Together for tomorrow


How to make your loved clothes last

by | Apr 5, 2022

There is a reason for the slow fashion movement refrain that “the most sustainable clothes are the ones you already own”. Taking care of your clothes is one of the best ways to limit your fashion impact. By making your clothes last longer, you get more wears out of them, which means that you don’t have to replace them regularly. Extending the wear of your clothes by just nine months can reduce their impact by 20-30%, according to the BBC.

With this in mind, we’ve created a guide to help you sustainably care for your clothes. This guide assumes the reader has access to their own washing machine. Cater the guidelines to your needs.

Get to know your fabrics

Always check the care label before washing, or even purchasing, clothes. This label has information on the fibre content of the garment, as well as care instructions that will guide you on how best to look after it. Fibres that make up more than five percent of the garment’s weight have to be listed on the label, which will be an indicator as to how to care for it.

For example, animal fibres, such as wool, don’t need to be washed as often. These clothes just need to be aired out. If you do need to wash them, use cold water and wash them by hand. When it comes to caring for your knitwear, let it air dry and lay flat to prevent it from shrinking and hardening.

Swimwear is another clothing category that needs special attention. Ideally, you should wash it by hand with warm (not hot) water after saltwater swimming or add a little detergent after chlorine swimming. Once washed, lay it out flat and dry in the shade to maintain elasticity.

Lastly, synthetic fibres release microplastics, which wash out into the ocean and contribute to ocean pollution. So, try to minimise washing as much as possible. You can also get a microplastic filter for your machine.

Decoding washing labels

Following care labels can extend the life of your clothes. Knowing whether to hand wash, tumble dry or dry clean your clothes helps you make optimal use of your clothes. To learn more about how to understand the icons on your clothing care labels, take a look at this guide.

Savvy sorting

Sorting your clothes into different loads allows you to cater the wash according to the clothes’ needs. Colours, lights, darks and whites must be separated, but also textures and fabrics.

While natural fibres tend to bleed dyes more easily than synthetics, laundry should still be separated by fabric to maintain the quality of the clothes and give you control over the wash settings for each type of clothing. A good strategy is to separate delicates and heavier clothes, as weighted clothing can damage softer clothes when it spins. This means putting cotton, lace, silk or softer synthetics in one pile, and thicker garments, like jerseys, sheets, towels in another.

From these two piles, you can separate the clothing into another two piles (at the very least) of light and dark clothing. Clothing that is white and black can be placed in entirely separate loads if you want to be extra careful in avoiding a laundry disaster. Additionally, very dirty or stained clothing should be washed separately, preferably by hand.

You can save energy by using eco-mode or quick cycling (if your machine has those settings), washing at cooler temperatures, or waiting until you have a bigger load of laundry. Switching off machines when you’re not using them is also an important tip. Some, typically older models, use energy when on standby mode, so make sure it is completely off before continuing with the rest of your day.

But doesn’t doing more loads mean using more water? Not necessarily. Jessica Zinna, a Senior Scientist for Tide, explains to Popular Science. Sorting your laundry and washing in cold water can preserve your garments and reduce your energy usage, making your laundry routine more sustainable. And, compared to the water wasted for making new clothes (such as 400 gallons for one cotton t-shirt), she notes that this routine is far more sustainable in the long run. Additionally, newer washing machines only use the amount of water needed for the weight of the load.

Wash better, and less

Some items of clothing do better with spot cleaning, whilst others need to be tossed in the wash after every wear. Denim and natural fibres can typically go a lot longer before a wash and benefit from hand washing or spot cleaning as opposed to machine washing.

For most garments, the colder the better, for both the fibre and the environment. Except for sheets, underwear, whites and spoiled items, clothes don’t need high temperatures to clean them. Instead, using a setting of 20 or 30 degrees is all you need.

Washing clothes at 30 degrees instead of 40 uses 40% less energy, as Energy Saving Trust explains. If you’re worried that the lower temperature won’t clean your clothes well enough, adding ½ a cup of vinegar does the trick.

P.S. Most new washing machines have a ‘hand-wash’ setting that is gentle for clothes that need special care. While this is not preferable to actual handwashing, it is a good option for busy, on-the-go people who don’t have the time to hand wash.

Choose a natural detergent

Try to find a detergent that is free from harmful chemicals such as phosphates and formaldehyde. These can either damage the fibres, making them more susceptible to tears, or are harmful to the environment. Many detergents have carcinogens or allergens that can affect human health. Make sure your detergent does not contain bleach, otherwise the colour of your garments will fade.

Try to avoid using bleach in general. You don’t need bleach to maintain your whites, a simple wash should keep it clean. If you have stains, leave a stain-remover or home remedy alternatives as suggested by Good on You, on the problem area for a short while and then wash. Don’t put it in the machine until the stain is removed.

Drying Do’s and Don’ts

Drying your clothes on a rack is far more energy conscious than using a dryer. Machine drying uses a lot of energy and can damage your clothes. Remember to turn delicate clothing inside out so that it doesn’t bleach from the sun.

Dry cleaning is not usually the best option for you or your clothes. Chemicals are used instead of water, making dry cleaning a harsh process. But some clothing requires professional cleaning. If you do dry clean, remove from the plastic as soon as possible, because the plastic can trap moisture inside, leading to mould, which can ruin your clothes.

Store your clothes with care

After your clothes dry, resist the urge to leave them on a chair. Hang or fold them in your closet as soon as possible. Remember to hang clothing that is prone to wrinkles, such as silk, satin and delicate clothes, with a wooden hanger. Metal hangers are flimsier and won’t hold your clothes as well.

Heavier clothes, such as knitwear and formal gowns as well as clothes with stretchy materials, should be folded. These can stretch out and damage beading, in the case of gowns, from the uneven distribution of weight.

For season changes, store clothes that you aren’t wearing in a fabric bag as opposed to a plastic bag. Plastic bags harbour bacteria and can damage your clothes. Make sure there is enough aeration and space in your closet, so they do not get mouldy.

Mindful mending

Maintaining your clothes through repairs keeps them around for much longer and gives your clothes character. If you don’t know how to sew, there are easy guides to basic stitches for mending. There are many benefits to mending, but the slow practice of repairing a damaged item is a great de-stressor.

By stitching up a hole or tear when they arise, we are embracing wabi-sabi – the Japanese philosophy of accepting imperfection. Also, it’s a great excuse to pick up a new skill. To learn five easy stitch fixes, take a look at this guide.

We hope you found this guide useful and that it left you feeling inspired to find new ways to re-love and rewear what you already own!


Share this article:

Related Posts

Our work is in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 12, which aims to ensure sustainable consumption and production. Read More