Taking proper care of your clothes is as significant for your sustainable wardrobe as the brands you choose to buy from. Knowing how to care for your clothes by fabric prolongs their life – meaning you won’t need to buy as much, and will reduce your overall need for the world’s limited resources.
Knowing how to care for your clothes starts with understanding what they are made from. The fabric dictates the care method – see our guide below for tips.
How to Care For Your Clothes By Fabric
How to Care For Silk Clothing
Silk is a delicate fibre that can mark easily. Air your silk garments out in the shade after wearing and don’t over launder. They don’t need a wash after every wear. Silk does not like spot cleaning or stain removers, and provided great care is taken, many silk articles can be successfully washed using a cool wash on the gentle cycle. Always follow the care instructions on the label if you’re unsure. Avoid steam; silk prefers a warm iron on the reverse side.
How to Care For Modal & Tencel Clothing
Modal and tencel are made from cellulose from wood pulp. They are soft, fine fibres and can be machine or hand washed. Delicate items should be hand washed in cool water with a mild detergent, wrapped in a towel to remove excess moisture, and then dried flat in the shade. Machine washable items should be washed in cool water and removed from the machine immediately. Woven items can be hung to dry in the shade, while fine knits should be laid flat to dry so they don’t lose their shape. Modal and tencel should be ironed with a pressing cloth to avoid burning the fibres. As they are susceptible to mildew, these materials should be fully dry when storing. Knit items should be stored folded to prevent stretching or distorting, while woven items such as pants can be hung.
How to Care For Activewear
Avoid fabric softener, especially on your activewear. Fabric softener leaves a residue that can interfere with the moisture wicking and antibacterial properties found in activewear. After a workout, wash your activewear as soon as possible. Use a small amount of detergent and wash like colours together. If machine washing, use a washing bag such as the Guppyfriend Washing Bag to prevent microfibres from escaping into the water and help protect your clothes from damage. Activewear prefers to line dry in the shade, as heat from the dryer can damage the fibres. It’s best to avoid dry cleaning, use bleach or iron your activewear.
How to Care For Denim Clothing
Our number one tip for denim is to wash less. Washing denim too often will make the colour fade faster and cause the fibres to deteriorate. Spot cleaning is a great way of keeping a pair of jeans looking fresh while avoiding unnecessary washing cycles. When it’s time to wash your jeans, turn them inside out and close all the zips. Wash in cool water with a small amount of liquid detergent and wash with similar colours. Avoid the tumble dryer as it will shorten your denim’s life considerably. Instead, shake out and line dry. You can refresh your jeans without washing by turning them inside out, giving them a good shake and hanging on the line to air out. Or follow the CEO of Levi’s lead and place in the freezer in a bag.
How to Care For Organic Cotton Clothing
Organic cotton garments don’t need to be washed after every wear, with the exception of socks and underwear. Wash organic cotton in a laundry bag in the washing machine with similar colours and use a cool cycle. Turn each garment inside out and close the zippers, strings and buttons before washing. Avoid fabric softener and the tumble dryer, as both will damage the fibres and shorten the garment’s life. After washing, hang or lie your garments flat to dry. Cotton garments prefer the shade and a warm iron with a protective cloth, however we try to avoid unnecessary ironing. Often, you can remove creases and folds by taking clothing into the bathroom while showering. The steam will naturally remove creases, saving effort and energy from ironing.
How to Care For Knits
Natural wool and cashmere fibres love airing, do so often and it will be enough to revitalise your knits. You can spot clean them gently but take care not to rub as this can cause pilling. You can hand wash wool and cashmere, or use the delicate wool cycle on your machine, as it’s optimised for this fibre with reduced tumbling and soaking. Avoid any high temperatures including the dryer, as this can severely damage (shrink!) your clothes. If hand washing, ensure you use cool water and gently remove excess moisture using a towel. For the best results, reshape your knits and lie them flat on a drying rack or towel to air dry. This will also minimise energy consumption. For storing tips see our guide below.
How to Care For Leather
Keep your leather items away from intense or direct heat, and try to keep it as dry as possible; it pays to avoid exposure to rough surfaces and heavy rain. If your leather jacket or bag gets dirty, simply dab gently with a damp cloth and pat dry, leaving to completely dry at room temperature to avoid cracking. Our general guideline for leather is to ensure it is completely dry when you store it, with plenty of room around it so it can breathe. Leather products are all tanned in different ways so follow the care instructions for the best treatment for your leather, and always store in a cotton dust bag when not in use.
Tips to Prolong the Life of Your Clothes
When storing your clothes between seasons, be sure they are clean (moths love dirty clothes), and allow enough space for airflow. Store knitted items flat or folded, as they may lose their shape if they are hung up. Hanging in plastic bags is generally not a good idea as this can generate moisture and mould. Check for moths or bugs where you’re storing your clothes and use cedar or lavender to help prevent them from taking up residence. It is wise to air your wardrobe twice a year in fresh air – preferably on frosty days, as moths cannot survive in the cold. If moths have already found a little home in one of your garments, simply wrap it and place in the freezer for 24 hours, along with surrounding pieces wrapped separately. Then clean your closet thoroughly and spray the room with a natural moth spray.
Brushing woollen clothes with a clothing brush will help reduce pilling and add shine, and also remove any unwanted residue. If it’s a knit sweater, we recommend using a lint brush with soft bristles or a sweater stone to remove pilling.
Mend & Repair
While our grandmothers may have sewn out of necessity with skills passed down through generations, modern times have made it easier to buy a new item than repair. There are many benefits to rediscovering the art of hand stitching, not least of which is switching off from the online world and getting in touch with your inner goddess. The Guardian has reported on studies which show that hand stitching has therapeutic benefits by improving mental health and emotional wellbeing, increasing serotonin production and inducing a natural state of mindfulness. And of course, repairing your clothes will increase their life so you can enjoy them in your wardrobe for longer.
Build your own sewing kit so you have the tools you need on hand to repair any damage as soon as it happens. A simple sewing kit should include needles, pins, thread and scissors. Replacing a button, repairing a dropped hem or split seam, and darning a hole are simple ways to revive your favourite item once you have the right tools. You can find many simple repair guides online, or sign up to our events newsletter to be the first to know about future workshops and talks on greening your wardrobe.
Clothing should never end up in landfill. If you are finished with your clothing, we recommend recycling it so that someone else has the opportunity to love it. Consider swapping with a friend or selling through an online consignment store. Avoid throwing your clothing in the bin, it will end up in landfill where it releases CO2 emissions and doesn’t break down. If your clothes are past the point of repair, you can use them for dust cloths or send them to a textile recycler such as ReGain who will recycle them for you.
Making small changes to everyday tasks, such as how to care for your clothes in a sustainable way, makes an incredible difference to your environment footprint and ensures your clothes have the best chance at a long life, keeping them out of landfill and allowing you to enjoy them for years to come.