- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Q: I purchased a velvet dress for the holidays. Can you give me some tips on caring for it properly?

A: People spend hundreds of dollars on their party clothes and are often hardest on these garments. Spills, splashes and other party-time mishaps as well as wear alone can take their toll on these expensive items.

Many formalwear garments are made of luxurious fabrics such as taffeta, moire, satin, organza, metallic prints, silk and velvet. Each of these fabrics requires care in both wear and cleaning. Shake spills from velvet and allow it to dry. Do not blot or apply any pressure in damp areas. Wear underarm guards whenever you can. Perspiration can disturb dyes and cause permanent damage on many of these fabrics.

Taffetas and velvets also can be crushed easily. Hang in a well-ventilated closet; do not place in a bag. Crushed areas on taffeta may be difficult or impossible to remove. Crushed areas on velvet may be improved by lightly brushing with a soft brush. Do not press velvets. Instead, hang the garment in the bathroom and steam it to remove any wrinkles.

Remember: Perfume, deodorant, hair spray and makeup all can be damaging to these fabrics. Treat stains immediately to avoid damage. Blot stains; do not rub.

After the party is over, remember to have your formal wear cleaned before storing in cool, dry and dark places. Do not store in plastic bags. If in doubt, consult your professional dry cleaner.

Q: Can you give me some tips on caring for my formal holiday garments that have delicate beads?

A: Beads on many outfits are made of polystyrene, which usually will dissolve in perchloroethylene dry-cleaning solvent. Search for a dry cleaner who uses petroleum or, if suggested by the care label, wash. If you think there may be a potential problem, have your professional cleaner test the garment for clean-ability and colorfastness.

If your outfit is made of satin (especially smooth satin), taffeta or a metallic fabric, be extra careful, as these are especially susceptible to abrasion damage and snagging. Take care when wearing jewelry or around rough edges.

Q: I have an antique linen tablecloth that is a family heirloom. I want to use it for special occasions, but I am unsure if it can be cleaned if someone spills on it.

A: Many linens are special, especially when they are gifts or heirlooms handed down from generation to generation, and many families like to use these during the holiday season. Unfortunately, even on holidays, people have “accidents” and spill food and drinks. As a result, knowing how to care properly for your linens becomes especially important.

Your dry cleaner may not be able to restore previously damaged heirlooms, but careful cleaning can help prevent more damage. Whether you take an heirloom item in to be cleaned before or after use, let the cleaner know the age, fiber content and even how it has been stored. This will help determine the best cleaning methods.

If you choose to clean an heirloom yourself, limit yourself to hand washing only. Inspect the item for damage and test for colorfastness before proceeding. Hand-wash using warm water and a mild detergent; rinse thoroughly and air dry.

Q: I love wearing my festive sweaters during the holiday season. Can you give me some tips for keeping them in tip-top shape so they always look their best?

A: Sweaters also are one of the most popular gifts for the holidays. Because sweaters and other knit clothing can stretch, shrink and pull, it’s important to check them before you by them. Check the seams of knitted sweaters for unraveling and fraying because damage to these areas can get worse with each cleaning.

Sweaters should always be folded for storage because the weight of the fabric may cause the garment to stretch. Sweaters also come in a variety of fibers, including acrylic, angora, cashmere, chenille and wool, so be mindful that they all require different cleaning.

Always follow the care label closely to prevent shrinkage and either lay the sweater flat to dry or, if it’s recommended by the label, tumble dry at a low temperature. As with any wearable garment, make sure you keep the sweater clean and treat stains right away. The chances of a spill becoming a permanent stain are less if the spill is blotted immediately and then removed professionally.

Brush sweaters or shake out after wearing to free the garment of surface soil. If a wool sweater gets wet, let it dry at room temperature away from the heat, then brush with the nap to restore the original texture. Place folded sweaters over padded hangers in a well-ventilated closet or place in drawers.

Chris Allsbrooks is an affiliate board member and spokeswoman for the FabriCare Foundation. She has 13 years’ experience as a textile analyst in the International Textile Analysis Laboratory of the International Fabricare Institute in Laurel. Send questions to: info@yourclothingcare.com.

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