Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Disregarding care labels

I recently completed a small project about label laws for my textiles class. As part of the project I had to examine the labels from a garment made of two or more types of fiber. I needed to explain what the information on the labels means. I also had to assess the care instructions to determine if they are appropriate.

A brief search of my closet turned up some shirts, a sweater, and two pairs of bicycle shorts that met the fiber requirements for the project. The shorts contained some synthetic fibers I have not learned about yet, so I did not use them. The sweater had the most interesting combination of fibers. It contains cotton, acrylic, and two other synthetic fibers, but I was unable to use it. I have never washed the sweater, so I cannot comment on its care instructions. No, I do not have a dirty sweater in my closet. It has never been washed because it has never been worn. That left me with a choice between a cotton/rayon shirt and a cotton/polyester shirt. Both have been worn and washed a lot, but only the cotton/poly shirt has been ironed, so that is the one I chose. Had I picked the cotton/rayon one my responses would have looked the same. I have not followed the care instructions for either one.

Care instruction labels never attracted my attention before this semester. I knew to separate whites and darks, and to not use the higher iron temperatures on synthetic fabrics, but I never considered a temperature setting other than high for a washing machine. For white shirts I set dryers at medium temperatures, but for all other items I used the highest dryer temperature setting. In the Laundromat dryers 12 minutes at high heat costs the same as 12 minutes on low heat. Other than a few white shirts that were slightly singed by dryers on high and one olefin carpet that should not have been ironed, none of my textile products have been damaged by my care. (Ink stains from pens left in pants pockets in the wash don’t count.)

The care labels for both shirts advise me to wash cold, dry low, iron warm, and use only non-chlorine bleach. The cotton/rayon shirt is dark blue, so I do not bleach it, but the white cotton/poly shirt is always washed with a large dose of chlorine bleach. The cotton/rayon shirt is dried at high heat, and the cotton/poly at medium. Both shirts are washed at high heat. My iron is set near its highest setting for the cotton/poly shirt. Neither shirt has suffered any damage from my aggressive care.

It seems to me that care labels are overly restrictive. I found labels recommending low heat settings for 100% cotton shirts and pants. Before taking my textiles class I did not know that rayon is easily damaged by heat, yet my two 100% rayon shirts have survived multiple hot washings without harm. I treat my dry-clean-only garments correctly, but why must I treat my machine-washable items so gently? I suspect manufacturers exhort us to exercise such caution in how we wash our garments in order to avoid responsibility for the routine wear and tear that garments experience. I will continue to disregard most care labels, and I will accept the blame for any damage to my clothing in the wash.

1 comment: