I recently bombarded Barbara Harman, owner of the Butler’s Closet, with a slew of wardrobe care questions. You see, I had never heard of a clothes brush before I visited her Web store, which is devoted to wardrobe and furniture preservation, and I was intrigued with the idea of employing the old-school tool to clean and freshen up wool jackets, coats, pants, and other heavier pieces that would normally be sent to the dry cleaner. A clothes brush seems like a great way to extend the life span of my wardrobe (and save on dry cleaning in the process)—but more important, I thought, it may encourage more consideration about what I wear and how I care for it, and ultimately, discourage thoughtless consumerism.
What other clever tools does she have in her wardrobe care tool kit, I wondered. She delivered with these five must-haves for anyone who’s interested in making their clothing last longer, their wallet a little fatter, and the world a little greener.
1. Clothes Brush
The item that started my journey into learning more about proper wardrobe care, a clothes brush usually has firm bristles for cleaning wool and heavy fabrics. Its heyday was during the Edwardian era, Harman explains, when it was common for the well-heeled to change outfits several times a day and for valets and lady’s maids to brush their employers’ clothing after each wearing.
“Brushing lifts the fibers of the fabric and dislodges dirt,” she says. For proper brushing technique, visit her site, which has a how-to video. But in general, “you should brush against the nap, then brush in the opposite direction, making the nap lay flat,” she advises. “You can also finish by spraying a fine mist on the bristles and going over the garment one more time. Let the item air out before returning it to the closet. And if you have a crusted stain or some visible dirt, you can lay the item flat on an ironing board and carefully brush the dirt away, again, going against the nap and then with the nap.”
2. Cashmere Brush
The key to a longer-lasting wardrobe is to treat clothes gently. That means washing and dry cleaning only when necessary and using gentle products. For instance, a hard-bristled clothes brush should be used only on heavier fabrics. For more delicate items, consider a cashmere brush.
3. Stain Brush
“You use this to work the detergent into the stain,” says Harman. “The Laundress sells these brushes. Even though they note that you can use this on all fabrics, I don’t agree. I have one of these brushes and the bristles are too stiff (in my opinion) for use on delicate fabrics.”
4. Lint Brush
Harman cautions against using a lint roller, which, she says, “doesn’t remove dirt well or lift the nap of the fabric. Depending on the lint roller you use, there may be a residue left on your clothing so these should be used sparingly and lightly.” Lint brushes also don’t actually lift the nap of the fabric, but they are helpful when it comes to removing lint and pet hair from the surface of the fabric.
5. Wool Dryer Balls
Dryer sheets and fabric softeners are considered no-nos by Harman and fellow domestic science experts. Cheryl Mendelson writes in her book, Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House: “These products achieve their effect by leaving a waxy coating on fabrics. The main problems they cause, therefore, are reduced absorbency and the tendency of the waxy coating to find its way onto other fabrics and onto your skin.” French housekeeping expert Arlette Marcel told Harman, “These leave a residue. If you must use them, find ones that are unscented.” Harman suggests wool dryer balls to reduce static and help clothing dry faster.
Ready to read up on more laundry tips?