It takes over 700 gallons of water to make a single cotton shirt, and the average American throws away a staggering 80 pounds of textiles a year. This wasteful approach to our clothes is having a devastating impact on the planet, and will only get worse unless we can change our habits and create better, more sustainable industries. It’s time for change! Fast fashion is out; your garments are here to stay. Here are our top tips for extending the life of your clothes and – good news – they are really simple to work into your daily routine.
Invest in quality
It may take a little getting used to, but spending more on each piece of clothing initially could actually save you money in the long run. It is tempting to buy that discount $10 tee from that online store with cheap delivery, but the chances are that you will have to buy another before the year is up. Cheap clothes simply do not last (unless you find a quality bargain at the thrift store, of course). Spending a bit of time doing research into quality, ethical brands is absolutely invaluable. Not only will your clothes last longer; but as you de-clutter your closet you will realize which items you truly need and value, and those which you can live without. So although spending $200 on that winter coat may break your heart a little to begin with (and, perhaps, your bank account); treat it with proper TLC and it will serve you well for years to come.
Get to know your fabrics!
Can you tell your cotton from your wool? Do you know what nylon needs and are you sympathetic to suede? Not all fabrics are created equal, and some require extra special attention when it comes to washing, drying and storing. Making sure that each item is cleaned and stored exactly as it should be will improve the longevity of your clothing and avoid shrunken, shriveled and otherwise lame-looking garments! Clothes from quality stores should come with proper care instructions, or can be found online. If you can’t find such instructions or your clothing is a blend of fabrics, then treat it according to the most delicate. For example, a merino wool and polyester blend should be treated as entirely merino: cold washing and natural drying for maximum care.
For those which you can’t put in the washing machine, such as leathers, boots, outdoor gear, shoes and coats, spend time researching the best way to keep them clean and fresh. With a little patience and elbow grease, these items can last you a lifetime.
Washing and drying: less is more
There is a misconception that clothes should be washed after every wear to preserve them; but over-washing can actually damage the fabrics. Churning it around in the washer’s drum with other items regularly increases the risk of snags, drains colors more readily and can cause elastics to become loose. It is also important, for your clothes and your washing machine itself, that you do not completely fill the washer’s drum. Cramming clothing inside means that clothes are washed less efficiently and your machine is under much more strain. Try to fill it only halfway – this will mean more water is used but greater efficiency overall.
There is also no need to always wash your clothes in warm water. In fact, cold washes are even recommended for bright or delicate garments. You can still get a thorough clean and save those cents with a lower temperature. If clothes are heavily stained, try a natural enzyme pre-soak to gently break down the dirt before a cold wash.
Artificially drying clothes is also to be used sparingly. Not only are tumble dryers a huge guzzler of energy; clothes are at risk of shrinking or becoming misshapen in the unnatural heat. This is another important reason to pay close attention to your fabrics! Try instead natural methods of drying such as an outdoor clothes line, or an indoor rack if you lack the yard space.
Savvy storage is key
Proper clothing care doesn’t just end with drying. Your garments should also be stored properly so as to maximize their shelf life. Stuffing them into a small space may feel quick and convenient, but they should really be kept folded or hanging in a cool, dry environment with minimal exposure to light. Humid and damp conditions can encourage bacteria to grow, which damages the fibers and creates that dreaded “moldy cloth” smell. Too much harsh light can also cause bright colors to fade and weaken the threads over time, which is why cupboards are your clothes’ best friend.
Heavy items of clothing such as sweaters should be folded on a shelf and not hung. The weight of its own heavy fabric can cause the item to stretch at the sleeves and hems over time, making them more baggy and unflattering. (However, if you’re going for the slightly-too-big-but-it’s-cool look then, by all means, hang your sweaters.) It is also worth investing in good quality wooden hangers as opposed to the flimsy plastic or wire ones. Putting even light and delicate items on thin hangers can have the same stretching effect as mentioned above, and they may begin to bend in the middle – bunching up your clothes and inducing wrinkles.
Mend and make-do
Our wasteful attitude to clothing simply won’t do! Many items are thrown away because of small blemishes, holes or defects which could easily be fixed with a little know-how. It’s time to drag your sewing kit out from the depths and get well acquainted with that needle and thread. Lucky for you, patches are in right now. If the hole is too big for a simple stitch, stick a great big patch on it and no-one will bat an eyelid.
Faded clothes can also be dyed very easily to breathe some life back into them. Dyes are inexpensive and come with instructions on the right water-to-dye ratios – all you need is a bucket and your sleeves rolled up. This works best for block colors rather than multi-color garments, but experimenting is half the fun.
So there you have it: A few quick tips and handy hints to prolong the life of your favorite items and help to reduce your impact on the earth. Remember, the key to living a more sustainable life is to start small, start local and be empowered by the small changes that you make. Each of us shares a space on this planet and so each of us has a duty of care – get creative and do your bit!
Advice from the author: Don’t dye clothes in a bathtub unless you pay the bills. Mom was not so happy.
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