Whether you’re trying to preserve the beauty of your beloved closet members or just trying to stretch the last bit of life out of some fast fashion items (Hey, me too! But we’re all here to learn and grow so no judgement), we’ve compiled a list of 10 tips to help you. From what do laundry symbols mean to how often to wash your clothes, we’ve covered it all.
AND just to provide a bit of sustainability motivation - did you know that by extending the life of your clothing by 9 months would reduce carbon, waster, and water footprints by around 20-30% each? Yeah, so taking good care of your clothing not only lessens your impact on the environment, it helps you save money and helps you look good while doing it. So let’s dive in:
1. Read the Care Tag
Ideally before you even purchase an item. Unfortunately, they may not always be easy to find or hidden in different drop downs while shopping online so at least check it out once you receive the item. Reading the care tag will help you understand if the clothing will fit into your existing routines. For example, do you already get clothes dry cleaned? If so, then dry clean only items are completely fine for you but if not, you may want to reconsider.
So WTF do those symbols mean anyways? Luckily most tags will have the words written out of how you’re supposed to care for the clothes but sometimes they decide to only drop a few wingdings like we all should know what they mean. We got you, bookmark this infographic from the Concept Wardrobe for easy reference in the future!
2. Wash it Before You Wear it
Maybe this one is the clean freak coming out but for real - wash your clothes before you wear them. You don’t know where they’ve been before you got them, especially if you’re buying 2nd hand. But even new clothes could have residue from chemicals in the manufacturing process. You also don’t know what kind of handling that clothing went through shipping wise to get to you. Always play it safe and wash the clothes before you wear it.
3. Organize & Sort Your Clothes
Organize your closet so you can easily see everything. This helps you avoid purchasing something similar to what you already own and allows you to quickly see what you have clean. It’s also a good idea to clean out your closet at least once a year to make sure you’re making use of everything that’s in there. For tips to sustainably clean out your closet, check out this post.
In general, we recommend sorting and storing your clothes by type. Dresses should be put in an area that has longer hanging space while tops should be hung up together and pants in a separate space as well. This helps streamline your process of choosing an outfit and getting dressed in the morning. You could also sort your clothes by colors within each type for ease of finding items and creating outfits. For instance, if you have navy pants you want to wear then you can quickly grab a top within a complementary color group like red without having to sort through all your tops to find one that red one you had in mind.
Additionally, how you store your clothes can affect how long they’ll last. Case and point - don’t hang your sweaters, especially the heavier ones. The yarn is more likely to stretch out around the hanger causing weird bumps on your shoulders the next time you want to wear it. Additionally, make sure to hang up anything that does need to retain its shape like jackets, blazers, and coats.
4. Wash Your Clothes Less Often
Minimizing the amount of times you wash clothing not only reduces your water usage but also helps extend the life of that item. Each time a piece of clothing is washed microfibers are released from it, degrading the fabric. So how often to wash clothes? The chart below outlines it all.
It’s important to note that reducing how often you wash clothing made from synthetic materials will help decrease your contribution to microplastics. Clothing made from synthetic materials, such as polyester, nylon, etc, release plastic microfibers each time the item is washed.These microplastics end up washing away into our waterways, causing pollution and eventually ending up back in our own bodies. Synthetic materials are commonly found in athletic wear and any item with a lot of stretch. Which may seem like a small subset of your closet but it’s estimated that about 60% of clothing is made from fabric that has microplastics.
To reduce your production of microplastics consider using a Cora Ball or Guppyfriend when washing any clothing made from synthetic materials. According to the Guppyfriend website, the Guppyfriend is able to lessen the amount of fibers that break off of clothing and capture any fibers that do break off before they wash away. The bag itself does not lose any fibers while washing either.
5. Sort Clothes by Type for Washing
Most of us know sorting our colors from our whites is at least the bare minimum. It’s also wise to wash any dark items separately for at least the first wash to prevent any bleeding. But what else can you do to prolong the life of your clothing?
Well, you can sort by fabric type too. The benefit here is that heavier fabrics might cause unnecessary wear to thinner, more delicate fabrics so sorting by fabric helps extend clothing life. For example, both jeans and towels are made from heavier fabrics. Both should be separated and washed in different loads instead of mixed with other clothing. Also, definitely do not wash jeans and towels together unless you want to become best friends with your lint roller.
The other benefit when sorting by fabric is that it helps improve drying time since light clothing items dry faster. Where mixed loads of items would need to continue drying until the heaviest items are dry, separated loads would not. Let’s say you’ve got two loads of mixed items, regular clothes with a couple towels. The dryer would need to run each of those two cycles for longer, let’s say 60 min for easy math, to dry the towels. So you would run two 60 min dryer cycles. But if you were to separate towels and regular clothes and run them separately, you’d still run one 60 min load for the towels but likely be able to run a 45 min load for the regular clothes. Boom. Energy saved.
6. Wash Using Cold Water
Washing your clothes in cold water has several benefits. The first being it uses less energy. Heating water to a warm temperature requires energy so by using cold water you’re avoiding using that energy and saving some coin on your utilities bill.
Using cold water preserves your clothes better helping them last for longer. Surely we’ve all made the fateful mistake of shrinking a clothing item too small even a child couldn’t get much use out of it so you already know heat causes clothes to shrink. Additionally, cold water helps preserve the color of your clothing. Heat actually breaks down the dyes in the fabrics which causes bleeding and results in faded clothes.
7. Prep Your Clothes Before Washing
Who knew there was a proper way to actually prepare your clothes for being washed beyond wearing them? Yeah not here either but it turns out there are a few steps you can follow to help prevent damage while washing.
First, to avoid any snags on other clothing items check that any zippers are zipped prior to tossing into the washer. Secondly, button any buttons. This helps prevent any loose buttons from snagging on something and getting pulled off. Finally, for any darker items especially denim, make sure to flip them inside out. This helps from any dye wearing away at the seams and turning white.
8. Replace Dryer Sheets with Dryer Balls
Besides the issue of waste caused by using a dryer sheet once and tossing it out, dryer sheets also contain harmful chemicals. Even more reason to switch to a sustainable alternative, purchasing dryer balls once compared to multiple boxes of dryer sheets will save you money overall.
Dryer balls are reusable balls of wool that can be thrown into the dryer with each load. Buy one set and it’ll last you far longer than even an entire box of dryer sheets. You can even add a couple drops of essential oil on them before tossing into the dryer for a bit of scent on your clothes.
Cyndi Prince founder of LooHoo Wool Dryer Balls explains how they work, “Using LooHoos will naturally soften laundry without any harmful chemicals. LooHoos will also help circulate your laundry more efficiently reducing your dry time and saving you money. The trick is to use several LooHoos at once - at least 3 for small loads and more for larger loads.” LooHoo even sources all their wool from Maine to produce their dry balls in the US, making for an even more sustainable end product.
9. Steam & Iron Only When Needed
Did you know the majority of wrinkles happen in the washer? And the dryer is really just doing all it can to help smooth them out. Fun fact but anyways, your best bet is to pull clothes out of the dryer after they’re done and not let them sit. The warm clothes are more susceptible to new wrinkles after going through the dryer process. If you’re using line or air drying, you can lay items particularly susceptible to wrinkles flat and smooth them out while they’re still wet.
But if you have specific items that need a little bit of extra love to release those wrinkles, a steamer is the best bet. Depending on the fabric and if those wrinkles are really set in, you may need to bust out the ole iron too. A small hand held steamer should be enough for steaming just a couple items once in awhile or you could always invest in a larger stand up one if you want to steam for the entire family in one sitting.
10. Learn Simple Repairs
One of the easiest ways to really stretch the life of your clothing is to learn how to do some simple repairs. Check out some links to easy and common repairs in our previous blog post on consciously cleaning out your closet.