2008 December 1

We all have favourite T-shirts, polo-shirts, sweatshirts or hoodies, and we all know that the more you wear the clothing you love best, the faster it fades, stains, and becomes stiff. When times are tough, keeping our cotton clothing looking great for as long as possible becomes a real priority.

The harsh truth is that the frequency with which you wear and wash a tee-shirt or polo-shirt, determines its life. The more often you wash it, the faster it will age. Hand washing a garment, particularly a small one like a tee shirt, is an effective way to lengthen its wearable life, and using the gentlest possible washing liquid (not powder) and not wringing or stretching it, can all help. But it’s not only washing that shortens a shirt’s life – the way you dry it can halve or double its lifetime. A tumble dryer takes years off a cotton garment’s life, hanging it on a washing line or drying it flat will both help prolong its existence.

Many garments, particularly white ones, are prone to different forms of staining – and it can be a real temptation to splash bleach on a favourite white sweatshirt or hoodie that gets marked, but bleach can really shorten the life of cotton fabrics, so using it more than once or twice over the lifetime of a piece of clothing can actually make the fabric ‘rot’ or develop holes.

White t-shirts, and especially polo-shirts, tend to turn yellow around the collar – this is because the combination of sweat from the body and naturally produced oils will congregate at certain points (the armpits are another, and wherever the body moves a lot, (like the neck or upper arms) these fluids get ground into the fabric.

If your white cotton clothing yellows a lot, consider a couple of alternatives – the first is to change your hair products, as some treatments make the hair more oily than others and this can cause the yellowing.  The other alternative is to apply a mild anti-perspirant to the back of the neck!

You can use a stain spray before washing white cotton shirts that have yellowed, but make sure the spray does not contain bleach.  The spot treatment should be left on the fabric for at least ten minutes.

Black cotton clothing will tend to fade, and this can be addressed by washing it inside out, at cool temperatures and using products that are not biological, as that can strip colour.