A Beginners Guide to Machine Washable Fabrics

Bridget Reed
Thu Oct 28, 2021

Two girls wearing matching blue and black starred tie dye dresses.

Do you stare at your pile of laundry, wondering which pieces are fine to throw in the washing machine and which you will have to have dry cleaned? Well, wonder no more!  So many fabrics labeled “dry clean only” can actually be washed right at home. Ultimately, the more you know about proper clothing care, the longer your favorite pieces will last.

PixieLane is here to help. Not only do we carry a wide inventory of clothing and accessories for the whole family, but we’re also dedicated to sharing information and support on care and cleaning, so you can hang onto your clothes for a long time to come.

Which Fabrics Can Be Washed in a Machine? 

It’s important to know what fabrics can be washed and what shouldn’t be tossed in with the rest of the laundry. This will help you to pick out the best pieces for your family and ensure that everything in your wardrobe is properly cared for.

These are some of the most commonly used fabrics that you can wash in your machine:


Cotton is extremely forgiving and very easy to clean, making it perfect for families with busy kids. The one important thing you want to remember is that cotton shrinks when exposed to hot water, especially if it’s 100% cotton.

So, make sure you wash your cotton clothing with cold water. It’s also important to separate your colors because cotton will stain if lights are washed with darks or brights.


Polyester washes well in the washing machine, but like cotton, it’s best to wash on warm or cool, rather than hot. That’s because polyester can actually melt when exposed to high temperatures. When washing polyester clothing, you also want to turn the pieces inside out to reduce shedding or pilling. If your polyester clothing had a set-in odor, you could soak it in a vinegar mix before machine washing.


Nylon is another type of synthetic fabric that fares well when cleaned in a washing machine, though you can also wash nylon by hand. It’s best to wash nylon on cold because it is a relatively delicate fabric, and you want it to last.  


Spandex can be cleaned easily in the washing machine, which is good considering how often it’s used for athletic gear. In addition to washing your spandex on the cold setting, it’s best to turn the item inside out and to wash it in a mesh washing machine bag.

This will help it to maintain its elasticity, which is a key feature of the fabric. The delicate is the best setting for spandex.

Which Fabrics Shouldn’t Be Washed in a Machine?

It’s also helpful to know which fabrics can’t be washed in the machine at all.

These are the materials you’ll want to bring to the dry cleaner or wash by hand:


Linen shrinks easily, which is why it’s best to wash your linen clothing by hand with lukewarm or cold water. Add fabric softener, if possible, so the water is as gentle as possible on the linen. Hang to dry immediately because linen wrinkles easily.


Rayon is also very prone to shrinking, which is why you want to avoid the washing machine. You can dry clean or hand wash rayon, depending on the type of garment. Check the label because the washing instructions for rayon will vary.


The best way to wash silk is very gently. Some silk garments will indicate that it is dry clean only, but if not, you can wash your silk in a gentle bath of cool or lukewarm water. Make sure you’re using silk-friendly detergent, and only keep it in the water for a few minutes.  


Thankfully, we don’t need to wash our sweaters very often, but it’s best to dry clean them or wash them by hand when you do. Wool shrinks easily in the washing machine, and it causes pilling and shedding as well.

Use a detergent designed for wool garments and turn your sweater or leggings inside out before submerging in slightly warmed water to wash.

How Should I Wash Athleticwear? 

One type of garment that can be difficult to wash is athletic wear.

Here are a few things to know about washing your specific gym clothes:

Active Leggings

You can wash leggings in the machine, depending on their materials. Use the delicate setting and keep the temperature low. If you’re struggling to remove a scent, a short vinegar bath can help.

Women’s Leggings

Most leggings are made out of materials that can go through the washing machine, but it’s best to use a mesh bag to keep the band elastic and to wash them on cold and delicate, so they don’t shrink.

Women’s Sports Bras

Some sports bras can be machine washed, and others should be soaked in the sink. Always avoid drying your bras in the dryer, and allow them to air dry instead.

Active Shorts

Similar to long, active pants, you’ll want to consult the materials list when washing shorts. Either wash on cold and delicate in the machine or hand wash in the sink.

How Can I Avoid Running Up My Dry Cleaning Bill? 

Running a household is all about being clever with finances.

You can save money on your dry cleaning bill with these simple steps:

Buy Washable Items

Always check the materials on your clothing before you buy, so you know it’s easy to wash. At PixieLane, all our collections are machine washable because, as moms, we know our kids can get dirty quickly.

Handwash What You Can

Many materials are dry clean or hand-wash. Opt to hand wash your clothes when possible.

Invest in a Steamer

A steamer will help you to get your clothes wrinkle-free, so you can skip the dry cleaner in the future.

Get To Know Your Washing Machine

There are many settings on your washing machine for different types of clothing. The more you know, the easier it will be to care for your clothes right.

When In Doubt, Check the Label

The most important thing you can do when taking care of your clothes is to learn how to read the label. This will provide you with insight into the materials used and the best washing process, so you don’t have to guess.

Here at PixieLane, we carry clothes designed to make your life easier. Explore our growing catalog of products and check out our guides to clothing care and maintenance.



How to Clean and Care for Cotton Clothes | The Spruce

Everything You Wear is Athleisure | The Atlantic

How to Read Laundry Symbols | Real Simple

Nylon: A Revolution in Textiles | Science History

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