Care label is first guide to clothing maintenance IN STYLE

November 26, 1992|By Isabel Forgang | Isabel Forgang,New York Daily News

Some clothes act like a magnet for stains. No matter how careful you are, you end up wearing breakfast, lunch and dinner.

As clothing and dry-cleaning costs climb, it may pay to tackle some of those spots yourself. Here's how.

Your first guide in clothing maintenance is the garment's care label. It tells you if the fabric is safe to wash.

When the label reads "Dry Clean Only," you probably should do just that. A garment made of a washable fabric might have a dry-clean label because washing could ruin the embellishment, the lining or cause the color to bleed.

Still, there are times when it's safe to depart from the "dry clean only" guidelines, say experts. But you have to know what you are doing.

Colorfastness is a problem, says Steven Holtzer, owner of Penn House Dry Cleaners in Manhattan.

"Test the fabric. If you plan to wash a silk shirt, for example, put some hot water on a handkerchief or white towel, then rub vigorously on an unexposed seam allowance. If color transfers ,, from shirt to cloth, you'll lose some color during washing and you're best off dry cleaning."

The heat, moisture and agitation of washing causes shrinkage. To be sure your clothes remain the same size, follow these guidelines.

WOOL -- Wool is difficult to wash without shrinkage. Use cold TC water, mild detergent (no acids or alkalis), minimal agitation, then air dry.

SILK -- Despite the dry-clean-only label, silk is washable. It may lose some sheen from immersion in water, but it can be partly restored by ironing, says Mr. Holtzer, who teaches fabric care at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

RAYON -- Wash with care -- or your rayon things will shrink. Also, water weakens the fiber and you can ruin a blouse if it soaks too long or there is too much agitation. Hand wash gently in cold water and air dry.

ACRYLIC -- It stretches and does not snap back into shape. Wash in a net bag to minimize agitation.

When in doubt, don't wash, especially if the garment is expensive.

"I go by price," says Dan Eisen, chief garment analyst for the Neighborhood Dry Cleaners Association. "Some wool sweaters can be washed, for example, but I wouldn't wash an expensive one. It will have a harsher hand, and multiple colors may bleed."

"The number-one problem in stain removal is customer error," reports Mr. Holtzer. Customers often make the stain worse, he explains. They use water on an oil stain and rub it in an effort to get the spot out, all the while driving the stain deeper into the fabric.

Club soda, a popular stain remover, is also troublesome, he adds. "If the club soda has sodium in it, it will damage silk fibers and dyes."

Always blot a wet stain with a clean, absorbent napkin. If the stain is water-based (coffee or fruit juice), water will usually dissolve it. Wash the garment by hand, using a little neutral soap. Hang dry, then press, Holtzer advises.

If the stain is oil-based (butter, salad dressing or gravy), sprinkle it immediately with cornstarch or talc to absorb as much as possible. The longer you wait, the more of a hold the stain gets on the fiber.

Then take the garment to the cleaners, the sooner the better. Dry-cleaning solvent is designed to remove grease and oil, explains Mr. Holtzer.

"Supermarket solvents are relatively safe for most washables and synthetics such as acrylic and polyester," Mr. Eisen says, "but they can damage silk dyes and microfibers."

To complicate matters, stains such as mustard and ketchup are combination stains, both water and oil-based.

You can take the wet side out of such a stain by washing, but then there's the oil-based part to deal with. In these cases, it's safest to leave the problem to the dry cleaner.

To find a good one, ask around and look for diplomas from dry-cleaning schools and membership in a dry-cleaning associations.

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