7 Laundry Tips for People with Sensitive Skin

7 Laundry Tips for People with Sensitive Skin

Having sensitive skin isn’t just a health issue; it’s a lifestyle. It can impact what cosmetics you buy and what materials you wear. It can even influence the way you do your laundry — if you’re not making special adjustments to your washing and drying routine, you could be setting yourself up for even more irritation.

“For people with sensitive skin, anything can trigger inflammation, dryness, contact dermatitis, and other skin irritations,” says board-certified dermatologist Ife J. Rodney, M.D., founding director of Eternal Dermatology + Aesthetics. “Laundry detergent, fabric softeners, and even dryer sheets contain ingredients that can affect your skin.” As a result, Dr. Rodney says, “doing laundry the right way means taking steps to ensure your clothing does not cause allergic reactions or even breakouts.”

Clearly, you’re not born knowing how to do laundry, and you’re definitely not born knowing how to do so while navigating sensitive skin. Here, dermatologists and people with sensitive skin break down their hacks for washing loads without irritation.

And if you’ve tried these tricks and you’re still struggling with sensitive skin flares, talk to your dermatologist. They should be able to offer personalized advice to help you get relief. 

“Your laundry detergent may be the culprit for your skin issues,” says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in the department of dermatology at The Mount Sinai Hospital. Fragrances and dyes in traditional laundry detergents can cause a rash known as allergic contact dermatitis, he says, pointing out that “this is the same type of rash that you can get from fragrances and other personal care products.” Cue the itching and skin discomfort.

When picking out a laundry detergent, Dr. Rodney recommends looking for something marked as “fragrance free.” “That subtle change can make a big difference,” she says. While you’re at it, Dr. Rodney suggests trying to avoid ingredients dioxane, ammonium quaternary sanitizers, and sulfates and phthalates. To check your detergent for dioxane, look for “1,4 dioxane” or “diethylene dioxide.” Ammonium quaternary sanitizers will usually show up as ingredients that end with “ammonium chloride,” while companies will usually advertise if they’re sulfate- and phthalate-free. Just a heads-up: Some detergents list their ingredients on the label, while others require you to look them up on the company’s website. 

Watch how much soap you’re using.

“My skin is so sensitive, I’ll be uncomfortable all day if too much soap is left in my clothes,” says Los Angeles resident and public speaker Daphne O’Neal.

It might seem minor, but the amount of detergent you toss in with your laundry matters. “Overdosing your detergent in your washing machine can be a problem,” says Dr. Zeichner. “This causes the detergent molecules to become trapped within the fibers of the textile, leading to a direct irritation when it touches your skin.”

And it can happen even if you use a fragrance- and dye-free detergent, Dr. Zeichner says. His advice: “Follow instructions on how much detergent to use or use the premeasured pods.”

Avoid dryer sheets and fabric softeners.

Dryer sheets and fabric softeners are created with the intention of enhancing your clothes, but Dr. Rodney explains that they use a combination of fragrances, dyes, and surfactants (molecules designed to penetrate your clothes) and, “unfortunately, these can trigger skin allergies or skin irritations,” she says. (Many people steer clear of these types of products, even without sensitive skin.)

Alex Varela, general manager of Dallas Maids, a house cleaning service in Dallas, says she has “very sensitive skin,” and is also allergic to fragrance, making dryer sheets and fabric softeners out of the question. You don’t need to resign yourself to a life with stiff clothes, though. “I like using vinegar instead of fabric softener,” Varela says. “It does the job and leaves no fragrance, nor creates any allergic reaction.” 

Many newer washing machines give you the option of adding an extra rinse cycle to your load. If you have sensitive skin, Dr. Rodney says this is a good feature to take advantage of. “A second rinse cycle gets rid of lingering soap particles,” she explains.

O’Neal uses this hack with her laundry. “I usually set the washer for an extra rinse,” she says. “But if I make a mistake and use too much soap in the first place, I may have to go for a third rinse.”

Wash new clothes before you wear them.

It’s tempting to just throw on new clothes when you get them, but Dr. Rodney says it’s crucial to wash them first to rinse off any chemicals, dyes, allergens, or bacteria that may be lingering on the surface. “If you don your new threads without washing them, these chemicals can leak onto your skin thanks to sweat,” Dr. Rodney says. And this is particularly the case for people with sensitive skin, who could feel irritated “right away,” she notes.

Wear gloves when you handle laundry.

Dirt, allergens, and other gunk can lurk on clothes when they’re dirty. You may also not want to directly touch your laundry products, even if they’re made for sensitive skin. That’s why some people wear gloves when they do the wash. “It’s the only way to avoid any contact with laundry products and prevent irritations on my hands,” says Monica Davis, a hairstylist who says she’s “extremely sensitive” to detergents.

“Wearing gloves is a great idea if your hands are prone to irritation or allergic contact dermatitis,” Dr. Rodney says. “This is especially true if you’re washing some pieces by hand with harsh soaps or laundry detergent.”

Keep your laundry isolated from your household’s.

If the rest of your family prefers a harsher detergent or likes a scented variety, you’ll want to do your laundry apart from theirs, says Dr. Rodney. It’s also a good plan to keep your clean laundry separate, “as fragrance particles can rub off from one clothing or linen item to another,” she says. Meaning, you probably want to store your clean towels and sheets independent of the rest of your family’s linens, too. 

One area where you can comingle laundry: your dirty hampers. “It’s not as important that you store your dirty laundry separately because it’s going to get washed in any case,” Dr. Rodney says. 

Apartment Therapy’s Laundry, Sorted vertical was written and edited independently by the Apartment Therapy editorial team and generously underwritten by Samsung.

How to Clean Vintage and Recycled Clothes, According to Experts

How to Clean Vintage and Recycled Clothes, According to Experts

Giving secondhand clothing a new lease on life is a sustainable and often budget-friendly way to refresh your closet. Of course, the next best thing to scoring a fantastic vintage find is being able to make it last. 

Laundering everyday essentials is demanding enough without having to worry about the level of care required for some older items that may be more delicate and susceptible to damage through modern-day wash techniques. That’s why it’s worth understanding the ins and outs of how to properly care for vintage and recycled clothing. So we turned to a laundry professional and a vintage purveyor to get the lowdown on cleaning secondhand pieces. Here’s what we learned. 

Keep the clothing separate at first.

“Most thrift stores do not clean items before they offer them for sale,” says fabric and laundry expert Mary Marlowe Leverette, so keep newly purchased vintage or secondhand pieces apart from your other clothing until they’re washed to help prevent mold or odor transfer. 

If you’re worried about the presence of unwanted critters, place an item in a sealed plastic bag and store it in the freezer for at least 72 hours. This method can kill bed bugs, silverfish, and moths.

For anyone who’s brought home a garment only to find themselves completely unaware of how to care for it, you’re not alone. Of course, you should first look for a care tag, but the older an item is, the less likely it is to have one. In fact, items made before the early 1970s probably won’t (although that’s not a hard and fast indicator of a garment’s age). Even though the informational label was introduced in 1971, it wasn’t immediately adopted, says Shilla Kim-Parker, CEO and co-founder of Thrilling, an online marketplace featuring vintage and secondhand items sourced from around the country. And these days, it’s common for people to remove labels for comfort or aesthetics. 

The fix? Take the piece to a reputable dry cleaner, who may be able to determine whether it’s made of a natural or synthetic fabric, Kim-Parker says. 

In addition to sussing out what a garment is made out of, you’ll also want to try to figure out its age and how well it’s held up. “If the item has a designer label, there are resources online, such as Vintage Fashion Guild, for dating an item by the design of the label,” Kim-Parker says. If not, it’s going to require some research and perhaps a conversation with a reputable shop owner. “Vintage experts will look at the construction, the seams, the zipper or closures, and the material to make an educated guess,” she says.

As a rule, “the older a garment is, the less it should be washed or handled,” says Kim-Parker. Take, for example, a gown from the 1940s: “It’s still fit to wear but may need extra care when washed because it is delicate,” says Kim-Parker. (That said, logic still applies here: An older synthetic will be less susceptible to damage compared to a newer piece made from silk.)

The way an item was stored will also influence whether it can be cleaned at home or needs to be handled by a pro, according to Leverette. “Antique fabrics that have not been properly curated can often be brittle and may crumble under your touch,” she says. This can result from exposure to excessive heat, moisture, sun, and even temperature fluctuations. 

Once you have an idea as to what the tactile makeup of your garment is and you’ve looked up the specific type of material to see if it’s better suited for the wash or if it should be dry-cleaned, you’ll have taken a lot of the guesswork out of the laundering process. “If you feel the garment is washable, handwash or place it in a mesh lingerie bag and use the gentle cycle, cold water, and a gentle detergent,” Leverette says. And just as you stored the vintage item separately when you first purchased it, remember to wash it separately the first time to ensure that the garment’s dye doesn’t run. 

If you want to be extra careful before taking the garment for a spin, you might test a gentle, colorless laundry product on the underside of the item, says Kim-Parker. “Wait until the garment is fully dry to inspect for any damage or discoloration. If the area looks intact, the solution is safe to use on the entire garment.”

For rinsing and soaking fabrics, Kim-Parker suggests using cold water for synthetics and warm water for natural textiles. If you’re working with a blend of materials, use cold water to err on the side of caution. 

You also always have the option of only spot-treating, which will both help to avoid damaging the entirety of a fragile, aged item and mean you won’t expose the whole garment to today’s harsher laundry products, according to Kim-Parker.

Lay a delicate piece flat to dry. If it can be hung, Kim-Parker says, be aware of hangers that can permanently distort the shape.

Deodorize with vinegar. 

If a vintage piece has a slightly musty smell to it and you’ve determined it’s fit for the washing machine, Kim-Parker recommends placing half a cup of vinegar in a normal wash, or two tablespoons if you’re laundering a single piece. If you want to remove the smell without washing the garment, “you can also mix a third cup of vinegar and two-thirds cup of water in a spray bottle to deodorize more delicate vintage clothes,” she adds. 

When in doubt, take it to the pros. 

Structured garments like coats and suits are better left to the care of professionals, says Leverette. “The outer fabric may be washable, but inner linings and fabrics used to give the garment shape may not be.” 

Kim-Parker also suggests finding a reputable dry cleaner for suiting and outerwear, as well as leathers, velvets, furs, and anything with embellishments on it. Give the dry cleaner a heads-up that the piece is vintage so that they take extra care when tending to it. 

“As a vintage shopper, part of the joy is extending a garment’s life for as long as possible,” says Kim-Parker. Take the right steps, and you can continue to savor it for years to come. 

Apartment Therapy’s Laundry, Sorted vertical was written and edited independently by the Apartment Therapy editorial team and generously underwritten by Samsung.

Anna Kocharian


Anna is a New York City-based writer and editor with a penchant for interior design, travel, and florals.

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10 Tips You Learn About Laundry in the First Year of Parenthood

10 Tips You Learn About Laundry in the First Year of Parenthood

While there’s no way to make washing a mountain of baby laundry fun, there are little tricks that will make it bearable. And luckily, new parents like nothing more than sharing their hard-earned words of wisdom. 

I received two pieces of baby laundry advice when I became a mom that I’ve since gifted — and this advice is so good, I do consider it a gift — to every new parent I meet. The first: Because newborn poop is so thin that it gets everywhere, invest in a bunch of washable changing pad liners. Or, if you’d rather go for something disposable on your most bleary-eyed days, get a bunch of puppy pee pads from the pet store. (Apologies to the planet, but occasionally convenience wins when you’re running on two hours of sleep and baby is on his fifth blowout of the day.) The second: Use waterproof mattress pads and crib sheets in three alternating layers so you can quickly pull off pee-, barf-, and/or poop-covered (it will happen) bedding in the middle of the night and have a fresh set ready to go.

Read on for more tried-and-true pointers from people who’ve been there.

1. Simplify sorting with one color palette.

“Buy things that are a similar color: If you’re starting from scratch with baby clothes, sheets, and blankets, it’s easier to do the frequent loads of laundry required with a newborn or infant if everything is around the same color. For my second baby, we tried to stick to whites and light-colored items. Everything dirty went into the wash together, and we didn’t worry about sorting. (That is, if you care about sorting things, which I have cared about since my mom turned all my whites pink when I was a kid.)” — Melissa Maleske, Chicago, mom to a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old

2. Use folding as an excuse for watching TV.

“I never thought I’d be the type of person to do laundry multiple times a week, but here I am. And it’s actually a lot more manageable than blocking off an entire day of marathon laundry. I do two to three loads over the course of the week and then try to fold on a night when I can relax with an audiobook or stream something.” — Steph Pituc, Minneapolis, mom to a 2-year-old

3. But remember that folding too carefully is for chumps.

“Don’t worry about folding your baby’s clothes too well. Like many others, I got really into the Marie Kondo-style folding to maximize space. After doing our baby’s first load of laundry, I spent lots of time folding everything neatly. By the third load, I ditched that and just folded everything in half once, and sloppily.” — Michael Sewall, Chicago, dad to a 2-month-old

4. Buy a lot of onesies, and buy them cheap. 

“In terms of having a boy, you get a whole lot more leaks. They have different parts and they spray out. Every night he has a wet onesie. I have to wash so much more often [than I did with my daughter]. Under 1 year old, they grow out of clothing so fast, it’s just ridiculous. I like getting it cheap, used, or on consignment and giving it new life with soap and laundry bars.” — Nicole Musillami, La Grange, Illinois, mom to a 7-month-old and a 5-year-old

5. Take advantage of sunlight to revitalize yellowed whites.

“My daughter loves blueberries and raspberries. Even with a bib, you can’t control it. I use Dreft Laundry Stain Remover spray. It gets anything out of everything. And then I put [the clothing] in the sun. Especially whites — breast milk or formula spit-up yellows the clothes, but I leave [them] out all day and [they dry] pretty white. It’s literally the best.” — Rachal Baillie, Manalapan, New Jersey, mom to a 16-month-old

6. Find out right away if new clothes are going to shrink.

“A friend provided this piece of advice to pregnant me that was valuable: When gifted clothing, especially for babies, wash it immediately so you know how much it shrinks.” — Marisa Bassett, Rhode Island, mom to a 5-year-old 

7. Know that it will become a habit — eventually.

“My husband is very committed to cleanliness in the house. When my son was born, we did laundry basically every day. We have a laundry hamper in our son’s bathroom, and so at night we take his clothes, put them in the hamper, and then give them a wash. [Now] we do that every two or three days, whenever it’s full — in-unit laundry is obviously a privilege. All of those things combined with a general ethos that clean is good has made it a habit at this point.” — Tyler Greene, Bay Area, dad to a 2-year-old

8. Take babies along for the ride.

“For apartment living without an in-unit washer/dryer, wear the baby in a carrier to do laundry. [Mine] both loved being in the carrier. It did mean I needed to find some crazy angles to reach the bottom of the top loader. A fun hamper can get a toddler into helping put the dirty laundry in the right place. We feed the froggy!” — Kerry Middlemas Bartlett, Hudson, Ohio, mom to a 6-month-old and a 4-year-old

9. Treat stains immediately.

“I gift every new mom with a few OxiClean Max Force Gel Sticks because that shit gets the shit out of the shit! Also, because I had that, I learned the importance of rinsing and treating as quickly as possible, if you want to save the outfit. I also love my Woolzies [dryer balls], only found when pregnant and researching sensitive baby stuff. I’m a basic-level laundress, so these discoveries made me feel like Martha Stewart.” — Jennon Bell Hoffmann, La Grange Park, Illinois, mom to a 7-month-old and a 4-year-old

10. Breathe: The laundry might not be as bad as you think.

“I’d heard lore about how terrible it would be. It really wasn’t. There was a lot of it, but the clothing was so small we’d throw it in with ours. We always wash baby clothes in cold water, so we only put it in with nicer clothes, like blouses and pants, not towels and sheets, which we always did in a hot wash. It was a bunch of stuff, sure, but it didn’t feel like a lot because it was itty-bitty clothing.” — Zoya Arora, Ames, Iowa, mom to a 2-year-old, with another baby due in October

Apartment Therapy’s Laundry, Sorted vertical was written and edited independently by the Apartment Therapy editorial team and generously underwritten by Samsung.

5 Hacks for Dealing with Sand in Your Clothes

5 Hacks for Dealing with Sand in Your Clothes

Everyone loves to take a little bit of vacation home with them, but the bit they’re thinking of usually isn’t sand. Unfortunately, sand that’s migrated into shoes, pockets, and hems is the sneakiest post-vacay tagalong. While the right gear can help (one beach must-have: a mesh tote bag for towels!), you can’t avoid carrying home at least a few errant grains after a day on the dunes. 

Here’s how experts purge grit from their clothes and prevent it from popping up in unpleasant spots — including the washing machine.

Use fabric softener as a preventive measure.

A brief science lesson: Sand is hydrophilic, which means it’s attracted to water, says Jessica Ek, one of the experts at the American Cleaning Institute. That’s why it covers every millimeter of your feet as soon as you step out of the waves. Fabric softener, however, is hydrophobic — that is, it repels water. Wash items like your tote in fabric softener before you go to the beach, and less sand will stick to them while you’re there. (Just don’t use the technique on your towels, Ek says — fabric softener makes them less absorbent.)

Make your new mantra “dry and shake.”

Let your swimsuit and other wet items dry completely before even attempting to get the sand off, Ek says. (See above, re: how much sand loves water.) Ideally, hang them outside so you minimize the debris you bring into your home. If that’s not possible, drape the pieces above the bathtub, which will be much easier to vacuum (when dry) or wipe down than, say, an area rug. Once the fabric is dry, shake it until you’ve removed as much sand as possible.  

Of course, despite the mightiest shakes, sand still often makes its way into hidden pockets, creases, and folds. If that’s the case, Ek suggests soaking items in cold water mixed with a small amount of detergent for about 10 minutes. “That will help release the sand,” she says. Allow the fabric to fully dry before giving it another jiggle. This works for sneakers, too — just check the care label first to make sure you can get them wet, and then after the soak, crumple a little newspaper inside to help them dry faster. “With any of these things, if at first you don’t succeed, try again, and it will get a little bit more out with each step,” Ek says.

Whatever you do, don’t put wet, sandy clothes in the washer.

“That is the key, key, key, key, key,” says Shirley Hood, an appliance specialist with Abt Electronics. “It is almost impossible, depending on the amount of sand, to get it out of the washing machine completely.” A gritty washer is more than just a nuisance: It can mix with detergent residue that’s already in your drain lines and, over time, further gunk them up. Then you’ll have no choice but to call in a pro to clean them. 

If it’s too late, grab the vacuum.

Say you’re reading this because you already tossed in a load of soggy bathing suits. Don’t totally despair. First, be patient and let the machine dry before attempting to get the sand out, Hood says. Then, use the hose attachment on your vacuum to suck out as much sand as you can, and wipe up what’s left with a microfiber cloth. If your washing machine has a drain pump in the front, clean the filter. Look for a little square opening by the door, pull out the filter, and dump it. You’ll probably find some wadded-up tissues and pennies that were left behind in pockets during previous loads, too.

Apartment Therapy’s Laundry, Sorted vertical was written and edited independently by the Apartment Therapy editorial team and generously underwritten by Samsung.

Do You Really Have to “Lay Flat to Dry’”?

Do You Really Have to “Lay Flat to Dry’”?

Laundry is already a multistep chore. Between separating colors, putting my delicates in a mesh bag, making sure the machine is on the right setting, moving the load to the dryer, then folding and putting everything away, I don’t want the process to go on longer than it has to. That’s why, when I see the dreaded “lay flat to dry” instruction on the tag of my favorite sweater, I feel like I could scream. Even if I can’t toss it in the dryer, wouldn’t it be easier to hang it to dry, lay it on a drying rack, or even just drape it across the back of a chair so it doesn’t take up prime real estate in my home? 

But before you or I take any shortcuts and potentially ruin our clothes, I asked laundry experts Patric Richardson, from Discovery+’s “The Laundry Guy,” and Miguel Villalobos, head of experience and revenue at on-demand laundry service dree, about why some clothing tags suggest laying flat to dry in the first place, if you can get away with ignoring the instruction, and how to truly best go about drying these items.

How Necessary Is It to “Lay Flat to Dry”?

Why is this very specific instruction suggested to begin with? “As the garment dries, it will take the shape of whatever it is on, which is why it’s important to lay flat any items you may not want to spend time reshaping with the iron or steamer,” Villalobos explains. Think about it like this: When you put your wet hair into a braid, once it dries, your strands have imprints from going from wet to dry in that shape. 

So laying clothes on a drying rack means they will develop a bend from the rack. And unfortunately, you can’t put these clothes on a hanger either. The extra weight clothes have when they’re wet means they could stretch out if hung up. This can also lead to worn-out collars and bumps in the shoulders. 

Villalobos knows all of this from personal experience: “The first time I hung-dried a merino wool sweater, I noticed how the shape and overall drape of the garment were affected by my drying rack,” he says. “The same thing happened when I hung a cashmere cardigan on a hanger after washing — the shoulders sagged, which caused significant stretching of the neckline.”

Moral of the story: “Laying flat to dry allows your garment to retain its shape and utility for years to come,” Villalobos says. (But don’t toss out your drying rack just yet! While garments made from delicate materials, like wool and cashmere, should be laid flat to dry, clothes made out of durable material, like denim and cotton, can be hung to dry, Villalobos adds.)

How to Properly Lay Flat to Dry (Even with Minimal Space)

The most tedious part of this drying method might be the amount of time it takes for the garment to be ready to wear. To cut down drying time, Richardson suggests first getting as much excess water out of the garment as possible. “Lay your item flat on a dry towel and roll the towel like a wrap or a burrito,” says Richardson. “By rolling it this way, you’re squeezing out the excess water without wringing the item.” Another way Richardson suggests removing water is by putting the item in a mesh bag and running it through the spin cycle in the washing machine. Richardson swears your garment will dry in half the time. 

Additionally, when laying flat to dry, don’t put a garment in direct sunlight because it can cause the colors to fade, and place a towel between the item and the flat surface to soak up water from the item and protect it and your drying area. If you’re super limited on space and/or want to protect your surfaces, you can purchase a flat drying rack and lay your garment flat on that. Make sure the item is spread out and not folded in any way. And remember to flip the item onto its opposite side once the front side is dry to the touch to ensure that the item thoroughly dries. Your clothes should be ready to wear in a day or two.

Apartment Therapy’s Laundry, Sorted vertical was written and edited independently by the Apartment Therapy editorial team and generously underwritten by Samsung.