A common misconception about long lasting garments is that it singularly depends on the quality of the fabric. While that is mostly true, a major missing puzzle piece is the way the garments are being cared for. 75% of energy in the lifecycle of a garment is spent in its aftercare, and only if we clean it correctly, will it last years and decades, perhaps for the next generation. A majority of us think the only rule about doing laundry properly is sorting the lights from the darks – but that’s only the first step.
Here are 6 possible reasons why our clothes are not getting the right care they need, and how we can extend their lifespan:
1. Washing Everything Together
Different fabrics need different kinds of care, so it helps to sort your clothes not only by colour, but by fabric type. Keep your silks and other lightweight fabrics at bay when washing your heavy duty garments, such as your jeans and anything with buttons and zippers. For example, put your delicates in a net bag to ensure they keep their shape and softness. Even sort through clothes if they have visible dirt or stains, as they might end up soiling the other clothes in the mix. Even if garments are made with organic fabrics, it doesn’t mean they can withstand improper washing.
TIP: Remove stains as soon as you get them, to prevent them from setting permanently. Baking soda and vinegar solution helps with makeup stains. Instead of using bleach for protein stains such as blood and sweat stains, try putting them in a big pot of water with some lemon slices and let it boil for a short while.
2. To Dry Clean or Not to Dry Clean
It’s a misconception that dry cleaning is better for the longevity of the garment. There’s a distinction between “dry clean” and “dry clean only”, as the first simply recommends the method of cleaning, but is not as necessary as the second label. Only dry clean garments with specific care labels, such as some jackets, and leathers. Hand washing some “dry clean” garments are alright. Some clothes will even put “do not dry clean”, as the dry cleaning solvents can damage their special coating, which will lead to pilling.
3. Frequent Washing
Unless you are washing undergarments and sports attire, there is no need to wash after a single wear. Instead, opt to wait 2-3 wears for t-shirts and pants, and maybe a few more for sweaters and jeans. Not only is this more sustainable, but it also prolongs the life of your garment as washing stretches out the fibres, and makes them more prone to breakage.
TIP: When washing jeans, always pull the zipper up so its teeth don’t get caught in fibres, ruining other clothes and the zipper itself. However, with shirts, the opposite is true. Leaving the shirt buttoned will damage the buttons and the buttonholes.
4. Incorrectly Drying
While it is better in some cases, line-drying is not the best option for all your fabrics. For example, line-drying knits is as compatible as using sandpaper as an exfoliator. However, the same goes for putting your silk tops, stretchy sportswear, wool sweaters, and lingerie in the dryer – they won’t be able to withstand the heat and motion as well as other cotton t-shirts or linen pants can. In one study, repeatedly drying cotton garments led to cracks in the clothing, which reduced fabric strength by 25 percent or more and also caused pilling.
TIP: Always hang-dry dark clothes! Tumble-drying causes fading in black clothing especially, leaving you with different shades of black.
5. Measuring Detergent, Fabric Softener and Bleach
Too much of anything can damage your clothes. Excess detergent will leave residue on the fabrics, causing stains and damage to the fibres, bacteria buildup from the extra suds, and also an awful smell that’s hard to get rid of. Too much fabric softener won’t make your clothes extra soft, but quite the contrary – it will leave your clothes stiff and sticky. Even though bleach can get rid of protein stains, the fibres will significantly weaken after a bleach-out.
6. The Cold Water Debate
Whether it is for sustainability, saving energy or personal preference, there’s a reason for the fine print on the care label of your clothes. Unless it specifically demands warm or hot water, cold water washes are more than enough. Not only do they prevent shrinkage, it stops colours from bleeding, especially for new dyed clothes.
TIP: Wash clothes inside out to better protect the appearance of the colour and any metal details.
Overall, the main point to take away is to learn to read the fine print on care labels. Spend some time researching into fabrics and their special needs, to make sure they are treated properly to preserve their qualities and wearability. The better we care for our garments, the longer they will last, and the less number of clothes we add to landfills.
We’d love to hear more about some tips on doing better laundry, share your tricks in the comments below.