fabric hanging on clothes line after washing

Complete Fabric Care Guide – by Fiber Content

Your complete guide to fabric care by material fiber content.

Find out the best ways to wash, dry and iron or press your fabrics, clothing and home decor items by fiber content.

Let’s first dive into the difference between fiber content and fabric type – they are different.

Fabric Type versus Fiber Content

There are times when these two may overlap but that is mostly because of our fabric terminology, lexicon or accepted fabric vocabulary.

For example, a fabric may be determined to be a cotton – meaning type – and it may actually be or probably is made of 100% cotton.

However, you may shop for a cotton-type fabric for a sewing project which may not actually be made from 100% cotton fibers – even though it has the properties and qualities of a cotton fabric.

There are many types of fabrics which are made with cotton fibers and generally they have a fabric type name associated with them. For example, cotton broadcloth, chintz (a home decor cotton fabric), quilting cotton, etc.

Same Fabric Type – Different Fabric Fibers

Some dress making fabrics can be of the type: charmeuse, brocade, jacquard or gabardine. All of these fabric types can have different fiber types.

You can find charmeuse fabrics made with both polyester and silk. Jacquard can be made with cotton fibers or polyester or acrylic fibers – as is the case with brocade.

All of this is simply to say that this fabric care guide is based on the fabric fiber content and not the fabric type.

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Identify Your Fabric

When you buy your fabric for your project, check the label for the exact fiber content and the washing, drying and care instructions – and follow them.

If the fabric does not include these specifications, you are on your own as to what the fiber content is. This means that not only will you have to decide if this fabric is the appropriate weight and texture for your project but, as well, you will have to figure out – on your own – how you intend to wash, dry and iron this fabric.

For people with allergies to certain fibers, this could be an issue – forgetting the care issues.

All in all, for the inexperienced sewer or crafter, choosing a fabric without specific fiber content and care instructions is not recommended.

For the more adventurous types, there are ways to determine fiber content of fabrics – to be discussed in another article.

Most of the time, the fabric you purchase will include the fiber content – at a minimum – and may also include care instructions. If not, find out here how to care for your fabrics and clothes – by specific fiber content.

We will consider the fabric fiber care in alphabetical order.

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Acrylic Care

A man-made material, acrylic is generally very easy to care for.

However, because it is made with shorter fibers, it can tend to pill – sooner than some other more natural fabrics – but, that is really a side note about acrylic fabrics.

Here are the things you need to know about caring for acrylic fabric.

  • Most acrylic items should be washed in warm water by hand. Squeeze out the excess water – do not wring. Smooth out the item and hang on a hanger to dry.
  • If the label states Machine Washable, wash your acrylic fabric using warm or cold water and machine dry at low heat. Remove from dryer immediately after once cycle is finished.
  • Knit acrylics should be lain flat to dry if not dried in the dryer – as they can stretch.
  • Acrylics can gather static electricity easily so use a fabric softener in every 4-5 washes – whether washing by hand or machine.
  • A word of warning: If you use fabric softeners or sheets more often, it tends to dull your fabric and clothing.

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Cotton Care

One of the most commonly used fabrics for everyday clothing, most people are probably familiar with how to care for and wash cotton.

Here are a few important tips which relate specifically to caring for and washing cotton for home sewing projects.

  • Most 100% cottons can be washed by machine at the regular cycle with cold, warm or hot water, and dried at a regular setting.
  • Use chlorine bleach only on whites and colored fabrics which have been tested for color retention.
  • High temperature iron settings may be used.
  • Wash cotton knits by hand to avoid excessive shrinkage and stretching.
  • Don’t assume that all cotton fabrics are colorfast – meaning the colors will not run. Test a small piece and if color runs, you can choose to have the item dry cleaned OR wash this fabric by itself at least until you notice that it does not run any longer.
cotton denim twill fabric
Denim – a heavy weight twill fabric – is mostly made from cotton fibers and hence, should be washed using these cotton care instructions.

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Linen Care

A fabric made from all natural fibers, linen is a very high end luxury fabric. It is generally a medium weight with a very soft touch. Linen can often have nubs which make it slightly less smooth but, it is still quite soft on the skin.

Flax natural colored linen fabric swatch
Linen is made from the large fibers of the flax plant – making it have a more open weave than some tighter woven fabrics like polyester or nylon.

Linen is also well known for wrinkling – but can be easily pressed with an iron or steamed to get rid of those pesky wrinkles.

I personally do not mind the wrinkles of linen so pressing it to me is almost a waste of time. I just live with them. Anyway…back to the washing care for linen…

Eileen Fisher washed linen cropped pants
Hopefully you can see the texture and drape of these 100% linen pants by Eileen Fisher. Yes, they may get some wrinkles during the day but, in my opinion, once you wear linen, you won’t go back.

Here are the necessary steps and tips for caring for linen properly.

  • Hand wash linen in warm or cold water and hang to dry.
  • Some suggest that you can wash linen in hot water and put into the dryer. With many of the linen sheet sets available today, this would be the care standard you could opt for.
  • However, if you have linen clothing, it is best that you hand wash or machine wash on gentle and hang to dry.
  • The reason for these gentle wash instructions is more for the integrity and shape of the garment as opposed to the linen fabric not being able to tolerate regular machine washing.
  • Another option for caring for linen garments is to dry clean them. This, again, will help to maintain the shape and silhouette of your garment, This is especially important for structured pieces like blazers and jackets.
  • Because the color of linen can fade over time, dry cleaning linen will also help in retaining the color of your garment.
  • Do not use bleach on linens. Bleach is an enemy of fibers – period. It destroys the fiber make-up leading to a weakness of the fabric. Weak fibers = weak fabric = potential wear spots or holes.
  • Only use bleach if you have a specialty bleach which claims not to destroy fibers.
Coyuchi linen duvet cover and bed sheets set
If you are lucky enough to be making or already own a linen duvet and sheet set, you may consider washing them in warm-hot water. Otherwise, linen fabrics are best either dry-cleaned or washed in cold water, gentle cycle.

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Nylon Care

Another man-made material made from nylon fibers, nylon tends to be very lightweight, wind and water resistant.

It is often used for outdoor wear and gear and is generally very easy to care for.

Columbia Nylon Womens Windbreaker

Here are some tips for caring for nylon fabrics.

  • Most nylons can be machine washed in warm or cold water and machine dried at a low setting.
  • Remove from dryer immediately when finished to avoid wrinkles which may have heat-set in the dryer.
  • If you need to iron nylon, use a low setting as nylon can easily burn with a high heat iron.
  • Nylon is another fabric fiber which tends to gather static electricity easily so you may want to supplement your washing or drying with some fabric softener or dryer sheets every 4-5 washes.

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Polyester Care

Polyester has come a long way since the 1970’s when the fabric was almost one dimensional – meaning there was one type of polyester fabric and that was it.

Today, many different fabrics can be made with polyester fibers. The fabrics are so varied that they are used in just about every application you can think of – from outerwear, tops, pants, skirts, and even in many home decor applications – upholstery, drapery fabrics and more.

Camel Tan Polyester Charmeuse Fabric
This polyester charmeuse fabric is perfect for clothing which drapes including blouses, skirts, dresses and even flowy wide legged pants – and is very easy to care for.

Because polyester is man made, it is fairly simple to care for.

Here are some guidelines for polyester fabric care.

  • Machine wash using warm or cold water. Many polyesters will not be hurt by hot water either.
  • Polyesters, like nylons, can develop heat-set creases or wrinkles so remove them immediately from the dryer once dry.
  • Use only a warm setting on your iron if your polyester requires pressing. Polyester can burn easily with a hot iron. If you need a hot iron for a crease, be sure to use a press cloth on top of your garment.
  • Polyester can be dry cleaned. However, some polyester prints can be damaged by dry cleaning.
  • Avoid drying your polyesters too much – especially knit polyesters. They may appear to have shrunk if over-dried.
Adrianna Papell Long Polyester Crepe Gown
This long gown by Adrianna Papell is made with polyester crepe – and even though it is a gown, it can be hand washed and hung to dry. You could even wash this on gentle in your washing machine and then hang to dry. The only reason you may want to dry clean this gown is to maintain the integrity of the design features such as the bows on the top shoulder area.

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Rayon Care

Rayon is a man made material but made with natural fibers – i.e. wood pulp.

Because it is made from wood pulp, it is a breathable fabric. It is also lightweight making it very comfortable for spring and summer dressing.

Rayon is generally inexpensive and also quite delicate.

Here are some tips for caring for rayon.

  • Dry cleaning is probably best for rayon if you want your garment to last a long time.
  • You can hand wash rayon in cool – warm water. Hang or lay flat to dry.
  • Do not wring or twist your rayon garment when rinsing. Rayon is very delicate and does not handle a lot of pushing and pulling of the fibers.
  • Be careful with rayon prints. They can often transfer colors easily – even amongst the same garment. Do not wash in hot water for this reason.
  • For color retention, you may want to wash your rayon fabric in cool water with some vinegar. The vinegar acts as a stay to help maintain the color fastness of the fabric.
  • Iron rayon on a low heat setting, using a press cloth.
Rayon Royal Blue Womens Blouse by BB Dakota
This pretty royal blue blouse by BB Dakota is made with rayon fabric. Depending on the wash instructions provided, I would recommend hand washing, gentle cycle wash or dry cleaning this blouse. Do not put this in the dryer.

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Silk Care

Silk threads are natural and one of the most luxurious fibers used to make fabric. The end resulting fabric is called silk.

Silk comes in many forms depending on how thick the fibers are, how they are woven together and how they are finished.

Almond Metallic Silk Shantung Fabric

At any rate, no matter what type of silk is the end result – whether that be Dupioni silk, raw silk, or silk charmeuse – it is a natural fabric desired all around the world for its breath-ability, luxurious textures and super soft feel and touch.

  • Dry cleaning silk is best.
  • Many silks can be washed – gently, of course. Hand wash or use your gentle cycle on your washing machine.
  • Do not twist or wring silk. Be gentle – your silk will last much longer if not tugged and pulled too much during the wash cycle.
  • Iron silk on a medium heat on the wrong side of the fabric or be sure to use a press cloth.
  • Do not use steam on silk as you risk water spotting.
  • Never use chlorine bleach on silk.
Rose Pink Matka Raw Silk Fabric
A nubbier version of a silk fabric is Matka or raw silk. This raw silk fabric is suitable for stiffer projects such as dress pants, straight skirts, and fitted blouses. It is also perfectly suited to many home decor projects. Depending on the item or garment, you can choose to hand wash or dry clean this silk.
Mens ties made from silk fabric
Most men’s ties are made from silk fabric cut on the bias. These ties should be dry-cleaned in order to maintain their shape and drape.

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Viscose Care

Viscose is very similar to rayon. It is a man made fabric made with natural fibers.

As such, the care for viscose is very similar to that of rayon.

Kensie Black Cocktail Dress Made with Viscose
This lightweight drapey black dress by Kensie is the perfect use of viscose. The viscose fiber fabric allows for lots of drape, lots of layers and flowing ruffles on the hem line and sleeves.

Here is how to take care of your viscose fabrics.

  • Viscose does well with dry cleaning.
  • It may be hand washed or washed on the gentle cycle of your washer.
  • Do not wring or twist when rinsing.
  • Do not use hot water or hot heat to dry.
  • Iron at low-medium heat on the wrong side of the fabric or use a press cloth.
  • Keep away from nail polish remover – acetone – as it will dissolve your viscose fabric.

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Wool Care

As with silk, wool is made from wool fibers to create the fabric we call wool. Wool comes in various forms, weights and finishes.

Cole Haan Pink Wool Wrap Coat
This wool coat by Cole Haan is what we may typically think of when we think of a garment made with wool. And while this is a very typical use of wool, there are man other types of fabrics made with differing sizes and textures of wool fibers.

The original fibers used along with the process used on these fibers will determine which type of wool the end result will be.

Most wool fabrics will require similar washing instructions and here are some of them.

  • Dry clean – period.
  • I could end the list here but, there are some wools which you can wash. I said some, not all.
  • Wool can be washed but, it will most likely shrink.
  • The ones you can hand wash or wash on the gentle cycle are those which state pre-washed or pre-shrunk on the fabric bolt label. Otherwise, they should be dry cleaned.

If you do wash your 100% wool sweater, it will most likely shrink and if you do this a few times, you will end up with felt – yes, wool felt. The wool fibers will condense into a much denser fabric that can be used for another project.

Teal Blue Silk Wool Blend Fabric

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Generic Fabric Care

  • Do NOT use hot water for washing your fabric or clothes unless it is for highly soiled items or kitchen was clothes, towels or bed sheets – for a couple of reasons.
  • Hot water washing uses a lot more energy than washing in cold or tap water temperature. So, unless you need a deep, deep cleaning, opt for a cooler water temperature and save some energy.
  • Heat alone can be damaging to fabrics – no matter what the fabric type. That heat can be hot water, a hot dryer, or a hot iron. Damage caused by heat can be shrinkage and even compromised fibers – meaning the fabric integrity will be weakened.
  • For ironing and pressing, if in doubt, always use a press cloth. It won’t hurt.
  • For serious pleating or planned creases, use a slightly damp press cloth. It will help make the crease a real crease.
  • To prevent color transfer, wash like color fabrics and clothing together. Do not mix lights with darks.
  • Man made fiber fabrics tend to build up more static electricity and therefore, may require using fabric softener or dryer sheets more often than natural fibers.
  • With any sewing project, wash your fabric first – exactly the way you intend to wash the item or garment when you are finished. You may need to do this more than once or twice.
  • This way, you will find out how the fabric reacts to washing. You can also note any fading and/or transfer of colors. And after a few washes, the color fading may subside so that you don’t have to worry about it anymore.
  • Shrinkage is another big reason to wash your project fabric first before starting. Some fabrics will shrink significantly – even after more then one wash. This is especially true for natural fiber fabrics such as cottons, cotton flannels, rayon, viscose, wool and linen.
  • If you intend to dry clean your finished project, only then you can skip the initial wash and dry cycle.

Love your clothes, love your fabrics, and love your sewing projects by starting out right, and keeping them looking great for years to come!

Let’s get started.

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