How To Care For Your Clothes and The Environment

It might not be common knowledge that how we treat our clothes - yes the very pieces we wear every day, has an impact on the environment, but it does, and it tends to be negative. We want you to know how to reduce that impact, or even make it positive.

Australia is reported to occupy the world's second-highest spot in textile consumption per person. An estimated 27 kilograms of new clothes are consumed per Australian citizen every year, and a resultant 23 kilograms of clothes are discarded, most of which ends up in landfills, making up 93 per cent of the textile waste we produce every year.

It's a popular saying that the most sustainable clothes are the clothes you already have, and the best solution to keep our fits out of landfills is to keep them in use for as long as possible. How we care for our clothes while we have them ensures how long they stay wearable and when we take proper care of our clothes, they take care of us in turn, keep our pockets more sustainable, and our planet itself.


How to Ensure Your Clothes Stay Sustainable During and After Use

There are practices we have imbibed in caring for our clothes that we are about to learn is not the best for environmental health. From wear to wash, here are tips that can help us keep our clothes in the best shape sustainably.

  1. Cut Down on Laundering

Only doing laundry when it is absolutely required is a great way to save energy and water. Clothes that are not dirty or very sweaty do not need to be laundered as often and can be worn more than once before washing if you would air, steam and brush them instead. Washing is a vigorous process that causes wear and strain to clothes and can very quickly shorten the lifespan when done too often. Instead, employ spot cleaning to clean out minor stains on your clothes and air them out to wear a couple more times before you toss them in the washing machine. This practice could triple the lifespan of your clothes.

2. Switch to washing cold

Another way to wear out your garments very fast is washing at high temperatures. Not only does this consume excess energy, but it also subjects the fibres of your clothes to an unhealthy amount of heat that does them no good. Washing at low temperatures instead, however, is recommended to protect your clothes from getting shrunk, keep them properly fitted and keep your clothes from fading by losing dye to hot washes.

In addition to extending the life of your garments, it also saves you electricity.

Also, sort your clothes by colour when washing to prevent colours from mixing in the wash, and by fabric type to make individual care easier. Depending on the fabric type, different clothes require different types of care during washing and grouping similar fabrics together allows you to give each group the attention it deserves per wash. 

A couple more sustainable laundry practices to employ include washing inside out, which reduces the stress put on the cloth fibres and switching to air drying in place of using the tumble dryer. Depending on the fabric type, you can hang your clothes out to dry or lay them down flat (like wool) and let them air out. Avoiding tumble drying protects your clothes from friction and extra heat that could lead to further wear.

3. Use washing machine filters to catch Micro-plastics

Clothes made from polyester (and other synthetic textiles) release hundreds of microscopic microfibres every time they are washed which, because of their size, are able to slip through the water treatment process and make their way down our drains and into our oceans and streams. And because they are not biodegradable and do not disintegrate, they may exist in our water bodies for centuries. 

About 14 million tonnes of microfibres are released per annum into the ocean, and this could have been prevented simply by filtering our washes. Purchasing a filter for your washing machine will catch these fibres before they can get into our waterways.

4. Choose Natural Textiles

Switching to natural fabric choices over synthetic textiles will help eradicate the earth's thermoplastic problem. Natural and plant-based textiles are compostable and are being developed through safe practices to biodegrade even faster than textiles manufactured from petroleum. 

Fabrics like cotton, wool, silk, linen, and even hemp in addition to being good for the environment, are also highly durable, breathable and absorbent, and are easy on the skin. When cared for properly they can serve for a lifetime, and because of their sustainability, will remain continually relevant.

5. A stitch in time…

Make a habit out of repairing and mending minor damages to your clothes as soon as they are spotted. Ignoring minor damages tends to turn them into major damages, which results in turning your clothes into landfill material. To keep your garments in use and extend their durability, fix them as soon as possible.

Another important habit to imbibe is altering and upcycling clothes that no longer fit right. A simple resizing can alter that too big shirt you love to a perfect fit. Clothes can also be upcycled into new styles to provide a fresh new look from forgotten clothes.

Also, if there are clothes you would rather not wear anymore, instead of disposing of them as waste, they can be given away or sold off as thrift clothing. The goal is to keep clothes wearable for as long as possible and to keep them in use for as long as they are wearable, so even if you're not the one wearing them, as long as they are of wearable quality, make sure someone who can, has access to them.

6. Away with dry-cleaning

Dry cleaning involves the use of heavy chemicals that are harsh on clothing and harmful to the environment. Gentle, low-temperature washes can be used to clean the majority of the garments that have 'dry-clean only' printed on their care labels, in the place of harsh chemicals like 

Perchloroethylene or 'PERC' (a prominent ingredient found in most traditional dry-cleaning fluids) which has been flagged as a possible carcinogenic substance.

Also, doing laundry less often reduces the need to dry-clean and expose the environment and yourself to harm. Unless a garment is very fragile or made with easily damaged details, try to avoid dry cleaning completely, or switch cleaning products in favour of more gentle options.

7. Switch to Environmentally Friendly Cleaning Products

When you have to do your washing, only make use of products that have been specially formulated to reduce the harsh, negative effect of dry cleaning. Regular cleaning products tend to be petroleum-based and (because they tend to be non-biodegradable,) bad for the environment. However, there are existing varieties of biodegradable, plant-based, eco-friendly wash products that can preserve the quality of your garments while keeping your cloth cleaning sustainable.

Examples of such cleaning products that can be found in Australia include Ecoegg, Strip Clean, Tri Nature, Resparkle, and Dirt.

8. Store With Care

How your clothes are stored also affects the length of their durability. Properly storing your clothing will extend the length of use you can get out of them. 

Proper storage practices include:

  • Storing clean; make sure that your clothes are clean before putting them away to protect them from moth damage
  • Store them in a dry place; to prevent moisture damage, dampness and stains
  • Store them at a cool temperature; to prevent damage by heat
  • Do not overcrowd your closet; let your clothes breathe. Store in an airy space
  • Sort by fabric and colour for order and easier management. Clothes of similar fabric tend to be worn during the same season and require similar storage conditions, so storing them in groups will make sure each cloth type gets the care it deserves

9. Buy less, and try to buy second hand

The truth is, the fewer clothes consumed, the fewer we have to throw away. However, as seasons change and trends come and go, it is undeniable that we will sometimes get the urge to try new clothes.

While we focus on wearing the clothes we have as many times as possible, if we must change our wardrobe, we must do it responsibly. This includes responsibly dispensing the clothes we would like to change and responsibly acquiring the ones we would like to have.

The point is to keep them all in use and keep the clothes that already exist in circulation, which would mean putting the clothes we are letting go of on the market, and making our new acquisitions from the pre-owned market. Not only does this practice save money, but it also keeps our clothes circulating and out of landfills, and keeps our wardrobe fabulous while affording us the opportunity to help someone else have access to a change of wardrobe.

 

These are all practices we can easily incorporate into our garment care, to make sure we're considering our environmental health even in our fashion and daily wardrobe choices.

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