Natural fibres and natural cleaning methods. It sounds like the perfect cleaning combination. But as each natural fibre needs a slightly different cleaning method when it comes to washing day, what needs to be done for what?
Cotton: The most common natural fibre and one of the easiest to wash – assuming that it’s pre-shrunk. Cotton can stand very hot or boiling water – assuming that it has no elastic – and can handle most cleaning methods – machine wash or hand wash. Cotton is the easiest fabric to dye and is thus the easiest to stain. However, it responds well to all natural stain removal methods without melting like some artificial fibres do. Cotton sheets and towels can become a little harsh and scratchy if not rinsed properly. Get the final bit of soap residue out of your sheets and towels by adding about half a cup of vinegar to the final rinse instead of artificial fabric softener.
Cotton often needs ironing. Drying cotton clothes on a washing line or drying rack (clothes horse) and hanging them up on hangers as soon as possible minimizes creases. If you need to iron cotton items, you can do it with the iron on high.
Cotton can be prone to mildew if left lying around damp for too long. For white cotton, dabbing lemon juice on the spot and putting the item in strong sunshine should remove the mildew. To remove mildew from coloured cotton, dab the site with vinegar and allow to dry. Then wash as normal. You may need to scrub the mildew spots slightly with a soft toothbrush.
Wool: This needs a bit more delicate treatment and should not be stretched, wrung or exposed to high temperatures. Your best bet is to wash it by hand in warm water using soap gel, but you can get away with using the wool setting on your machine. Adding vinegar to the final rinse (plus some essential oil, if desired) will get rid of the last traces of soap and will help the wool stay soft and fluffy.
Dry woollen items flat or else they will stretch out of shape.
Woollen clothes can get attacked by moths. However, moths hate lavender essential oil, so tuck sprigs of dried lavender in stored woollens, or else spray the items with a blend of distilled water and lavender essential oil (about 15 drops of oil to about 500 ml water) shaken together and stored in a plant mister (you can buy ready-made lavender room spray or linen spray from a good chemist).
Silk: Silk looks delicate, but it’s not as delicate as you might think, and it does not need dry cleaning. Dry cleaning should be avoided as much as possible, especially for items worn close to the face or other sensitive areas (i.e. silk underwear). It is best to hand wash silk using warm to cool water and soap gel, preferably soap gel made from castile soap. Rinse in cool water. Silk should be dried flat, if possible, or draped over a washing line or clothes horse – do not peg them, as the pegs will damage the silk.
If you have to iron silk items, set the iron on low. However, the slightly wrinkled, crushed look of silk can be part of its charm and “look”.
Multicoloured silks that are not colour-fast should be spot-cleaned by rubbing soap very gently over the dirty spots, followed by rinsing the spot. This will stop the colours bleeding into each other.
Leather and suede: Leather and suede can be hand washed in cool water, followed by rinsing twice in fresh water. Dry leather and suede items flat, preferably away from direct sunlight and definitely not in front of a radiator or heater. After the item is dried, it will need to be softened again. For suede, this can be done by squeezing, rolling and twisting the item in your hand until it becomes supple again. For leather, as well as the twist-and-roll method, the leather can be softened by wiping it sparingly with a little olive oil – this also restores the gloss of leather.
Salt water is death on leather. If you get salt water on leather, soak the item overnight in a mixture of milk and water before rinsing. Then allow do dry as described above.