted that for wool, due to its sensitivity to heat, disinfection is not obtained through temperature but detergent (chemical disinfection) instead.
Viscose is a cellulosic fibre, its most common material form is rayon. Viscose is made from natural resources such as bamboo or trees and is known for its flexibility. It has the ability to take on the properties of other materials, including linen, wool and silk. However, it is not very sturdy. To care for viscose in the washing machine, a gentle spin should be used with cold water, using a mesh washing bag with the garment turned inside out. Handwashing is also an option.
Interestingly, Nylon was developed during World War II as an alternative for silk and hemp parachutes. It has high stretchability and is found in clothing items such as stockings, swimwear, and sportswear. When washing clothing items made from nylon, avoid using hot water. Nylon has a thermoplasticity which means heat will distort the fibres. For the same reason, it is better to air-dry nylon, or use a low heat setting for the dryer.
Polyester is a synthetic polymer fabric that is developed from crude oil, or more recently, recycled plastic. It’s very affordable to produce and purchase, and is probably the easiest fabric to care for. It can be machine-washed in warm water, and tumble-dried at a low temperature setting. Like nylon, it has a thermoplasticity to it, and should avoid excessive heat.
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When it comes to caring for specific fabrics and running an efficient commercial or on-premise laundry, it is best to make use of your machine’s cycle and chemical programming. Below we have included an extract example from the AS/NZS 4146: 2000 Laundry Practice standards, which outlines what is required to clean cotton and nylon effectively while caring for the individual textiles. It can be a little confusing to the untrained eye so don’t hesitate to reach out to the team at Aqualogic. We can help with any questions, additional laundry training, and we will be able to set your commercial laundry machines up for the best programming in order to look after your fabrics while still achieving thermal and chemical disinfection.