A stack of very well cared for and folded sustainable clothes made out of natural fabrics.
August 14, 2023
Slow Fashion

Slow Fashion Starts with Sustainable Clothing Care: Tips to Make Your Clothes Last

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he conversation around sustainable fashion is often dominated by arguments about which brands to support or boycott. But what about the clothes we already have?

With about a garbage truck’s worth of clothing burned or dumped every second, we need to think not only about how we consume but consuming less. Learning how to take care of your clothes is something we can all do so that we’re not replacing items so frequently or throwing out as much. The impact of this is fewer clothes in landfills, as well as less strain on your budget.

In this article, we’ll share the most sustainable clothing care tips and the benefits these simple steps can have for your life and the environment.

Table of  Contents

Why Sustainable Clothing Care? The Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry

The clothing industry accounts for roughly 10% of the world’s carbon emissions, has been linked to major cases of pollution in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, and places huge pressure on water and land usage. A single t-shirt takes 200 water bottles worth of water to make (713 gallons/2700 liters).

Environmental issues arise at every part of the clothing industry’s cycle, from making textiles to forming actual garments and selling them. One of the best ways we as consumers can intervene is by extending the life cycle of our existing clothes so that less goes to waste. 

Think of some of the reasons you’ve had to throw out or replaced clothes in the past – wear and tear, holes, missing buttons, things not fitting properly, or just simply being bored with the same item. Learning how to take care of fabrics and the clothes in your wardrobe can help address all those issues and ultimately keep garments away from landfills and from further polluting our environment.

The 5 Areas of Sustainable Clothing Care With All The Details You'll Need to Get Started

Colorful illustration of minimalist sustainable closet with well cared for clothing organized mindfully.

The quality of your clothes often determines how long they last. Thicker fabric, seams with no loose threads, and a fit that feels good on your body all help ensure that an item stays wearable for longer.

Ultimately, however, even the best clothes won’t last if they’re not cared for properly. Keep reading for the best clothing care tips on how to keep your clothes looking polished so that you look great, and feel great about your sustainability choices too:

1. Timely and Effective Stain Removal

The most eco friendly and effective approach to removing stains is right after your garment gets one. This way you can get away with using less product and the chances of removing it and preserving the quality of your fabric are much higher.

However, if you're not in the position to deal with the stain right away, a good rule of thumb is to always remove the stain before the garment goes in the dryer. This is because, in addition to the loss of moisture, the high temperatures that fabric gets exposed to in the dryer causes the stain to set more deeply into the fibers of the fabric making it much more difficult, or impossible to remove without fraying (therefore aging) the fabric.

Since constant washing also ages your clothes, If you spill on a recently laundered item, most of the time you can get away with simply treating the affected area, rinsing it in the sink, and air drying it in time for your next wear. This avoids the need to put the whole garment through the stress of a full wash cycle. 

However, in case you have a particularly stubborn or tricky stains to deal with, here are a couple of more specialized fabric and stain specific removal guides that can help remedy the issue:

If you need an all purpose stain remover that is eco friendly, natural, and effective, the brand Puracy offers a good solution called Natural Laundry. We like this formula because it is made from plant based enzymes, is free of harsh chemicals, and is very effective with removing oil stains. 

2. Gentle Washing and Drying Practices

If you want to know how to keep your clothes looking new, start with your washing and drying methods. Here are some laundry-related clothing care tips to help:

  • Check the Care Label: The care label on your clothing tells you whether it can be ironed or tumble-dried and how hot the water should be when washing it. Ignoring those instructions is what usually turns a T-shirt into a crop top, or causes the color to run from a pair of pants and ruin an entire load of laundry.
  • Clothing Colors: Separating darks from lights isn’t just an annoying chore, it’s a necessity. This is especially true with newer, dark items as some clothes are made from fabric that is “unwashed” which means dye might run from it the first few times you wash it.
  • When Possible, Turn Your Clothes Inside Out: One of the main reasons the exterior of the garments get frayed during the wash cycles is due to the movement and friction created during the spinning and rinsing process. To minimize this, and avoid your clothes from becoming shabby, or piling, turn your clothes inside out before you place them in the washer.
  • Use A Washing Bag For Your Synthetics: In order to decrease the amount of microplastics leached out by any clothing items you own that contain synthetic fibers, place them in this washing bag made by Guppyfriend or any other reliable microplastic blocking solution out there.
  • Pick The Cold Wash: Another way to avoid dye running is by simply picking a cold wash whenever you can. It also reduces the risk of clothes shrinking and has added environmental benefits. According to the American Cleaning Institute, you could cut down 864 pounds of CO2 emissions per year by simply putting four out of five loads of laundry on a cold wash. As we’ll get to later, there are also many detergents on the market now that are designed to be effective in cold water so that you don’t have to compromise on hygiene for sustainability.
  • Do Not Overpack the Washer: Sustainability is most effective when we try to maintain a balance in everything we do. In this case, when the washer is over packed, your clothes will be exposed to much more wear from the neighboring garments. Additionally, the detergent and water will not spread evenly during the wash cycle leaving some of your garments with soap stains and others seeming like they haven't been washed effectively. As a result you will probably find yourself running the cycle again, using more water, energy and time than you originally intended and fraying your clothes further. Overloading will also increase the amount of energy your appliance will consume in one wash as it creates extra stress on the motor, which also decreases the lifespan of the appliance. 
  • Wash Less and Avoid Half-Loads: Taking care of fabrics is often a matter of resisting the urge to overwash things. Underwear, socks, and sports clothes need to be washed after each use but things like jeans, jackets, and other outerwear can be worn a few times. Another way to save on water and energy is to simply make sure that you have a full load before running a washing machine. 
  • Avoid Bleach: Bleach contains chlorine which is an endocrine disruptor. Additionally,  when chlorine enters the environment through the water streams it reacts with soil and air to release organochlorines which are carcinogenic and toxic to wildlife.  This is why we recommend steering away from bleach and opting for a more eco friendly solution to treat your whites. This guide is provided by Kelly’s Dry Cleaners (an eco friendly dry cleaning business) for more natural solutions. 
  • Use Eco-Friendly, Biodegradable Laundry Detergent: Certain chemicals found in soaps and detergents can contribute to water pollution, as well as shape the efficacy of doing something like a cold wash. Look out for eco-friendly, biodegradable detergents designed for cold washes and, for extra sustainability points, come in recyclable packaging. With delicate items, such as wool jumpers or silk shirts, it’s best to use detergent specifically suited to it. Learning to care for fabrics better really means learning to adjust simple measures such as how, and what you wash them with so that they last longer.
  • Air Dry Where You Can: Not only does tumble-drying often lead to misshapen clothes but most machines use a huge amount of energy. Air drying is much less environmentally impactful and if you don’t have outdoor space, can be done using a drying rack indoors. Even air drying clothes a little before putting them in the tumble dryer can help cut down on energy use. 
  • Use Dryer Balls: When tumble drying your clothes, consider using dryer balls. These are an eco friendly alternative to dryer sheets and they are great for reducing drying time and energy consumption.
  • Dry-cleaning for Special Occasions/Items Only: Most dry-cleaning services use an array of chemicals that aren’t great for our water. Ask your dry cleaners about their sustainability efforts and try to limit how often you use them. That said, if a clothing label says “dry clean only”, don’t try to wash it at home as it might damage the item.
  • Consider Hand washing: If you’re stuck with too few items to do a full laundry load or have delicate items you’re worried about ruining, hand washing can be a great solution.

3. Treating Wrinkles and Fabric Pilling

  • Use a steamer to remove wrinkles instead of an iron: If you are going to a job interview or have a special occasion or outing and you need to get the wrinkles out of your outfit, we recommend using a steamer instead of an iron. A steamer is generally much more gentle on natural fabrics than an iron. 
  • De-wrinkle while you shower: A good hack is to hang the garment of choice in the bathroom while you shower. This will soften the fabric and allow you to smoothen out the very prominent wrinkles with your hands as soon as you step out of the shower (make sure your hands are dry!). 
  • Invest in a Fabric Shaver and Lint Brush: To keep all your sweaters, jackets and other fabrics that are prone to pilling and collecting lint looking new and polished , it is a good idea to get a fabric shaver, and brush. Unfortunately, there are many solutions that result in using disposable batteries and waxed paper and these are not good for the environment. So instead, we recommend trying out this all in one fabric shaver and lint brush that has no disposable parts, is effective, easy to use, and should last you for decades.

4. Appropriate and Clutter Free Storage

We’ve all had that moment of grabbing a sweater from the back of our closet only to find it too moth-eaten and musty to wear. Here’s how to avoid that and better approach care for clothing in your wardrobe:

  • Storage Basics: One of the best clothing care tips we can give you is to store your items in a cool, dry place that can be kept away from dust, sunlight, and moisture.
  • Avoid Overstuffing Your Closet: This practice creates a lot of friction between clothes and leads to degradation of your clothing items at a faster rate. Overstuffing also makes it more difficult and stressful to decide what you want to wear everyday and forget what you already have.
  • Knitwear Care: To avoid moths and other creatures making holes in your knitwear, store your wool and cashmere jumpers with moth balls or pieces of cedar. Lavender is also a great addition to keep things fresh but just make sure that you don’t overfill your storage (it creates friction between the garments) and that things are stored clean as dirt often attracts moths.

5. Tailoring and (Easy) Repairs of Pre-Loved Clothing

For most of us, finding holes in our socks just means it’s time to purchase more. The problem is that a new pair of cotton socks can use about 600 liters or 158 gallons of water to make. Here are some ways to repair what you have instead of having to repurchase every time:

  • Quick Repairs: For quick sewing repairs, such as putting on a new button, darning socks, or patch fixing your jeans, we’d recommend this helpful tutorial. It’s for complete beginners so don’t worry if you’ve never picked up a needle and thread before. Some items need a more drastic fix, but that’s ok. A stained pair of jeans can be cut into a pair of shorts and if you’re worried about being neat with your sewing, consider trying visible mending instead.
  • Tailor to Fit Better or Change Things Up: For more complicated fixes, taking clothes to a tailor is usually the best option. It’s also a great way to get clothes altered if your body has changed or if you’d just like an update to an old piece of clothing.
  • Dye it: Some stains never come out, at which point dying an item is often a great way to revitalize it. Click here for an in-depth look at natural dyes and using them at home.
  • Mend Your Knitwear: Sweaters and cardigans are prone to holes and tears, but most are surprisingly simple to mend, as this tutorial helps show. Another strategy for how to keep your clothes looking new is to use a fabric shaver on your knitwear to get off any natural pilling that occurs. We’d recommend going through your clothes at least once a season to pick out any mending issues and then setting aside time to do them. It can be very therapeutic, satisfying work and you can even invite a friend over to do it with you while you watch a movie together.

The Benefits of Sustainable Clothing Care

Knowing how to take care of your clothes doesn’t just keep garments out of landfills, it also means that you aren’t having to buy as much as often. That’s great for the environment and it’s a great way to save money.

Better washing and mending can add years to your wardrobe and introduce a more mindful approach to fashion consumption in your life overall.

Care for Clothes Pays Off

According to Fashion Revolution, about 25% of the carbon footprint of a garment is shaped by the way we wash and care for it. The bottom line is that learning how to care for clothes better, from washing to mending, helps the environment while also helping your budget. 

Worst case scenario, you get to hang onto your favorite sweater a little longer. Best case scenario, you learn a new skill like sock darning and then never, ever have to worry about walking around with holes in your socks again. That’s a level of bragging rights that no new purchase can give you.

One last important point to remember is that when it comes to the size of your clothing inventory, less is more. Opt for a more minimalist closet with higher quality more natural fabrics. Not only is this better for the environment, but it also makes clothing care much easier to digest stay on top of.