The impact of fast fashion is drastic. Nowadays, clothes aren’t made to last to encourage more and more trips to the store. And that tactic is working, American shoppers buy about five times more clothing now than they did in 1980. And on average, clothes are worn about seven times before they’re tossed.
Advocating for sustainable fashion doesn’t just mean buying more eco-friendly items. Sustainable fashion can still sometimes be fast fashion. Instead, we should be more conscious about getting more wears out of our clothes, and cherishing them more, instead of treating them as disposables. Incredibly, by wearing one item of clothing for 9 months, you can actually reduce the carbon footprint of the item by 30%! Here are some tips to make your clothes last longer, so that they last those 9 months and beyond.
1. Wash them less
Unless your clothes are stained or are starting to smell, challenge yourself to wear them twice or thrice before washing them! Every wash, synthetic clothes shed about 700,000 microscopic plastic fibres. Many of these pass through sewage treatment and into the environment. Ultimately, they find their way into the seas. Some items, like jeans, don’t require washes even that often. In fact, Levi’s CEO never washes his. While that may be slightly extreme, perhaps you could try airing your jeans, or sun-drying them to kill bacteria.
2. Learn how much load your washing machine can take
While putting in only half a load wastes water, it isn’t wise to cram your washing machine either, as it may lead to your clothes not getting clean enough, and causes your clothes to rub against each other. The increased friction leads to fibres breaking apart more easily, increasing the likelihood of your garments losing shape.
3. Wash your clothes inside-out (or use a delicates bag!)
This is a simple tip to help preserve darker-coloured clothing, such as jeans. It is also helpful for more delicate items, such as cotton shirts, as well as to preserve prints, beading, and any metal details. You may even prefer to hand-wash these types of clothes, in order to preserve their designs. Alternatively, you can wash your favourite garments in a simple delicates/laundry bag.
4. Remember to zip up all zippers, and unbutton the buttons
This is to prevent zippers snagging on anything, and to prevent your buttons wearing on the folds and the thread coming loose, thus, helping to make your clothes last longer!
5. Separate your items in the wash
You already know to separate clothes based on colour, but did you know you should do the same for fabrics as well? Different types of fabric rubbing against each other in the wash probably isn’t wise. You can do so easily, and still wash them in one cycle, by using mesh bags to sort them.
6. Measure your detergent, fabric softener, and bleach
Excess detergent may 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 even stiffer instead. And even though bleach can get rid of protein stains, your fabric will significantly weaken post-bleach. You can instead use vinegar as a stand-in for fabric softener and stain remover, and baking soda to replace bleach.
7. Use cold water
Cold water is enough for most clothes, even to remove stains. In fact, blood and sweat actually set in hot water, instead of lift. Unless otherwise stated on the care label, using cold water can help prevent fading, shrinking, and wrinkling. However, you should use warm water for dirtier clothes and disinfecting bacteria.
8. Skip the dryer, air-dry instead
By hanging your clothes out to dry, you avoid overheating and potential shrinking of garments in the dryer. This is particularly relevant for jeans, intimates, and activewear, with heat known for breaking down their elasticity, causing unwanted stretching. However, line-drying is not the best option for some fabrics, such as heavy knits, as it can cause stretching. Instead, opt to lay them flat to dry.
9. Put on perfume before you put on your clothes
The ingredients in perfume, hair spray and other products can actually damage your clothes. Use fragrances and hair products before getting dressed to avoid the build-up on your clothing in order to make your garments last longer.
10. Treat stains as soon as possible, so they don’t set
Simply dabbing with water and a paper towel will work in many cases. But it is also wise to carry around a Tide to-go pen to spot treat your clothes. There are also a variety of home remedies to treat stains, such as baking soda and lemons.
11. Iron on lower heat
Many people don’t set their irons at the right temperature for specific garments. This can result in shrinkage and even burning your items. A good rule of thumb is that you’ll get most light creases out by setting the iron a setting or two below what’s recommended. Even then, it is a good idea to iron your clothes inside-out, or to use a protective cloth to separate your item and the iron. If you wish to completely ditch the iron, the steamer is a good alternative, or simply shake your clothes out before you hang them dry.
12. Use wooden hangers
Most plastic and wire hangers will stretch out the shoulders of your garments and leave you with saggy clothing. You should also fold heavier woven items, such as sweaters, to prevent gravity from destroying the shape. On the other hand, linens and silks should be hung up to prevent mould and creases.
13. Learn to do simple repairs
Many people throw out their clothes for issues that can be very easily fixed, such as underarm stains (use baking soda!) or loose buttons. Many problems can easily be fixed with beginner sewing skills, or even everyday items you can find in your kitchen, like vinegar and even vodka to remove odours. This is integral to not just extending the life, but even multiplying the number of wears your clothes get.
14. Understand your clothes when you buy them
There are a few things to look out for when you’re choosing clothes, such as their fabric composition, and how to wash them. For example, reading the labels may help you realise that the boots marketed as leather are actually made of faux leather, or that the cotton top is actually made of more synthetic material than actual cotton. It’s also important to read care labels to better understand how clothes should be maintained before you get them. Learn more about symbols on your care labels here. You wouldn’t want to commit to a “dry-clean only” top if you don’t usually use laundry services.
15. Always choose quality over quantity
Would you rather have two $45 dollar white t-shirts to last you multiple seasons or 6 $10 white t-shirts each season? Higher quality pieces should last you longer as they use better materials and garment construction. If you can afford to, don’t be afraid to spend more, especially on quality wardrobe staples. You’ll value them a lot more plus they’ll last longer than cheaper versions.