By Serina Tatham
When we wash our clothes we’re not always thinking about the environmental impact of our choices. However, our choice of wash cycle affects more than just how well our garments wear. With washing machines introducing new cycles and clothing labels adding more and more symbols, it can be hard to know how to best look after them.
To make sure your clothes stay looking brand new, as well as keeping your sustainable morals in check, we’ve put together an essential guide of things to remember when it comes to caring for your clothes.
Before you even start thinking about wash cycles, you need to decide whether or not your standard machine is the best method of care. Dry cleaning can be expensive, but it’s often much more affordable and sustainable than constantly replacing jumpers you’ve accidentally shrunk or party dresses that have no sequins left. However, the majority of these businesses use toxins which can harm the environment.
If you are going down the professional cleaning route, do your research. Some great shops in London using biodegradable soaps and other eco-friendly methods include Herman’s, BLANC, and Eco Dry Cleaner.
When deciding whether to wash or dry clean your clothes, ask yourself:
- What is it made of? Wool can shrink when washed at home, and delicate fabrics can be damaged. Leather and suede should always be dry cleaned as excessive water strips them of their natural oils and damages the fabric. Sequins and embroidery can also be spoiled without proper care
- Is the garment expensive or special? You may want to take extra caution and not risk ruining something sentimental
- Is it tailored? Lapels and shoulders of jackets can become misshapen by water
- Does it have stains that you don’t know how to treat?
With every new model of washing machine comes a new setting. Whilst the manufacturers have our clothes’ best interests at heart, it can be confusing.
The first thing to consider is the temperature:
- Hot wash (60ºC or above): best for tough stains, but try to avoid as these cycles use up a lot of water and aren’t sustainable. If you have a tough stain, try hand washing or take the item to a dry cleaner
- Warm wash (40 ºC): best for those items that come in direct contact with your body e.g. underwear
- Cold wash (30 ºC or below): best for lightly to moderately dirty clothing
Wash cycles, if used correctly, can be amazing. But they also have the potential to result in accidental damage if the wrong setting is selected.
- Cottons: high agitation to remove dirt from durable fabric such as sheets, towels, or other cotton items
- Synthetics: everyday washing for synthetic clothing e.g. polyester
- Delicates: gently cleans delicate items such as silk, wool, or lingerie
- Quick wash: ideal for regular washing
- Hand wash: some washing machines have a ‘hand wash’ setting which is suitable for gently cleaning very delicate items
If customising your cycle, the general rule is: more agitation (cotton cycles) means better cleaning but less care, less agitation (delicates) means better care but less stain removal.
It’s not just damage to your clothes that an aggressive wash cycle can cause, but also damage to your health. Newer fabrics such as polyester and nylon are made of plastic and, when washed, they shed millions of microfibres. Less than 5mm in size, microfibres are a problematic type of microplastic. Since they’re so small and aren’t able to be picked up in water treatment plants, they filter down into the ocean.
Small sea creatures mistake microfibres for food and, with animals and fish eating these smaller organisms, the plastic works its way up the food chain and eventually onto our plates.
To find out more about the problems that plastic poses within the fashion industry, as well as other areas that need your attention, check out our article on how you can help the fashion industry up its game. For some serious inspiration, read our interview with eXXpedition to find out how they’re tackling the plastic crisis and how you can help.
With sustainability in the fashion industry such an important issue as we all try to buy more consciously and wear our garments for longer, it’s key that we take good care of them. By keeping our clothes just three times longer, we can reduce their carbon footprint by 65% and their water use by 66%. Using these tips you can make sure that your wardrobe stands the test of time and looks as good as new, wear after wear.
To minimise your plastic output, some easy things you can do day-to-day are:
- Wash at low temperatures and low speeds, as less releases less microfibres.
- Use a Guppyfriend washing bag or Coraball to help collect any microfibres
- Buy less polyester – the biggest culprit when it comes to microfibres – and opt for more natural fabrics like wool instead
- Choose non-toxic products like Method, Ecover, TINCTURE, or KINN
We hope you’ve found this information useful, you can find more tips on this on our Sustainable Home Guide. If you’ve changed your washing habits and implemented any of these tips – or have others to share – please leave them in the comments below to inspire the KeiSei community.