Caring for clothes onboard

Jun 2, 2014 by Alene Keenan

One aspect of our work as yacht stews is valet services, including wardrobe management. Every stew needs to know how to handle and care for expensive clothing. It may seem complex, but it’s pretty easy once we break it down into simple steps, starting with laundry.


Many stews secretly enjoy doing the laundry, especially ironing and folding. No one said you have to suffer as you toil away. In fact, you could actually make it enjoyable by appreciating the time away from the hustle and bustle of the daily routine. Use this time to listen to music, listen to audio books, think, and just generally raise your spirit.


I spoke with a representative of Guarde Robe, a wardrobe management company in Miami, and learned some basic tips for making your turn in the laundry a breeze.


1. Sort articles by color, keeping whites, darks, and medium colors separate since lighter garments can pick up dyes from darker colors. Always check labels to learn what the fabric is made of and how to care for it.


2. Next, sort articles by fabric type. Separate man-made fabrics such as polyester from natural fibers such as cotton. Man-made fibers can attract the oils that are released from natural fibers during washing. These oils can build up and make spots more noticeable. Here is a rundown on fabric types:

* Garments are made from natural fibers and synthetic fibers. Natural fibers include cotton, linen, silk, wool, leather and suede. Synthetic fibers include acrylic, fleece, microfiber, nylon, polyester, rayon, spandex, vinyl, and many more. There are new fabrics with special properties being designed every year. Many pieces of athletic clothing are high-tech fabrics, and some garments protect you from the sun. Always read the care label for these types of fabrics.

* Cotton is easily laundered and can withstand high heat, but usually it is best to wash and dry at more moderate temperatures. Most detergents are safe for cottons, and chlorine bleach can be used. Cotton wrinkles easily but can withstand being ironed.

* Most linen garments are washable, however some require dry cleaning. Dry cleaning will retain the crispness of linen fabrics, while washing will soften them. White linens will retain their whiteness if they are allowed to dry in the sun. Linen fabrics wrinkle easily and may require frequent ironing.

* Most silks are delicate and do better with dry cleaning because laundry detergents and dyes from other clothing can cause problems. For washable silks, handle carefully and never use chlorine bleach. Lay silk garments flat to dry.

* Wool is very resilient. Dry cleaning is recommended, but if cared for properly,wool garments can be worn a number of times between dry cleanings by brushing and sponge cleaning them. They should be dry cleaned at least once a year. Here are some other tips for wool:

1. Store with cedar blocks to repel moths.

2. Let them rest 24 hours between wearings. They can be refreshed quickly after unpacking or wearing by hanging them in a steamy bathroom. Wool fibers will naturally shed wrinkles and return to their original shape.

3. Steam pressing is required, rather than ironing. Woolen garments should be pressed inside out so that a shine does not develop.

* Leather and suede are other natural materials that may be used for clothing. Read the care label to see how to properly care for each garment. Leather garments should be stored in a well-ventilated area. Remove small stains as soon as possible with saddle soap or a similar product. Allow a wet or damp item to dry away from a heat source. Leather may be polished with a good quality leather polish. Any problems should be taken to a leather specialist.

* Most washable synthetics can be safely washed in cool water with gentle to medium agitation. Most cannot tolerate chlorine bleach.

* It is always better to let a dry cleaning professional handle stubborn stains and difficult garments. However, many garments with a “dry clean only” tag can be carefully hand washed. Make sure to properly shape and form your garment after washing.


Once you have sorted the laundry, it is time to look for spots and stains. Before treating any stains, always test for color fastness on an unexposed area of the garment, such as an inside seam.


Ninety-five percent of stains are water soluble. There are basically three types of stains: oily stains (difficult to remove with water); protein stains (anything that may come from our body such as perspiration, blood, urine, etc.); and tannin stains (normally stains that come from the earth such as wine, grass and soil).


Wash heavily soiled items separately from slightly soiled items. This will help prevent fading and keep colors brighter. It will also prevent cross-contamination. Items from the galley carry bacteria and need to be washed in hot water to be disinfected. Uniforms and coveralls that have grease and oil on them should be rinsed well to remove chemicals before they go into the washing machine. Engine room chemicals can eventually destroy the rubber and plastic parts of the machines.


Sort delicate fabrics and loose knits from “tougher” fabrics, such as denim or canvas. And garments that generate lint, such as fleece sweatshirts and towels, should be washed separately.


Try to have large and small items in each washer load, and don’t overload the machine. This will let the items move more freely during the washing cycles.


Take as much care with drying clothing as you do with washing. Guest items should always be line-dried. If using a dryer, allow for some residual moisture and finish by line drying. This will make ironing much easier.


Here are some common sense tips from Guarde Robe:

* Never put any garment away with spills or stains on it. Moths love to lay eggs on stained garments, because it is a great source of food for their larvae.

* Never rub a stain, especially when attempting to remove a stain from silk. Blot the affected area to prevent the stain from growing and migrating to a larger portion of the garment.

* If a closet is not properly cooled and aired it may contribute to setting stains. High humidity, high temperature, and light are a garment’s enemies. Store garments in a dark, cool closet.

* Do not iron stained or soiled clothes because this will set stains and drive the soil deeper into the fabric. Always clean clothes and let them air out before storing.

* Have matching pieces cleaned together, including household items, so that they wear evenly.


The bottom line is this: laundry isn’t necessarily complicated, it’s just involved. It has lots of steps and lots of opportunity to be faced with some questions about the right way to proceed. But hope for brighter laundry days is on the way. First, think about which part of the laundry process is your least favorite. Then, organize yourself well to keep the process as simple and enjoyable as possible. In no time at all you’ll be having fun and getting “loads” done.


Alene Keenan has been a megayacht stew for more than 20 years. She teaches at MPT in Ft. Lauderdale and offers interior crew training through her company, Yacht Stew Solutions ( Download her book, The Yacht Service Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht, on her site or Comments on this column are welcome at


About Alene Keenan

Alene Keenan is a veteran chief stew, interior training instructor/consultant, and author of The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht.

View all posts by Alene Keenan →