Separating washer loads keeps clothes in good shape

Q I know you wrote that men's proportions change over time, even when they don't specifically gain weight. I wonder if that is why some of my clothes are tighter than they were without my particularly gaining weight. Or might it be different sizing today or are the clothes shrinking in the wash? When washers say to use hot water for whites, I wonder if that will shrink underwear. Are there expectations I can/should have about how my clothes will fit after washing?

A You raise several good points, especially regarding how your laundering methods can affect your clothes. And, yes, if you want your clothes to continue to look good, it is wise to follow a consistent system for washing them at home.

A basic rule for longer life for your clothes is to separate your laundry into four piles: 1. Wash all whites together, 2. Wash all light colors together, 3. Wash all darks together and 4. Wash all reds together. Perhaps you will do a load of reds only once a month, but don't make the mistake of sneaking one red item in with your whites. Your favorite shirt could emerge as a pale shade of pink; it is more likely to come out a splotchy rose color.

Two other general rules are never to wash anything (no matter what the laundering directions say!) in hot water, and do not over-dry clothes in the dryer. Basically, both hot water and a hot dryer cause major shrinking.

Ideally, garments made of wool and cashmere should not be machine-washed and machine-dried. Hand washing and flat drying are best. (Or take them to your dry cleaner.) But if this is impossible or impractical, then machine wash them on "gentle," but allow them to dry lying flat or hung over a rod. The dryer can destroy elastic tops and shorten the life of socks, underwear and fine knit sweaters. It can shrink them as well. Another trick to protect a special garment is to place it in a zippered mesh bag before putting it in the washer. These bags provide extra protection for any item you are concerned about, such as something with decorative embroidery or metal grommets; they protect the item from the stress of the washing machine.

One of the least well-known (and best) laundry tips is to include in your load of whites a large, white terry cloth towel. Its rough surface will act as a surprisingly effective scrubbing device. In a similar way, I always enclose a small wash cloth in the zippered mesh bag when I am machine washing a favorite sweater.

Finally, to answer one of your specific questions, I don't think the problem is that manufacturers are sizing clothes differently these days, but rather that you are probably doing more of your shopping online, and thus not actually trying on the items you are buying. I strongly recommend that you try to find which manufacturers make clothes that fit you well; then make note of which of their sizes are right for you so you will know exactly what sizes to buy, and then be loyal and buy from them in the future. This will save you a lot of time and frustration. Another tip along similar lines is to pay close attention to which new items in your wardrobe you like a lot. Just as soon as you find such an item, immediately go back to the store (or online) and buy another one, either in the same color or in a second color. You will be glad you did!

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