How-To Guide: Caring for Your Clothes the Sustainable Way

The scenario:

You look at your new favorite top’s care label: “hand wash cold/lay flat to dry” it says.  You think, “meh, who’s got the time...throw it in the wash.”  We’ve all been there.  But what may come as a surprise is the reasoning behind that label’s seemingly nagging care advice.  Believe it or not, that care advice is well advised, and complying will not only extend the life of your beloved clothing, but is safer for the planet too!  You see, hand washing those synthetic fabrics does double sustainability duty--not only will your clothing look and wear its very best for a longer period of time, you’re also keeping harmful chemicals from polluting our water. 


The pollution problem:  

Some of the most popular fabrics including acrylic, nylon, and polyester shed synthetic “microfibers” which are “too small to be filtered out by waste treatment plants,” which means that “they end up in our waterways and oceans...wreak[ing] havoc on marine animals and the environment” (1).   


The pollution solutions: 

If you’re going to machine wash--

  • Make it a full load, which “results in less friction between the clothes and fewer fibers released.”
  • Use liquid laundry soap because it is gentler than powder soap and therefore causes less friction, and fewer fibers shed.
  • Cold water settings = fewer released pollutants
  • Low temp/low rev dryer settings = less friction 
  • Buy natural, sustainable clothing when possible, since cotten, linen, bamboo, and wool “eventually break down in the environment” (1).

If you’re willing to consider laundry alternatives--

  • Wash less, and only launder when stained.  Keeping a stain pen on hand can make this a more realistic option.
  • Use your kitchen sink to handwash clothes using cold water and a gentle detergent (baby shampoo also works great in a pinch).

The longevity problem:

You invest in certain clothes because they are quality pieces that you love.  And an investment, by definition, should be lasting.  Unfortunately, machine washing is not good for your investment.  It’s simply the combination of harsh detergents, hot water, and friction that wreaks havoc on those beloved pieces.  While all clothing, regardless of fabric, can benefit from hand washing, it’s those synthetic types that benefit the most.  


The longevity solutions:

  • It may not be feasible to hand wash all of your intimates, all of the time, so invest in a delicates bag to keep those favorite bras and panties safe from rips and tears.
  • Wash less and only launder when stained.  Sound familiar?  That’s because this is probably the easiest and most reasonable way to keep that piece looking perfectly new.
  • Avoid dry cleaning!  First, it’s expensive, duh.  Second, the “process involves the use of harsh chemicals that not only harm the [environment] but the [fabric] too.”  Dry cleaning, over time, actually causes fabrics to “fade a lot faster than they should” (2).  
  • Instead of dry cleaning--hang the item in a bathroom filled with steam from the shower, to loosen wrinkles and refresh your outfit without the use of chemicals.
  • Use a clothesline or drying rack.  The sun does a way better job drying your clothes than that friction causing, energy sucking dryer ever could.  Using a clothesline or drying rack “will avoid overheating and potential shrinking of garments…[which] is particularly relevant for intimate apparel and activewear…[as] heat [is] known for breaking down the elasticity in garments, causing unwanted stretching” (2).

So the next time you look at that care label, heed the good advice!  Not only are you being kinder to the environment, you’re being kinder to your clothes, and ensuring that you can continue to love those favorite pieces for years to come.


Sources

1  “15 Ways to Stop Microfiber Pollution Now.” PlasticPollutionCoalition, 2 Mar. 2017,

https://www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/blog/2017/3/2/15-ways-to-stop-microfiber-pollution-now.  Accessed 22 May 2020.


2  “The Ultimate Guide to Making Your Clothes Last Longer.” Alysha Byrne, 28 May 2018, 

The-ultimate-guide-to-making-your-clothes-last-longer.  Accessed 23 May 2020.