The journey towards becoming a more conscious consumer is learning to consider not only how we consume and buy, but also how we care for and extend the life of our purchases.
Educating ourselves on how to care for our garments, and make them last, is key to significantly reducing textile waste and minimizing our environmental impact.
- up to 25% of a garment’s carbon footprint comes from the way it is cared for (Fashion Revolution)
- the average garment is worn only ten times before being discarded, and 57% of all discarded clothing is sent to landfill
- 9 out of 10 times clothing ends up in landfill long before it should, mainly due to a culture of throwaway fashion & overwashing
- extending the active life of clothes by just nine months would reduce carbon, water & waste footprints by 30% per garment (The Waste & Resources Action Program)
The longer we’re able to extend the life of our clothing, the better!
Our simple hope with this post is to inspire better care habits, and, in turn, make clothes last twice as long with half the environmental impact.
We are by no means experts on clothing aftercare. These tips, thoughts and topics are all result of our own personal journeys towards mindful living.
Most of us are doing laundry wrong.
Due to poor, outdated laundry habits (that we most likely got from our caregivers), we tend to complete the chore known as laundry on autopilot, with the lifespan of our garments suffering as a result. We don't know what we don't know, right?
1 - WASH LESS OFTEN
Approximately 90% of clothes are discarded earlier than necessary, mostly due to faded colors, shrinkage and damage from overwashing.
We’re generally not wearing clothes enough times between washes which is one of the main contributors to garments wearing out faster than they should, not to mention an increase in our individual carbon footprint.
So the more wears-per-item we can manage, the better it is for our planet and our clothes.
QUICK TIP: when you eventually do need to throw something in the wash, turn it inside out. this helps to at least reduce friction & prevent color loss.
2 - GET TO KNOW YOUR FABRICS
If you know what type of fabric your clothing is made out of, you can do a much better job of playing to its strengths—and weaknesses.
Breathable, natural fabrics (cotton, wool, silk, hemp, linen) are odor-resistant and require less washing. By choosing clothes that require less washing, we can greatly reduce the amount of water we use.
Natural fibers are hydrophilic meaning they attract water and absorb your sweat, leaving clothes a bit more wet with more activity, but it also allows the moisture to easily evaporate and take any odor with it. So you can hang your piece of clothing up to dry after you wear it and by the next morning it will be refreshed without washing.
However, polyester and other petroleum-based or synthetic fibers are hydrophobic, meaning that while they may repel water they also attract and trap the oily compounds that cause body odor, meaning you will need to wash these fabrics at a higher frequency to prevent bacteria build up and smells.
3 - GROUP FABRICS
When organizing laundry for the wash, start by grouping similar fabrics together so you can more effectively care for them. Different fabric types require different care instructions, e.g. cotton and linen are both natural fibers, but using the same techniques on both could result in the material losing quality over time.
Over time, this will also help us recognize what fabrics work best for us, not just in wearability, but in functionality and durability as well.
4 - USE A MICROFIBER WASH BAG
A large part of our clothing contains synthetic and/or semi-synthetic materials (nylon, acrylic, polyester, spandex, rayon, and modal). With each wash, countless tiny plastic fibers are broken off by friction and turbulence in the washing machine, eventually making their way into waterways and threatening nature, animals and our own health.
We recommend using a microfiber wash bag like this Guppyfriend Washing Bag that not only filters out microplastics, but also protects clothing from breaking down in the wash. The bag is durable and made to last, but if/when you need to discard it you can remove the zipper and recycle it.
5 - WASH ON COLD AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE
According to Energy Star, heating water accounts for 90 percent of the energy needed to run a washer. So the less hot water used, the more energy saved.
Plus, washing clothes at the coldest & shortest setting on a washing machine means less heat and agitation, in turn, prolonging their lifespan.
Fortunately, both washing machines and laundry detergents have evolved over the last 15-20 years to more effectively clean in cooler water so, in most cases, we no longer need to use hot water.
QUICK TIP: temperatures shown on the care label don’t represent the recommended washing temperature, but the recommended MAXIMUM temperature setting for that particular fabric.
Shorter, cooler washes cut dye release (i.e. color transfer, dullness & fading) by up to 74% and significantly reduces the number of problematic microfibers released into the environment by up to 52%.
A NOTE ON SANITIZING:
Until recently, anything we wanted to sanitize or thoroughly clean we would wash on the hottest washing cycle, thinking hot water = dissolving germs. However, we have since learned that even at its hottest setting, the water in regular washing machines just isn’t hot enough to actually kill bacteria.
(Some washers do have a sanitizer cycle that gets up to 165 degrees which can kill germs, but the heat will also greatly shorten the lifespan of your clothes.)
If a family member is sick or there are items you would like to sanitize, add one cup of distilled white vinegar to the rinse cycle. The white vinegar kills bacteria, deodorizes your laundry, softens fabrics, and even helps maintain bright colors.
Sunlight is also a natural laundry disinfectant, killing plenty of surface bacteria. Hang your clothing facing the sun (inside out as it can bleach colors), for 30 minutes and then flip and repeat on the other side.
6 - USE LESS DETERGENT
If you’re like us, for whatever reason in our brains more soap = cleaner clothes, when, in fact, the opposite is true. (Laundry detergent companies certainly don’t make it any easier on us by making the lines on the detergent cap nearly impossible to see.)
Using too much detergent makes it harder to rinse out, leaving clothes with a soapy film and crunchy feeling. Plus, too many suds are created which makes the machine use more water and work harder to get rid of them, increasing friction and wearing out your clothes much faster.
Certain types of detergent are more abrasive on our clothes than others, especially when coupled with excessive use. Those with harsh chemicals can wear down fibers, fading color and making them more susceptible to holes.
Powder detergents may be more effective at brightening whites and usually come in recyclable packaging, but it is more abrasive than liquid and may require warm water to fully dissolve which can greatly shorten the lifespan of your clothing.
So your best bet with powder detergents is to use less than you think you need and a bio-based brand formulated for use with your specific machine type and cold water.
If you prefer liquid detergents, also use less than you think you need and try to buy a bio-based brand that is formulated for use with your specific machine type and one that is double- or triple-concentrated, as they’re filled with less water and require less packing.
Don’t forget to skip the toxic (for both your clothes and skin) fabric softener and opt instead for adding a half-cup of white vinegar to the final rinse. A light scent can be added with a few drops of essential oil like lavender, lemon or orange.
7 - DITCH THE DRYER WHEN YOU CAN
There is an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence that tumble drying causes significant damage to clothing, including fading, shrinking and literally wearing the fabric down (the lint you find after each load is the result of micro-tears in the fibers).
Save your clothing and save energy when you ditch tumble drying.
Whenever possible, we recommend you air dry your clothes inside on a garment rack or line outside. Air drying keeps your clothes odor-free, allows your clothes to last longer, and cuts back on energy usage and cost. Plus, sunlight naturally deodorizes and brightens whites.
However, we know completely avoiding the dryer isn’t realistic, so when you do need to tumble dry we recommend using a lower heat setting and shorter dryer cycle. Drying similar fabrics together, and separating lighter and heavier items, will also decrease drying time.
REGULAR cycles are the highest heat setting and should only really be used sparingly for heavy items like towels. PERMANENT PRESS is a medium-heat setting with a cool-down period, and your best choice for most fabrics. The DELICATE cycle is the lowest-heat setting to use for items containing elastic, activewear, delicate cottons and shrink-prone materials like wool and linen. TUMBLE DRY is a no-heat setting and can be used for shrink-prone materials or clothing with synthetic embellishments that could melt with exposure to heat.
8 - PREVENT FADING
In addition to washing & drying clothes less, there are few natural ways to keep your clothes as vibrant as possible, for as long as possible.
- turn clothes inside out (especially denim & black garments)
- wash dark clothes together (this habit still holds up)
- use a mesh or microfiber bag for delicates
- pour ½ cup of salt in the wash cycle to prevent the dyes from bleeding
- soak new garments in a mixture of 1-2 quarts of water, ½ cup white vinegar, and 1 tbsp Epsom salts to prevent fading
❊ add 1½ cups of vinegar to the rinse cycle to whiten clothes.
❊ fill a large stock pot half full with water + add 1 cup of vinegar, bring to a boil. remove from heat, add garments & let soak overnight. launder as usual. (always check fabric care instructions to make sure it can handle a little hot water!)
❊ add ½ cup of baking soda to ‘boost’ your laundry (add to empty tub before laundry is added – do not place in automatic dispensers).
❊ if it’s a hot, bright day, take your whites outside & dry on a clothesline. the sun is nature’s bleach, plus it will smell so fresh & so clean without any added chemicals.
❊ avoid bleach: chlorine bleach strips away valuable dyes, reacts poorly with detergent, and may lead to yellowing instead of whitening.
REFRESH BLACK FABRICS:
We’re big fans of wearing all black, but even if you’re careful and wash & dry as little as possible, the color will fade over time. But, thanks to Rit All Purpose Fabric Dye, you can re-dye & refresh your favorite pieces back to black.
9 - GET A HANDHELD GARMENT STEAMER
Personally, we feel buying a handheld garment steamer was one of the easiest changes we made in order to be more mindful with laundry and garment care.
Garment steamers gently release wrinkles, and relax fibers (i.e. softens). It also kills odor-causing bacteria, allowing you to keep your clothes fresher longer, and increase your wear-per-wash ratio.
While air drying is so much better for our clothing and planet, it can honestly be a total pain to straighten, flatten & smooth wet clothes in order to prevent wrinkles.
Now, we don’t have to be quite so careful with ‘laying flat to dry’, we can quickly put them on our indoor drying racks & easily smooth out the wrinkles later with a steamer vs. having to pop them in the dryer for a minute (and greatly damaging the fabric in the process). Plus, when it removes the wrinkles, it relaxes the fabric making it softer as well.
We like using this MagicPro Portable Garment Steamer. It is affordable, lightweight, heats up quickly, and holds enough water to steam multiple items at a time.
10 - MEND & REPAIR
Don’t ditch it, stitch it!
Minor wear & tear is expected with loved clothing, so basic mending is essential to reducing textile waste and prolonging the life of our pieces.
However, in tandem with the rise of throwaway fashion over the past 20-30 years, sewing has become somewhat of a lost skill. So for many of us, it may seem intimidating at first, but most repairs are pretty simple and require little-to-no experience.
If you don’t have the time or interest to make these repairs yourself, we offer simple mending services with a local artist as part of our Full Circle Program.
11 - RESALE, REPURPOSE OR RECYCLE
More than 15 million tons of used textile waste is generated each year in the United States. While nearly 100% of textiles are reusable or recyclable, only 15% of consumer-used clothing is recycled, with the rest dumped into landfills or incinerated.
Let's ditch that throwaway mentality!
Trends come and go, style changes, and our lives and bodies fluctuate. It’s totally normal to need a refresh every now and then. So when you’re ready to part with your gently-used apparel and textiles, we recommend you donate them to a local non-profit organization or sell them on online at RESALE sites like Poshmark, Tradesy, or Mercari.
Or, bring them to us - as part of our Full Circle Program, we offer a consignment program that allows you to exchange your items for store credit.
There are a ton of creative ways to REPURPOSE old clothing and textiles and turn them into something new, including cutting them up to make cleaning rags, reusable 'cotton rounds', t-shirt produce bags, sock dryer balls, no-sew braided t-shirt rug, and whatever else your smart, imaginative self comes up with.
Creativity is at the heart of sustainability!
For those items of ours that become ripped, torn or stained beyond repair or reuse, we RECYCLE them with Retold Recycling thanks to their convenient textile recycling program. Order a bag, fill it with unwanted or unusable textiles, and drop off at the post office - it’s that easy! Each bag has a pre-paid label attached so you don’t even have to wait in line.
You can also give your old denim new purpose by mailing them to Blue Jeans Go Green. The Blue Jeans Go Green™ program collects denim (made from cotton) so that it can be recycled back to its original fiber state and transformed into something new like insulation material and pet bed inserts.
GO EASY ON YOURSELF
The best part about living more intentionally is that we are constantly learning and unlearning, and when you know better, you do better!
However, breaking free of outdated habits is difficult, so don’t feel like you need to entirely change everything all at once. Awareness is the first step!
Do the best you can, when you can - that’s enough, we promise.
Please note: this blog does *not* contain any affiliate links. We use any products mentioned ourselves, and are not compensated for this article.