Resist the urge! Even when you are frantically late and you slip on that freshly laundered – but not ironed – organic cotton shirt or bamboo skirt and the wrinkles jump out like the back side of the moon, don’t even think the thought that maybe you could just ever so quickly iron out the more visible areas while just standing there. Some people obviously have given in to the impulse which is why corporate liability lawyers now place the warning prominently in their operating manuals. Never mind that anyone who would try such a clueless feat would also never, ever read an operations manual.
While ironing and pressing are the avenue of last resort to remove wrinkles from natural fiber and organic clothing, you do have a laundry basket of options which can greatly reduce or eliminate wrinkles from your clothes before they ever reach the ironing board. Here are some of the best.
In the store. The wild, woolly world of wrinkling woes begins in the store or recycled and pre-worn clothing shops. Not only do some fibers wrinkle more than others but some fabrics and weaves also so a greater propensity for wrinkles. If wrinkle-control is a big issue for you when shopping for new or recycled natural fiber clothing:
- Choose fabric weaves that are more immune to wrinkles like knits for cellulose fibers such as cotton, hemp, bamboo and Tencel / lyocell.
- Silk is a notorious wrinkler, but some silks are less prone to wrinkling. Chose silk crepe de chine, habotai, noil and charmeuse silks to tame the wrinkle monsters. Ahimsa silk – also known as Peace Silk because the silk worms are allowed to live and are not destroyed as they are for conventional silk – is also reputed to be more wrinkle resistant.
- Because of the elastic nature of wool fibers, wool fabrics are less likely to wrinkle … but they still can and do. Worsted wools are more tightly woven and more resistant to wrinkles while loosely woven woolens are more prone to wrinkling.
- Tightly woven garments with a high thread count are less susceptible to wrinkling. This is true for most fibers including organic cotton and the cellulose-derivatives like bamboo, Tencel / lyocell and modal.
In the laundry room. Here is where the real wrinkle-trouble blossoms. Many people – myself included – have laundry habits that maximize the potential for wrinkles. Besides blooming wrinkles, the laundry room also has a huge impact on the size of the environmental footprint created by clothing.
We have written a handful of posts about the environmental, ethical and health impacts of the clothing industry – including the time in the laundry room. The study “Well dressed?” from the University of Cambridge in the UK discovered that electric and gas clothes dryers use about 60% of the “use phase” energy consumed to keep clothes clean, ironed and pressed. Many advocate the use of clothes line drying indoors or outdoors to reduce the use of electric and gas clothes dryers. The excellent sustainable blog Green Living Tips has several articles exploring ways to incorporate clothes lines into the laundry lives of house and apartment dwellers. Originating in Australia and oozing with Down Under sensibilities, GreenLivingTips.com is definitely worth visiting frequently.
Washing machines use large amounts of water and energy to heat the water. The new high efficiency (he) washers are a significant environmental improvement that uses 50% or more less water, energy and detergent than conventional clothes washing machines.
Regardless of the type of washing machine or if you line dry or tumble dry, there are steps that you can take in the laundry room to win the war on wrinkles. Remember that it is heat and moisture that feed those wrinkle appetites so learn how to use them to deflate those wrinkle tendencies. Here are some tips:
- One popular home remedy is to add one cup of white vinegar to the final rinse of wash cycle. The white vinegar can be added to the fabric softener reservoir. This is supposed to help eliminate static cling and wrinkles. The theory is that the white vinegar helps keep the fabric fibers soft and flexible so that wrinkles don’t set into the fabric.
- As soon as the last spin cycle of the washing machine finishes, remove the clothes immediately - don’t let them sit in a big damp clump. Take out each garment individually, shake it out to remove all the twists, and place it in the dryer or hang it on a clothes line.
- When using a tumble clothes dryer, don’t stuff your dryer so that clothes are unable to open up and dry evenly. If your clothes dry in a wad, all those wrinkles will be trapped in the fabric. Some people suggest adding five or six tennis balls to the load. The tennis balls will help prevent the clothes from clumping together which will keep air flowing over all surfaces of the clothes. This will also help reduce the time to dry. The tennis balls will make some additional noise as they tumble around but they won’t cause any harm to the dryer drum or to the clothing.
- Remove clothes from the dryer as soon as they are dry. Leaving clothes tumbling in a hot dryer after they are dry just bakes in wrinkles … besides creating the conditions for shrinking and increasing static cling. This also means that a dryer load should contain fabrics of a similar weight so that they dry in roughly the same amount of time. Don’t plop a couple of heavy bath towels, which will take a long time to dry, in a dryer with light cotton shirts, which will dry more quickly.
- Hang or fold clothes as soon as the clothes are dry and removed from the dryer. Don’t leave them in a big heap in the laundry basket waiting to cool down. Remember about the glass transition temperature? When clothes cool down, the cellulose polymers will slip below their glass transition temperature and they will tend to retain whatever shape they are in. If they cool down in a crumpled heap, they will look it.
- If you are hanging clothes on a line to dry rather than using a tumble dryer, give each garment a good shake and smooth the fabric when placing on the line to dry. The smoother the clothes when hanging them, the less wrinkles after they dry.
- When drying on a line whether outside or indoors, a breeze blowing on the clothes will not only help them dry more quickly, but will also help remove stiffness and give a softness to the fabric. When line drying indoors, you can even use an electric fan to create a breeze on the clothes. The motion will keep the fabric fibers flexible as they dry which not only helps prevent wrinkles but gives a softness to the fabric. This is also one of the effects of the tumbling action in clothes dryers.
- For 100% bamboo fabrics, line or flat drying is generally recommended. Tumble dryers can cause 100% bamboo clothes to loose their shape and even shrink.
On the ironing board. After choosing your fabrics wisely and laundering correctly, if there are still wrinkles that you must flatten, then the electric steam iron is your trick of last resort. The steam iron combines the two primary factors in wrinkling – heat and moisture – to undo wrinkling.
Wrinkles will generally fall out of woolen fabrics if left to hang overnight, especially if they have been lightly steamed. Warm steam will help the tight, crinkly wool fibers to relax and loosen. If the woolen clothes are hanging, the weight of the garments will naturally pull most wrinkles out if left to hang overnight. For stubborn wrinkles, use a steam iron set to the wool setting which should provide a light, moist steam. Tips for ironing woolens:
- Don’t iron woolens when they are totally dry;
- If possible, iron the back side of the fabric to avoid a shine. If you must press the visible side of the woolen fabric, use a press cloth or thin towel on top of the fabric;
- Lower and lift the iron when pressing rather than sliding the iron back and forth.
In the closet. The battle against the wrinkle doesn’t end in the laundry room. When hanging clothes in the closet, give them a little room to hang. If clothes are tightly smushed together then any creases or twists will effectively get pressed back into the clothes. Shirts are best hung on plastic or wood hangers (not metal like the ones you get from the dry cleaners) and pants are best using clamp-style hangers on the bottom cuffs.
While traveling or other occasions when clean clothes become wrinkled. The travel wear industry has a firm foundation in fashioning clothing that travels easily … and wrinkles hardly … through a combination of wrinkle-resistant weave, fibers and chemical support. Travel wear is often the intersection of fashion and easy care garments which often depends upon blends of natural fibers, regenerated cellulose fibers and synthetic fibers such as polyesters, and upon chemically enabled permanent press fabrics. We’ll talk more about this because it is central to many health related clothing issues. Here are tips for how to smooth out wrinkles in clean clothes during traveling or even at home.
- Hang the wrinkled clothes in the bathroom while you take a hot, steamy shower. You will need to balance this with the sustainability issues of taking hot, steamy showers … but then issues of balance are frequently woven into sustainability. When your shower is finished, gently stretch your clothes by hand to pull out the wrinkles. Let them cool down and dry while hanging before wearing or folding them.
- If you have access to a dryer, toss the clean clothes in tumble dryer with a wet sock or wash cloth for 10 minutes. The wet sock or cloth will provide the moisture and the tumble dryer will provide the heat and motion to coax out the worst of the wrinkles. Or, instead of using a wet sock, you can use a spray bottle and lightly spritz the clothes before putting them in the dryer.
- Travel accessory companies like Magellan’s sell clothes steamers that are priced at about $30. They are relatively light (generally less than 25 oz.), compact and can be used while traveling or at home. The Jiffy Steamer is an excellent brand manufactured in the US since 1940 and produces a wide range of clothes steamers for home, business and travel. The reality is that a clothes steamer is much more effective that a hot, steamy bathroom and probably has a significantly lower environmental impact.
A clothes steamer works best on wool suits and slacks. The hot steam relaxes the crinkly wool fibers and the natural weight of the garments as they are hanging pulls out most wrinkles. The wrinkles in many types of silks will melt away with a little bit of steam … except for smooth finish silks like charmeuse which respond better to a warm iron. Steam, either from a clothes steamer or electric steam iron, works well on cotton fabric but often leaves spots or rings on 100% bamboo fabrics. Oh, yes - just another reminder to not be wearing the clothes that you are trying to steam.
During the day … or evening. OK, it is possible to become totally crazy and completely obsessive / compulsive about wrinkles. Personally, I believe that there is no reason to disturb your composure or wa over a few random creases in your clothing. Keep things in perspective. But if you are one of those people who feel that a little inconvenience or even discomfort are worth the price of peace of mind knowing that your appearance is smooth and unrumpled, then these tips are for you:
- When sitting for more than a few minutes, remove sports jacket or suit coat and hang, don’t toss over the back of a chair. Never place a suit coat in the overhead compartments of an airplane. Ask the flight attendant to please hang in a closet for you. Unless you are in business class, you will either receive a cross look or hysterical laughter.
- When sitting, don’t pull up trouser legs slightly to give a bit of room. Rather, as sitting, pull trouser legs down to remove excess fabric. Excess fabric behind the knees or in the seat is a prime opportunity for wrinkling.
That smelly, toxic elephant in the china closet. The topic of permanent press clothing will soon force its way into any discussion about avoiding and removing clothing wrinkles. We will explore the technology and health concerns of permanent press clothing in the next post. Stay tuned…