Our clothes are very personal items. They’re a buffer against bad weather and protection against the elements. Some clothes help us run faster, look more professional, or start our nighttime ritual. We use clothing to express ourselves. They can also hold memories: a special day in our lives or a gift from someone we love.

All that to say: clothes are important. They’re more than just pieces of textiles and sewn thread. We want to keep them as fresh as the day we got them, but clothing needs to be washed. And I doubt you need to be told that washing also causes your clothes to deteriorate.

There are ways to work around this, though. If you take some time to plan out how you’re going to wash your clothes, you can extend their life and how much wear you can get out of them. Different fabrics have to be cared for in different ways, so it’s important to understand washing techniques ahead of time. And that’s what we’re here for. Let’s explore the basics of cleaning your clothes to keep them looking new.

1) Get acquainted with the care instruction tag.

Every piece of clothing you buy comes with a sewn-in tag of instructions on the best way to care for your garment. You may have seen it before and not even known what it was. That’s because it’s usually a collection of indecipherable symbols.

Luckily, you don’t need the Rosetta Stone to decipher these hieroglyphics. A simple search for laundry symbols can populate the full list. Each symbol will let you know how to wash them, how to dry them, and how to care for them in between washes. They can provide details on the temperature of water to use, the setting of your laundry machine, and whether you need to go old school with your techniques (think washboard and clothesline).

2) Cold water is your friend.

People love washing their clothing in warm or hot water, and for good reason. Warm temperatures are the best at getting clothes clean and usually work better at activating laundry soaps. But it’s also great at degrading the fabric of your clothes.

These days, popular laundry soaps are becoming even better at providing the same standard of cleanliness in cold water as they do in warm water. That means you can keep your clothes looking fresh and smelling fresh at the same time. In case you need more incentive, it’s also way better for the environment.

3) Separate your clothing by color.

You probably heard your mom tell you to separate your clothing by color your entire life. Then one day, you got your own place and thought to yourself – why? You started washing everything together and never looked back.

Sorry to tell you, but you were wrong. If you don’t want to take a few more minutes to separate your clothing, that’s your business, but your clothes are suffering the consequences.

Your clothing is dyed to a certain color – be it white, black, or anything in between. When you put your clothes in water, the dye will leech out. And unless your clothing is separated, your clothes will absorb some other color. That means less vibrant and more distressed looking clothes. You rebelled against mom, but now it’s time to follow her advice.

4) Wash your clothes inside-out.

You might want to wash your clothing the same way you wear it. You probably assume that any stains will be on that side of your shirt and it will be easier to get them out when they’re getting the brunt of the water and soap.

But you can actually get the same level of clean turning them inside-out. The reason you want to do this is that the outward-facing part of your clothes won’t be affected as much by the deteriorating cycle of the wash.

5) Air dry your wet clothes.

Putting all of your clothes on a clothesline might sound like a pain. But if you truly care about the upkeep of your clothes, you’ll line-dry them. When you put clothes in the dryer, you experience lots of wear and tear from the circulating air, no matter what temperature it’s at. But allowing it to air dry gets the same results with less abrasion. And in the age of podcasts, it can even be an enjoyable time of relaxation amidst a hectic day.

While these tips might not be doable for every person, incorporate as many as you can into your laundry routine. The more you include, the better your laundry will continue to look. Especially when it comes to those special items in your closet, that means everything.