Although some home textiles don’t have care labels, manufacturers are required to list the fiber content, which can provide useful clues. Many of these things are slow to dry, but the process will go faster if “you shake out the items so they’re not in a wet wad before you place them in the dryer,” says Sandra Phillips, a cleaning consultant and the author of A Clean Break.
Nonwool blankets can usually be machine-washed on gentle with cool water and all-purpose detergent. Check for colorfastness first. Rinse with cold water; tumble dry on low or line-dry. With wool, dry cleaning is often the safest bet. If you have the patience for hand washing such a heavy piece, use a mild detergent in cold water. Lay flat and dry completely before using the dryer’s air setting to fluff it up.
Many must be dry-cleaned. Treat washable fabrics, like cotton, with a gentle touch, as the cloth has probably been weakened by months or―let’s face it―years of exposure to sunlight and dust. Launder separately with warm or cool water on the gentle cycle with mild detergent. Air-dry, then iron when slightly damp. To make laundering easier in the future, go over curtains with the vacuum’s upholstery tool every couple of months and wash every one to two years, says Steve Boorstein, author of The Clothing Doctor’s 99 Secrets to Clothing Care.
Clean small cotton and synthetic rugs, and bath mats and doormats with thin latex or rubber backings, by themselves in cold or warm water on the gentle cycle. To get a thorough cleaning but minimize wear of the materials, use half the recommended amount of all-purpose detergent, then air-dry. You can also spot-clean these and other rugs with a foam carpet cleaner, such as Resolve High-Traffic Foam (from $7). Let a pro handle large carpets made of wool or plant fibers, like sisal and jute, as well as valuable and antique pieces.
Tablecloths and Napkins
“These items are exposed to a whole range of stains,” says author Steve Boorstein. “Butter, coffee, oil-based, water-based―it’s all on there.” Soak heavily soiled items in oxygen bleach, then wash with all-purpose detergent in hot water. Since it’s hard to detect oily marks on wet cloth, let pieces air-dry (heat from the dryer may set stains), then look at them under bright light. If spots remain, turn to a pro. “Water in most machines gets up to only about 110 degrees on the hot setting, which isn’t enough to remove most grease stains,” says Boorstein.
Slipcovers and Cushion Covers
Some materials should be treated by an upholstery cleaner; others can be dry-cleaned if the manufacturer recommends it. Many are not preshrunk and often have backings that may be damaged by home laundering. If the piece is made of linen, cotton, or a synthetic fabric and you are certain it is preshrunk and colorfast (ideally, ask the salesperson when buying), you can machine-wash it, separately from other articles, on gentle in cold water with all-purpose detergent. Air-dry or tumble dry on low, then reposition the cover on the furniture or the cushion when slightly damp. This will help with the fit if there has been any shrinking.
Wash sheets made of cotton, flannel, synthetics, bamboo, or modal (which is created from beech-wood pulp) once a week in hot water with all-purpose detergent to help kill germs. Dry on low. Wash linen, silk, and sateen-weave cotton on gentle in cold water with mild detergent. Don’t dry-clean if you’re especially concerned about removing allergens. Dry on low or air-dry.
Clean plastic and cloth curtains (including those with plastic backings) on gentle in warm water with all-purpose detergent. When washing plastic curtains, add a few soft items, such as socks, to absorb some of the force during the spin cycle and prevent the material from ripping. Air-dry plastic curtains; follow care labels for cloth ones.