Alternative ways to clean your clothes for sustainable style
The inspiration for this post is a pair of jeans I purchased over 9 years ago! I still wear these jeans and they look great. Much of that has to do with how I care for them. If you are someone who laments that your clothes fall apart, shrink and/or fade, I urge you to reconsider how you care for your garments.
Previously I wrote this post on how I make my clothes last. Since that initial post, I have worked with a number of clients who are concerned about their clothes falling apart and how to make them last. I have also continued experimenting with my own clothes and not washing them. I realized much like our hair, we really don’t need to wash our clothes. Washing and drying your clothes results in pilling, damage, shrinking and/or colors fading. Plus washing and drying clothes consumes lots of water and energy and contributes to microfiber pollution (more on that below). So in this post I share alternative ways to wash clothes (or avoid washing them altogether).
Alternative cleaning methods:
Freeze Your Jeans (and all your other pants) – I first learned about freezing jeans last year, but it makes so much sense. However, why stop at your jeans? This method works for any trousers or skirts. The method is really simple, take your jeans (or pants) and put them in a plastic bag (or bags) and put them in your freezer. I have read that it is advisable to leave them in for 24 hours. Then take them out of the bag and freezer. What I do is then hang them out on my line (usually outside) to freshen them up. Sometimes if they have a synthetic fiber to add stretch, I will spray them with water to help release the wrinkles. What to do if there are stains? I used to advise washing cold and inside out but that was before I learned about the …
Clothing Brush – I first learned about using a clothing brush when reading about caring for men’s clothes (it is typically used to brush men’s suits in between dry cleanings). I started to experiment with a brush my husband had for his beard but he never used it. It’s a soft, natural bristle brush that he was going to get rid of, so I decided to try it out. My first experiment was with a cotton blend jacket that I picked up at a clothing swap with a toothpaste stain on the sleeve and either tea or coffee stains on the front. I sprayed both areas with water and then with my favorite Honest Company stain remover. I used the brush brushing softly and what I hoped was with the “grain” of the fabric. Well, it worked fine, the stains were both removed. I do think a more gentle brush would be better for silks and other delicate fabrics. But that whole process took me all of 2 minutes. Of course, I then hung the jacket outside for two days to get rid of all the synthetic detergent odors. Find a clothing brush. (link to Amazon, just use the search term: Clothing Brush)
Stop Washing Your Clothes
Hang Your Clothes Outside – For shirts, blazers, dresses and skirts (though you could freeze skirts as well), I hang them outside to refresh them. In the past month, I gave myself an ultimatum that I could no longer buy shirts/tops if they were predominantly composed of synthetic fibers (or really any). I’ve found that synthetic fabrics just don’t hold up and eventually retain odors and stains that you can’t remove. If you have any sort of polyester or polyester blend clothes, then you know that synthetics retain odors. It’s why they need to be washed frequently, why people love to use scented detergents and fabric softeners, and why eventually the clothes just smell so bad that you need to get rid of them. These synthetics also contribute to microfiber pollution (more on that below).
However, with natural fibers – cotton, linen, silk, wool and hemp, are what I call “self cleaning.” This means they breathe, so that when you hang them outside, they refresh and smell so good the next morning. If the clothes have wrinkles, spray with water before hanging. For underarm areas, I have updated the product I use, while I do love the Honest Company stain remover, I find that Biokleen stain remover is better at removing and preventing stains in the underarm area. I just spray the underarms with a small spray bottle of Biokleen I keep in my closet and then either hang the shirt in the closet or outside. If you have stains on the clothes, then consider using the clothing brush first and then hanging the clothes outside. I personally find this approach saves me a lot of time.
So why does all of this matter?
- Water Use- We often think of the manufacturing process as being the primary area of water consumption. However, in this article, the CEO of Levi’s points out that when it comes to jeans half of the water usage is during production but the other half is used at home caring for the jeans. We often forget about the environmental impact from the care of our clothes. However, consumer care is one of the significant impact areas from our clothes.
- Energy Use – Your clothes dryer is the most energy intensive appliance in your home. Translating to higher energy use (and therefore cost). The clothes washer is not too far behind the dryer in terms of energy use. I have solar panels on my house and prefer to use as little energy as possibles, so for me avoiding the dryer is a no brainer. Plus not to mention I live in Phoenix so it’s really easy to hang clothes out to dry year round.
- Microfibers – in our food and water.
Synthetic textiles, such as fleece jackets, send tiny plastic fibers into wastewater after washing. These bits eventually make their way into rivers, lakes and our oceans, where they pose health threats to plants and animals. – The Guardian
Now this article mentions that there are no health threats to humans (yet) but if you are like me, you eschew plastic as much as possible. For the reasons listed above I avoid purchasing new-to-me synthetic clothes. However, if you do have synthetics and need to wash them, the guppy friend was recently announced. While still in it’s early phases, it is expected to be sold at Patagonia later this year. Still need to be convinced this matters?
According to a research team from the University of California at Santa Barbara a city of 100,000 inhabitants releases a wash-related volume of microfibers equivalent to 15,000 plastic bags. A city the size of Berlin may be responsible for 540,000 plastic bags – every single day. – Guppy Friend
The environmental impacts of clothing extend beyond the production and manufacturing. The care of our clothes has an environmental impact. If you are looking for a way to reduce your environmental impact, I urge you to reconsider how you care for your clothes. Avoiding washing them saves so much time. I only do laundry one to two times a month. Avoiding the washer and dryer will save energy and reduce energy costs. Consider buying more natural fibers and eventually, for your synthetics, keep an eye out for the guppy friend.
Please note that I am not working with any of these companies and was not asked to endorse or mention any of the products in this post. All opinions here are my own.