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Six Clothing-Care Dilemmas, Solved!

Dilemma: To hand-wash or dry-clean your delicates

Should you take the plunge? Maybe, but do so at your own risk. Manufacturers are required to list only one safe cleaning method on the label, so while dry cleaning may give the best results, you may have other alternatives. But keep in mind that fabrics or linings may shrink, and colors and trims can bleed when your garment hits the water. Factor in the item's age and wear, use cold water and always spot-test before dipping, and never, ever wet-wash silk, wool, leather, suede, velvet with a label that says "dry-clean only," or garments with special trims or features that could be damaged by washing.

Dilemma: Pricey cashmere that pills easily

Unfortunately, the price you pay for a sweater and whether or not it will pill are not directly related. Even expensive garments pill if the yarns are poor quality and made from staple (short) fibers that break off and ball up, instead of filament (long) ones. To minimize pilling, wash garments inside out (if permitted by the care tag) and gently remove pills with a sweater shaver (like those made by Remington), or even a new kitchen scrub sponge. Skip sticky tape rollers, which can make the problem worse.

Dilemma: Dingy whites that have colored trim

Believe it or not, many mixed-color garments, like white sport socks with blue trim, can be whitened safely by using chlorine bleach. Follow label directions, spot-testing the bleach first, then add just the recommended amount. Don't use chlorine bleach on any item whose label clearly cautions against it.

Dilemma: A food drip on dry-clean-only fabric

Relax — there's no need to detour to the dry cleaner on your way home from the restaurant. Keep a dry-clean-only stain remover, like the Afta Pen, handy to tackle spots when you notice them. That said, it's still best not to wait too long before you bring the item in. Most dry cleaners can successfully remove a stain that's two to three days old. But past a week, even the best dry cleaners may not be able to completely erase the stain.

Dilemma: Black fabrics that fade

Just as whites don't stay white, black materials often fade to, well, off-black. This happens because the excess dye that's put on when the fabric is made so it looks really black in the store wears off quickly. Add to that a trace amount of chlorine in wash water and soon you're seeing gray. While there's no fix-it once it's happened, for new items, use detergents with anti-fade formulas. They contain ingredients that tie up chlorine ions in the water so colors stay true.

Dilemma: "No-iron" knits that need ironing

Even knits, that are supposed to be easy care (read: less work) can emerge from the dryer wrinkled and unpresentable. To avoid this, make sure neither the washer nor dryer is overloaded — cramming sets in creases, so never double up dryer loads. Also, choose a slower spin speed on the washer (so wrinkles on clothes aren't whipped in) and a lower dryer temperature, and remove items promptly when the dryer stops tumbling (clothes that are left to settle will also crease).

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