As I mentioned in my blog Opt-Out of Fast Fashion, the clothing industry has moved from creating quality clothing that last years to creating low quality, disposable clothing that quickly falls apart. I’m opting out of the system, because fast fashion is both bad for the planet and for me personally. By spending a bit more on quantity clothes up front and making them last, I end up saving both time (since I have to shop less often and can spend my weekends on more fulfilling hobbies) and money. While I may spend $50 on a single wool shirt, I make it last for years and thus the cost per use is lower than with a cheap $10 cotton-poly blend shirt that starts to pill and fall apart within a few wears. Plus, I have expensive tastes and high-quality clothing can be an affordable luxury but only if you wear your clothes often by cultivating a small collection of clothing that easily mix and match together, and if you make your clothes last. For inspiration on putting together a small, quality wardrobe, be sure to check out Project 333. To learn how to make your clothes last, read on!
Here are 7 ways to make your clothes last:
- Wash your whites separately and line dry them in the sun to keep them bright. To keep whites bright, many people turn to bleach, which is inexpensive and effective. The problem with this approach is that bleach is not only toxic, but also can weaken fabrics, especially synthetics, shortening the lifespan of your garment. There is another way! First, when you wash your clothes, some amount of dye will seep out of them and dark colors will dull the colors of lighter colored fabrics, like whites, hence, whites should always be washed alone. To further brighten whites, hang them outside in the sun or in front of a sunny window to use the power of the sun to bleach them.
- Always wash wool in cold water and lay flat or line dry. I don’t care what the tag says on your clothing; wool should never be put in the dryer. I have plenty of shirts that are wool which claim they can be dried and I’ve accidentally had them run through the dryer, but the fabric does get damaged and the wool fibers get curlier, making the garment look more fuzzy. Plus, dryers are great at pulling small fibers out of clothing (hence why you end up with so much lint at the end of the drying cycle) so putting your wool through the dryer is slowly pulling fibers out each time they get dried, making your expensive garment go threadbare faster. Another way to make wool last is to wait to wash it until it smells; wool is naturally antimicrobial, so I can wear the same shirt for days before it starts to smell. Don’t wash it just because you wore it; use the sniff test to be your guide on when something needs to be washed. We
- Line dry clothing to extend its life. While dryers do use a lot of energy, they are really useful in many ways and there is definitely a time and place for them. I use them all of the time for bed sheets because when you have a small apartment, trying to hang bed sheets to dry is unrealistic. However, most clothing can really benefit from line drying especially wool, for all of the reasons mentioned above, and spandex which is easily damaged from the heat of the dryer. Most synthetics tend to dry quickly and don’t get softer from the dryer, so they are very good candidates to line dry. I know cotton feels so much softer when it has been through the dryer, but if the cotton is thin, it will still be reasonably soft when line dried and will last much longer if you put it on the line or lay it flat to dry.
- Treat stains immediately. I am not a graceful eater; I spill on myself…a lot…and I know from experience that if you do not immediately deal with a stain, it will not go away. I used to immediately put anything that I spilled on in cold water to keep the stain from setting and when I had time, would scrub it with soap, which worked pretty well but all of the scrubbing can be hard on the fabric. My sister recently showed me a great way to deal with stains without scrubbing; she takes a clear dishwashing soap, pours it directly on the stain and washes it with her load of clothing without doing any soaking or scrubbing. The sudsy nature of dishwashing soap seems to lift the stain right out of clothing when it goes through the normal wash cycle without harming the fabric. I’ve tried it a few times and had good success, but I cannot guarantee it will work 100% of the time.
- Wear an apron when cooking. As I mentioned earlier, I’m really good at spilling on myself and I often do this while cooking. While you may think what you’re preparing isn’t very messy, I can tell you from personal experience that there are amazing ways that even the simple task of making a sandwich can cover your shirt in an unexpected splatter of mustard, which stains very easily. So find an apron that you will enjoy wearing and start using it regularly to protect your clothes from life’s unexpected surprises.
- Get stubborn dirt off of clothing. I have a baby blue down Patagonia jacket that shows dirt easily; I tried laundering it with normal detergent but the dirt would not come out. I asked at the store how to get out the dirty and they could make no recommendations about how to tackle it. I tried scrubbing it by hand with normal detergent to no avail. I was convinced the jacket was forever ruined and was going to donate it, but my mom stepped in and made it look brand new by using a stain remover spray that is basically a very sudsy soap and scrubbing the fabric together to remove the dirt. You could use a clear dishwashing soap for the same results.
- Repair things that break. Few people know how to do basic sewing or have the tools on hand these days, so when a small hole forms, a button comes off a shirt or a hem starts to unravel, many people will toss that piece of clothing in the donate pile. However, often your local dry cleaner or tailor can fix that for a few dollars and give your garment a new life.
Those are the top things I do to make my clothes last and I can guarantee you from personal experience that it works. Do you have tips on how to make clothes last that I’m missing? If so, please share in the comments!