Have you joined the throngs of people undertaking a closet purge, thanks to Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up that hit Netflix on New Year’s Day? As you decide what to ship off to the thrift store and what to keep, pay attention to the condition and age of the pieces. Because, while you might not realize, you’re probably increasing your environmental footprint by not properly caring for your clothes.
As you’re sifting through your hangers and drawers, ask yourself some questions. How long have you had that sweater that you love, but never wear because it’s pilled? Are you getting rid of jeans that fit perfectly well, but are frayed at the bottom because they’re a bit too long? Did you get a stain on your favourite cotton tee that won’t go away?
There are several approaches to building a sustainable wardrobe that you love. It should have clothes that make you feel great and work together so well you don’t have to think about what you’re going to wear. But once you have your ideal pieces, how do you make sure you can keep them in your closet longer?
Taking better care of your clothes doesn’t have to be hard, and it will reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing and ultimately landfilling.
A lot of what we’ve been told about cleaning our clothes is actually ruining them faster, making us buy more. In this article, I’m going to bust some myths and share some tips to help you get more wear out of the clothes you already have.
By now we’re well aware of the environmental and social impacts of fast fashion. Our sense of what “affordable” is for clothing has become incredibly warped. Clothing that is cheap, is also cheaply made. Which means you’ll be forced to replace it more frequently. What’s better for your bottom line? A $6 T-shirt that lasts one year or that $20 T-shirt that lasts 5 years or more?
Invest in quality, made-to-last staples that will carry you through a range of seasons and that work well together. You can then fill in the gaps or look for more seasonal/on-trend items from thrift stores because these are not likely to last as long anyways.
And don’t forget your local tailor. If something doesn’t quite fit, like pant legs that are too long, get it tailored right away. This will reduce wear and tear and increase the life of the piece.
Warmer water used to be required, back when washing machines and laundry soaps weren’t as effective. But now, we have better options and hot water isn’t needed. It can cause shrinking, fading, and faster breakdown of fibers.
If you can wash with cold water and are happy with the results, stick with that (your energy bill will be lower too). Cold water washing in the winter may be too cold for your laundry soap or detergent to work properly. If you’re finding residue remains on your clothes, try a warm water rinse as a next step. Just make sure you’re washing similar colours together to avoid accidental colour transfer.
Failing that, you may need to switch laundry soaps, do a tub clean of your washer, and/or switch to warm water washes. My favourite laundry soap is a homemade version that I use in my HE machine, using cold water. A great store-bought option is Eco-Max.
You should also avoid using fabric softeners, as they coat the fabric in toxic chemicals that might make them feel softer, but aren’t good for you, the water, or your clothes. Keep reading for alternatives in the next section.
Always check the label for recommended care and wash temperatures – but know that anything can be washed in cold water. And remember – you don’t have to wash your clothes every time you wear them! I will wear jeans maybe 10 times before putting them in the wash (obviously if I’ve managed to keep them from being visibly dirty).
Reduce Dryer Damage
Heat drying can quickly ruin any piece of clothing. The heat and added tumbling wears down fabrics, sets stains, and can shrink certain materials. Hang drying your clothes will help prolong the life of them significantly. Get a good set-up for hanging clothes or laying them flat if directed on the label, and you’ll save a tonne of energy too.
When you do use the dryer, skip the dryer sheets. Like fabric softeners, they are filled with toxic chemicals that contribute to poor indoor air quality and aren’t good long-term for the fabrics. If you need to control static, you can use wool dryer balls instead. Also, look at decrease drying time because the longer your clothes are in the dryer, especially if they’re dry, the more static will be produced.
Treat Stains Early
The earlier you treat stains, the easier they will come out. This is especially true if you’re using a natural laundry soap. Buncha Farmers is a great natural option that can remove a range of stains. If you’re not at home when the stain happens, get it on as soon as you can, and let it sit until you’re able to wash it fully.
The best thing you can do for stains is to avoid heat. Putting a stained piece of clothing in hot water or the dryer can actually set the stain, making it next to impossible to get out. So keep it to cold water wash and hang drying – at least until the stain is out.
Don’t let your sustainable fashion habits end at the checkout! Extend the life of your clothes, and you’ll be reducing what you send to landfill, use less raw materials, and lower your overall environmental impact.
Do you have any other tips to help your clothes last longer? Share in the comments!
Emma is a the founder of Green at Home a mom of 2, and an environmental engineer with a decade of experience in the green building field. She helps parents and parents-to-be make healthier choices by providing practical and judgement-free advice, support, and product recommendations.