We Know What Mama Said, But How Important Is It Really To Lay Laundry Flat To Dry?

How can I ruin the laundry? Let me count the ways.

It's always with the best intentions that we read those care labels before we throw our new sweater, blouse, or delicates in the wash. We vow to always do them justice by washing only when needed and, when washing is necessary, to follow the care instructions to a T. But you know what they say of the best laid plans. Whether your successful laundering is thwarted by accident or laziness, some errors are easier to overcome than others—and I'm convinced not laying flat to dry might just be one of the most overcome-able of all the wash-and-dry errors. Hear me out.

After a few laundry disasters, and one-too-many cashmere sweaters thrown into the donate pile, I revoked laundry privileges from everyone in my household but myself (and Mama when she comes to visit). The trick is to know which items truly need to lay flat to dry and which will be just fine flung over the side of a chair or the shower door. I have become a master at this.

It seems to me the number of dry-clean-only and lay-flat-to-dry items dropped into my laundry room hamper has quadrupled over the past year, which is a wonder in this age of athleisure. I, for one, do not have the space to lay five pairs of pajamas, two sweaters, and three pairs of children's shorts flat for 24 hours as they dry. Therefore I've taken a new approach to the drying process that still takes into consideration the suggestions on the care label, without giving them all the power.

Laundry Room with Drying Rack
Liudmila Chernetska / Getty Images

Things I'll Always Lay Flat To Dry:

Sweaters: Let dry from a hanger once and you'll learn your lesson, with the misshapen shoulders and stretched-out neckline to prove it.

Silky Delicates: This is where you need to follow the care label precisely—down to detergent choice if specified (though, I've never seen one go into so great detail). Lay them flat over a towel on a table, counter, or even your guest room bed. The good news? They usually dry relatively quickly so they won't take up the flat real estate for long.

Smocked Children's Clothes: These are sometimes fine to hang, but I usually lay them flat and use my hand to press out the smocked parts to ensure they dry as flat as possible.

Any Boutique Children's Clothes: So often I do not even bother with the labels on these as I've been burned before. Basically everything that is special-occasion worthy or even an elevated basic goes into the laundry on the delicate cycle (I use Lysol Laundry Sanitizer to give me peace of mind), removing immediately once I hear the buzzer and laying flat to dry.

Things I Never Lay Flat To Dry:

Leggings: Some of those pricier brands suggest laying flat to dry, but I've found that hanging them over the edge of the chair, bed footboard, or laundry room sink works just fine. Even my faux-leather numbers look as good as new after plenty of washing.

Children's Play Clothes: Once again, I don't care what the label says, I'm not reading care instructions for every t-shirt and pair of tiny playground shorts. If it can't make it through a wash and tumble dry then it was not meant to be.

Anything Belonging to My Husband: They're just too large. We don't have the space for that.

At the end of the day, following the care instructions on your clothing labels is usually ideal, but not always possible. Here's to many more laundry days and (most times) not ruining anymore sweaters.

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