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Take care of your clothes to extend life

Cutting back on clothes shopping means consumers need to take better care of their current wardrobe.

Properly cleaning, storing and caring for items can prolong the garment lifespan while making clothes seem fresh and new.

Here are quick tips on how to care for clothes until the economy picks up:

Clean

-- Pick detergents marked "mild." This is especially important for athletic apparel made with microfiber as well as silk and wool, said Tremitchell Wright, spokesman for the Whirlpool Institute of Fabric Sciences.

-- Consider refreshing, instead of cleaning. Refreshing works with garments that are not soiled but have mild odor and wrinkles. Clothes steamers remove odors and wrinkles without subjecting the garment to the washing process. No clothes steamer? Try hanging the garment in the bathroom while showering so the steam can remove wrinkles and odor.

-- Treat stains immediately and properly. Water, for example, prevents red wine stains from setting but causes ink stains to set deeper into fabric. A quick stain treatment guide is available at InstituteofFabricScience.org.

Storage

-- Make sure clothes are clean before storing. Stains may still appear if the fabric has not been properly cleaned. "Stains can develop over time. If you leave soil in the clothes, there are still reactions going on," Wright said.

-- Pack clothes in an air-tight container and store in a dry, cool spot that is shielded from light, Wright said. A solid container pushed under the bed is fine, a hot attic is not a smart storage spot.

-- Expect natural fabrics derived from plants or animals to develop a light musty smell in storage. "Some of it is very, very normal," Wright said.

Care

-- Mend little tears when they become visible. "If you don't, those can spread over time," Wright said.

-- When in the closet, hang garments instead of folding to limit wrinkles.

-- Always read the care label. "They will help you with temperature and some agitation. Some fibers are more sensitive than others, you want to make sure you are not over-working the fibers," Wright said.

-- Be realistic as to when a garment is no longer fresh looking.

When clothes seem old, it may be time for a "downgrade." Wright said clothes should be divided into four categories -- professional, casual, play and rags.

"The last thing you want to do is throw it away if there is still some utility," Wright said.

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