We have talked before about the environmental price of fashion, and the fact that the fashion industry is not only the second-largest consumer of the world's water supply, but also one of its biggest polluters with 35% of all micro-plastics in the ocean coming from the laundering of synthetic textiles. We have already advised you against the dangers of fast fashion, on how to buy more sensibly and how to properly dispose of unwanted clothes or of badly run down clothes, but what about what you already have in your closet? How can we preserve those items in the best way possible, to ensure they last for years to come and help us lower our fashion carbon footprint?
Are you sure you need to wash that?
You may think you already know how to wash your clothes just because you know how to set a program on your washing machine, but this isn’t all you need to know when it comes to doing laundry.
The amount of times a garment is washed is the leading cause of clothes being worn down and prematurely ruined. Frequent washes can in fact leave items faded, stretched, pilling, or even damaged. Although we’re not suggesting you completely stop doing laundry, it’s important to know that clothes do not need to be put in the laundry basket every single time we take them off and can instead be simply aired out and put away if they don’t smell or aren’t dirty.
Certain items, such as jeans for example, could even be worn for months without needing to be washed! Don’t trust us with that information? Then trust Levi’s CEO and President Chip Bergh, who said that "A good pair of denim doesn’t really need to be washed in the washing machine except for very infrequently or rarely.” He also added that instead of throwing jeans in the washer as soon as he sees a stain, he "spot cleans" the area with a toothbrush, saving water and limiting the amount of times that fabric is put in the washing machine. Other experts actually say that the longer you can go without washing your denim the better your jeans will actually look!
When you do decide to wash them though, remember that jeans, just like any other darker items of clothing, always have to be loaded inside-out. This will protect them from rubbing up against other items and becoming faded with time (same thing applies for example to t-shirts with silk screened design).
Of course t-shirts and items that are more in direct contact with out sweat and more likely to get stained, need to be washed regularly, so the first tip is to start dividing items by fabric and not by color. If you have a full load of t-shirts for example, don’t mix them with items with zippers or buttons. If you really need that one item that has buttons or zippers and can’t wait to have a full basket of those types of clothes, then of course put it in. Clothes washing accounts for more than 20% of residential indoor water use, so try your best to save water by washing a full machine load of clothes every time, as this will use less water and energy than doing two half loads of laundry.
Whether or not you mix t-shirts with items that have zippers, take a couple of steps to protect both types of garments, by zippering/buttoning everything up. By leaving zippers down on both pants and jackets you can in fact risk them being damaged by the collision and friction caused during the washing, as well as risk them getting entangled in other clothes. Make sure the zippers are in a fully closed state with the sliders fixed in position, and turn the garment inside out to add another layer of protection against the hard surface of the washing drum.
Get to know the labels and follow the directions given as to what program and what temperature is best for that particular item of clothing, as those recommendations will have been carefully studied to preserve the garment in its top condition. Also read your washing machine’s manual and find out exactly which type of material they suggest each program is best suited for.
To dry or not to dry
Once you’ve washed your clothes they will of course have to be dried, but how?
If washing your clothes too frequently is the worst thing you can do to wear them out too quickly, a dryer is the most damaging appliance in which you can put them in if you wish to preserve them as best you can. This is because the heat that is produced during the cycle can scorch clothes and cause shrinking, fading, and even pilling. The impact of dryers is particularly visible when it comes to intimate apparel and active-wear, as the heat tends to cause stretching by breaking down elasticity.
The best thing you can do to keep your clothes from getting ruined, is to air dry them. Not only is this the most sustainable way to get them to dry as it uses less energy and has less of an impact on the environment and on your wallet, but it also extends the clothes’ lifecycle by noticeably reducing wear and tear.
We do understand that not everyone has access to an outdoor clothesline, but it’s true that there are also ways to naturally dry your clothes indoor too. For example you could use an indoor drying rack or drape your clothes on towel racks, shower curtains or waterproof surfaces. If you don’t have a lot of space and can’t open a window to speed the drying process up, then use a high speed setting or run an extra spin cycle on your washing machine to eliminate as much water as possible before you take the clothes out. Of course the extra spin will consume energy, but it will still be far less emissions, and far less damage than a full cycle in a tumble dryer.
Of course if air drying is absolutely not an option and you can’t avoid using a dryer, then follow some basic guidelines to reduce the dryer’s running time and limit your emissions. First of all, just like we said in regards to loading a washing machine, sort your items by fabric. Mixing heavyweight and lightweight articles in the same load will ultimately take longer to dry so separate them. Same logic applies to wool, acrylic and cotton, as the first two dry at a much lower temperature ( = less time) than cotton.
Metal components will seriously heat up during the cycle, so they too should be separated from other materials as zippers could, for example, end up rubbing against delicate fabrics such as silks or knits, and damage them.
Another way to make sure your dryer runs as efficiently as possible and gets things dried as quickly as possible, is to keep it’s filter clean and to make sure that the room it’s in remains well-ventilated.
Fresh and clean!
Apply these simple steps to your laundry routine and keep your favorite clothing items looking great while ensuring your fashion footprint and your carbon emissions keep to a minimum.