There are a number of consumer products and things at home that can cause damage to your clothing, sometimes permanent damage. Unfortunately because most of these changes are masked the damage doesn't appear until the next cleaning at which point they are exposed. This is where a number of mystery stains come from. Have you ever spoken to your dry cleaner and said, "This stain wasn't on my garment before I had it cleaned." This may explain why!
Products that contain alcohol may discolor or remove the color of certain fabrics. The most common sources of alcohol are colognes, perfume, creams and medications, hairspray, along with common food and drinks. When these items are spilled on your garments, especially of the food or drink variety, other elements in the spill mask the damage until the garment is cleaned. The newly clean garment will reveal the damage caused by the alcohol.
Hair Care Products
Hair care products contain a lot of different substances that may damage your garments, most notably are oxidizing agents, acids and alkali's. Damage from hair care products may be immediate, but may also present itself after processing or may just develop slowly over time. You may see color change and/or the fabric will deteriorate.
Colognes and perfumes tend to be alocohol based and therefore may be dangerous around garments that are not colorfast. Damage from colognes may not be present until after cleaned. Either the cologne will take the color of the garment out when cleaned or it may never leave the garment and will show up as a spot when pressed or steamed.
Cleaners and Detergents
Most household cleaners are alkalis but can also be a number of other things including acids and oxidizing agents. Always clean the house in clothes you don't care about to prevent damage to your favorite items.
Plastic is great for transporting garments but are terrible for storage. Dry Cleaners use plastic bags to keep your clothes clean and free of wrinkles in the short term but as soon as you get your things home, remove the plastic bags (but keep the paper garment covers as this helps eliminate dust from settling on the tops of your garments in the closet).
In severe cases, long term exposure to light can deteriorate the fabric and shorten it's intended life. Fabrics can fade during normal use (couch cushions for example) or when they are being stored. Always keep your closet dark to prevent this sort of damage.
Perspiration and deodorant can both have an adverse effect on your clothing. Damage and color change in the underarm area are due to pH changes and the effects are permanent. Garments made of silk and other natural fibers are the most commonly affected materials.
Common toothpaste, especially those containing whitening agents, is especially dangerous for your wardrobe. Contact with toothpaste may cause gradual discoloration or a complete loss of color. It is best get dressed after brushing your teeth. This will prevent the risk of toothpaste damage altogether.
Fume fading is a color change or color loss caused by the action of airborne pollutants. The lack of proper airflow or air change promotes the buildup of these pollutants in drawers or closets. Most often damage appears as lengthwise streaks and may be more noticible in the folds or pleats of a garment.
Photo credit: Romana Klee