Caring for clothes, shoes and accessories

In an increasingly disposable world, CHOICE rediscovers the art of caring for jewellery, shoes, clothing and leather goods.
 
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01 .Introduction

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While price may influence the longevity of an item of clothing or accessories, there are several things that consumers can do to keep their items looking nicer, for longer. 

It’s important to consider how you’re going to protect your clothes, jewels and shoes before you wear them, and to think carefully about storage options and cleaning regimes. 

In this report you will find information on how to care for:

Clothing

In Australia, care labelling is regulated under a mandatory national standard. The standard covers clothing and goods made from textiles, plastic-coated fabrics, suede skins, leathers and furs. Manufacturers must provide information on appropriate and adequate care of the article, which when followed will not cause damage. 

However, as CHOICE discovered during our investigation into drycleaning, labels are not always accurate. In addition, Jo-Ann Kellock, CEO of the Council of Textile and Fashion Industries of Australia (TFIA), says many consumers don’t read care instruction labels properly.

Philip Johns, CEO of the Drycleaning Institute of Australia (DIA), agrees. “We don’t expect the consumer to know about care labelling, [though] we are pleasantly surprised when they check the label.”

According to the DIA, “there is some risk involved in using any care process not recommended by the manufacturer. Hand-washing involves manual removal of soils with water, detergent and gentle squeezing action.

“A care label that calls for machine washing, in a delicate or gentle cycle, indicates that the soil can be removed with water, detergent or soap, slow agitation and reduced time in a washing machine… [washing clothes incorrectly is] in violation of the care label instruction and places responsibility on the cleaner rather than the manufacturer.”

Clothes marked “dry-clean only” can shrink, change colour or lose shape if washed with water. Clothes that ought to be hand-washed only may do the same when dry-cleaned.

Robin Monkhouse is a costume lecturer at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA) who has more than 10,000 pieces of clothing under his control. “You have to decide whether something can handle a washing machine, even on a gentle cycle,” she says. “If I’ve got something very delicate that I don’t want to get torn or ripped I’ll hand-wash it, but it’s time-consuming.”

For a list of care labels you might see while out and about, check out Drycleaners Web. And for information on how best to clean different types of fabrics, Kellock recommends visiting Garment Care.

Cold storage

The oft-quoted adage is that we wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. By that logic, a lot of our clothing is spending a lot of time in the wardrobe.

Kellock believes “clothing shouldn't be treated like a disposable item” and recommends a common-sense approach when deciding whether to fold or hang up items. “Some things stretch on a hanger and others crease a lot if folded.”

According to Monkhouse, the key is keeping down the number of clothes in your closet. “If you have too many clothes and they’re all stuck close together in there, that’s what pests love.”

For clothes that do need to be hung up, Monkhouse says it is important to use the right type of hanger. “For special clothes, I use a very good wooden hanger. If I’m hanging up something fragile I put wadding on the hanger so the garment sits quite lightly.” She says that for some pieces, it’s worth investing in a good garment bag. “They’re good for wedding gowns, something you won’t wear again but want to keep – but they are expensive.”

Monkhouse also points out that wool and silk are particularly susceptible to pest attacks. “Funnily enough, the more expensive and high-quality the wool is, the more moths love it – such as cashmere, for example. They prefer dirty fabrics. If your fabrics are clean, it’s much harder for them to destroy.

“If you haven’t cleaned something properly or if there’s sweat residue, that’s where they’ll go. Moths particularly love the crotches of men’s woollen period suits! If I haven’t opened up a suit for a while that’s where they’ll start eating, so we dry-clean everything and I move things around. I get the moth ball satchels as well, which I hang on certain areas where I know moths hang around.”

 
 

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Coatings are applied to leathers to increase their stain and wear resistance. 

According to accessory retailer Mimco, “the principle of good leather care is to maintain these coatings for as long as possible. When allowed to build up, grime, dust, body oils and food stains can break down the coatings, which may change the condition and appearance of your leather item.”

Caring for leather goods, such as shoes, bags and jackets, is a multi-step process – protection, cleaning, conditioning, and adequate storage.

Before applying any leather protection products, it is important to understand there are several different types of leather, with differing properties and needs. Some are treated to make them water-repellent, while others, such as suede, absorb water. These absorbent leathers should be treated with a protective product to improve water and stain resistance, though in some cases this can darken the leather. To find out what type of leather your shoes are made from, check with the sales assistant or log on to All About Leather.

Water-resistant leathers can be cleaned by wiping their surface with a damp cloth or very diluted soapy water solution. Coloured shoe polishes can cover a multitude of sins, such as scuffs. Suede can be cleaned by brushing dirt and grime with a suede brush, or by a professional shoe repairer.

Leather of all types should be stored in breathable material rather than in plastic. If a leather item has become wet, hang it to dry naturally, away from direct heat.

Sometimes, a leather product will need to be professionally cleaned. In this case, the UK-based BLC Leather Technology Centre recommends seeking the help of a drycleaner with specialist skills in leather. 

“Dry-cleaning is a complicated process where important oils are removed from leather during dry-cleaning. Normally these oils will lubricate the leather fibres, keeping them soft, but their partial removal can leave garments feeling firmer and lighter in appearance after dry-cleaning. The drycleaner therefore needs to put oil back into the garment after cleaning to soften the garment and bring it back (as near as possible) to its original feel and colour.”

Shoes

You get what you pay for when you’re buying shoes, according to leather shoe specialist Gido Theilig. “Longevity of shoes is related to the materials used to construct it. Cheaper shoes will use cheaper components that won’t naturally be able to withstand strenuous conditions. Good leather conditioning products can help to ensure longevity, but this is closely related to the price point of the shoes to a degree.”

As with all leather, the process of caring for shoes starts even before you first wear them, according to Theilig. You should apply a protecting balm onto your shoes, but first identify the specific type of leather used (see above).

“It is important to identify the type of leather that makes up the shoe,” says Theilig. “Products such as water and stain repellents are ideal for nubuck shoes, whereas most other shoes should ideally be treated using a conditioner that has particular characteristics. Applying the correct product prior to wearing shoes will set the stage for the weeks and months to come.”

Clean your leather shoes regularly with a brush for absorbent leathers, such as suede, or a damp cloth for water-resistant leathers. After brushing or washing, apply a suitable conditioner to ensure the leather stays soft, has water-resistant properties and maintains a good finish.

On the nose

Sweaty, smelly shoes can be unpleasant, to say the least. And according to Theilig, products promising an end to smelly feet are not the answer. “In my experience, products on the market that supposedly 'freshen up' shoes wear off rapidly.”

The key to preventing the olfactory assault lies in purchasing quality products and regularly alternating shoes. “Cheaper shoes will be made with synthetic components that don’t absorb perspiration readily, preventing uptake and distribution of the perspiration,” says Theilig. “So feet literally swim in their own perspiration, especially in the warmer months.”

According to Ian Hadassin, CEO of the Jewellers Association of Australia, people forget that jewellery is fragile. “They take it for granted and think it can withstand almost anything, but jewellery can be damaged if it is not cared for properly. We appeal to consumers to look after their jewellery.”

Gold jewellery

Gold items get scratched, particularly those that are worn every day. Hadassin says gold rings and bracelets – bangles in particular – are most susceptible to being damaged. “If you’re wearing a bangle or a ring you’re going to be knocking it occasionally, and that’s going to scratch the gold, which is not very hard.” The only way to fix scratches is to have the jewellery polished, taking off a very fine layer of gold, by a professional every couple of years.

White gold is a different story. Because it doesn’t tend to be particularly bright, most is rhodium-plated. As a result, Hadassin says the plating on a ring or bangle may come off within three to five years. “It depends on the quality of plating." 

As much of the white gold sold in Australia is imported, how much you pay for your jewellery and where it comes from can make a difference.

Because they don’t tend to get knocked about as much, necklaces and earrings don’t require polishing, and cleaning is usually sufficient. “You can often rinse it in soapy water and dry it off with a soft towel and tissue,” says Hadassin. “Depending on the type of jewellery, you can clean it yourself.”

Precious and semi-precious stones

Precious and semi-precious stones have varying characteristics and may suffer from incorrect care. Diamonds and many other stones are relatively easy to clean with a toothbrush dipped in soapy water. However, turquoise, amber, coral, and opal doublets and triplets should never come into contact with water. Hadassin also warns, “Water can affect glue. Any stone that is glued into place in an item of jewellery [as opposed to being held in place by metal claws or a bezel] should not come into contact with water.”

You can also take diamond pieces to a jeweller to be steam-cleaned or placed in an ultrasonic cleaner. But according to Hadassin, “you have to be very careful with some coloured stones because they can’t take the heat”. 

Amber, emeralds, garnets, jade, opals, pearls, peridots and rubies should never be put into ultrasonic machines or steam-cleaned.

Stones set in jewellery can be vulnerable, and as a result jewels can fall out and get lost. Hadassin says settings should be professionally checked every one to two years in rings and bracelets, as gold can wear down, pieces might be bumped or scraped and settings loosened as a result.

Jewels vs perfume

Jewellery and perfume don’t mix well; you should apply perfume before putting jewellery on. “If you wear a lot of perfume, rinse off or wipe jewellery after you’ve worn it because it could affect the stone and even gold,” says Hadassin. Pearls and perfume are a particularly bad combination. “Perfume affects pearls quite badly, and once damaged they can’t be repaired. If you’re wearing a pearl necklace, don’t wear perfume on your neck. Every time you take off a pearl necklace, you should wipe it gently. Gold you can always repair and diamonds are quite hardy, but if perfume starts to eat into a pearl, you have to replace it.”

How to store jewellery safely

Jewellery can last a long time if well cared-for and thoughtfully purchased. However, “you can’t expect items that have moving parts which rub together to last a lifetime,” says Hadassin. “For example, necklaces with links will rub together and get thinner and thinner, and if they start out extremely thin, they won’t take long to wear through. Thick links last longer.”

Jewellery can be stored in zip-lock plastic bags, tissue paper, or their original gift boxes. “Don’t let jewellery rub against other jewellery. Stones can be scratched, and diamonds in particular will scratch other stones.”

Costume jewellery

Costume jewellery can be particularly susceptible to damage, as plastic, glass and wood tend to be less hardy materials than precious metal and stones. It should be stored in a dry location without direct sunlight.

To prevent oxidisation and discolouration, metal jewellery can be stored in zip-lock bags. Costume jewellery should also be kept away from perfume. To clean, use warm water and a cloth or toothbrush, and ensure the piece is dried thoroughly before being stored.
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