Even though I’ve been doing my own laundry for 20-odd years, and laundry is at minimum a thrice weekly household duty of mine, there are some — ok, a lot of — care instructions that I never bothered to learn. As long as my whites weren’t coming out grey or being shrunk to the size of a mouse blanket, I let it ride. As someone who didn’t learn some basic laundry guidelines until recently, I bring you this list of items that should never be put in the dryer on high heat, in case you — like me — didn’t know.
First, some symbol awareness
You know how every item of clothing has a care label, and each of those care labels is just slightly bigger than the head of a Q-tip, with tiny, microscopic letters you’re supposed to be able to read? While some labels contain helpful words like “tumble dry low,” others merely contain symbols, fine print in languages you don’t understand, or written instructions that faded over time.
In these cases, symbol familiarity is key. Did we all know that a large circle inside a square indicates the item of clothing is safe to tumble dry? And if said circle has an “X” through it, drying is verboten? (I didn’t.) And did we further know that sometimes this circle contains dots to indicate the ideal drying temperature — one dot for low heat, two for medium, and three for high?
Note: This is different than the similar symbol of a small circle inside a square, not touching the edges the square (which means “dry clean only”) and an “X” through this whole shebang (meaning “do not dry clean”).
OK, let’s hit the showers, team. (Just kidding, we have more laundry knowledge to learn.)
Don’t dry your sheets on high heat
Next up on the list of things I was totally wrong about: Don’t dry your sheets on high heat, people. (Damn. I just did this yesterday.) I definitely thought sheets on high heat was a go — to effectively zap them of any odor-causing bacteria. But, no. High heat can cause sheets to shrink over time and no longer fit your bed. It can also cause tears in the thin fabric. Stick to low heat; or better yet, if you can, line-dry them outside.
Dont dry activewear and polyester blends on high heat
Whether it’s athleisure wear or true workout gear, those spandex yoga/gym pants should be kept away from high dryer heat. According to Bounce, “Stretchy fabrics need special care because these fibres can deteriorate under prolonged exposure to heat. That means these items fair better when they dry flat.”
The idea that I should use my entire kitchen table to dry wet workout clothes is not information I can handle, so I will be continuing to dry those items on low heat, which Bounce says is ok. Thank goodness for these tender mercies.
What about polyester in the dryer?
Similarly, polyester fibres — because they don’t absorb moisture — dry quickly and don’t require high heat. Any clothing containing polyester should be dried on the permanent press setting, or low heat. (High heat causes a “rippling” effect” in polyester over time). Because polyester is subject to static cling, some dryer sheet manufacturers suggest you use a dryer sheet, but we don’t recommend it; here are some excellent alternatives.
Baby clothes, sweaters and sequins
It makes sense that baby clothes, because they’re so dang small, don’t need high heat to dry. Those can be tumbled on low heat or the permanent press setting. But knit sweaters, too? While lightweight knit sweaters can dry on a permanent press setting, heavy, thick knit sweaters hold their shape better and are less prone to pilling and unravelling when they’re allowed to dry flat. (I think I was already doing this one, but for non-shrink reasons. I’ll take the point, even if accidental.)
The delicate cycle (low heat) should also be used for any fabrics with embellishment, like sequins, beading, and iron-on decals (like the numbers on the back of sports jerseys).
Don’t dry silk, wool, and lingerie in the dryer at all
While silk is so delicate many prefer to have it dry cleaned, some of it is machine washable — just be sure to use cold water and the delicate/gentle cycle of your washing machine — and do not put in the dryer. Like, at all. Same goes for wool, whose fibres will shrink and weaken in the heat.
Lingerie and most bras are delicate and should be dried flat. We say most bras because depending on the size, your bras may not contain any underwire or cup shape integrity that needs to be upheld. You may wear more unstructured sport-type bras with minimal padding. Those, according to me, can go in the dryer. (I’ve been doing it for years with no damage to report.)
What you can dry on high heat
So what should be dried on high heat? Heavy cotton items that take longer to dry like towels, blankets, sweatshirts, or jeans. (Caveat: Jean-drying preference varies from person-to-person and from jean-to-jean. In general, it’s safe to dry jeans on high heat if you are not concerned about shrinkage or colour loss on say, a deep indigo-coloured designer denim. For those, stick to low heat or air drying.)