Whether you thrift for vintage styles or buy brand new, for the sake of your bank account, you should want your clothes to last a long time. The stakes have been raised even higher with growing concerns of climate catastrophe, and everyone’s scrambling to figure out how to shrink their carbon footprint.
Let’s start with a tragic truth: businesses won’t act until the market incentivizes them to do so. Whether that be by legal changes making the penalties for environmental damage outweigh the cost of business, or collectively changing our habits so businesses will follow suit. I’ll be honest here, I’m neither a lawyer nor a politician. There isn’t much I — or any other individual — can do about it, except change my own personal habits. The first of which is the fact that we buy too many clothes.
As stated by The Guardian, manufacturing fast-fashion contributes more to climate change than air and sea travel. At least half of those items are destined for a landfill within a year. You’ve heard of the usual culprits: Forever21, Zara, H&M, Fashion Nova, Nike and the list could extend to every department store in every mall across the globe.
The worst part is, as cute as some of these items are, a lot of the times they feel as cheap as they are. Loose seams, unhemmed edges, the fabric you could poke a hole through — it makes you wonder if they’re making the clothes this way to force us to buy it more often. So, since I’m one of the many embarrassed millionaires that depends on affordable clothing, I’ve been looking into ways I can do my part to tackle consumerism. The secret is to just take better care of your clothes after you buy them.
Let’s be honest. Even when clothes have a little hand market on their tags, no one hand-washes their clothes. In today’s world, there’s just not enough time in the day to reliably hand wash a week’s worth of clothing. Today, in lieu of the washboards of the old days (which you can still get and use if you want to try that option) there are now manual clothes washers on the market.
Originally used by campers, these are smaller and portable, making them perfect for apartment life. They use less water, less or no electricity, less detergent, and can get your laundry done in less than ten minutes. After all, most of us don’t soil our clothes so heavily that we must have a heavy-duty wash. Perhaps you went mud wrestling in a white suit, in which case I won’t judge. But, for your everyday wear, if you have a few minutes to spare, why not give one a try?
There are many products on the market to accomplish this, and that’s assuming you want to buy a dedicated space to hang your wet clothes. If just throwing them across the top of the door or shower curtain rod doesn’t work for you, alternatives include foldable drying racks, umbrella racks, accordion racks, dryer trees, carousel dryers that you can hang on the shower curtain rod, and so on. The good news is, plenty of these are also portable and durable, so you can take advantage of the summertime for quicker drying.
Even just leaving it by an open window, sunny or well-ventilated area can boost your drying speed significantly. They cost $0 in electricity to use and in expenses for dryer sheets. And there’s also no risk of sharp clothing items damaging other pieces.
Just don’t leave clothes in moist environments, like a dark and closed bathroom, or in a wet pile, as this can lead to mildew. Before hanging your clothes to dry, gently fold and squeeze them to get as much of the water out, as wringing can damage the fabric. If you’re truly pressed for time, you can put your clothes in the dryer on the air-only cycle, as this doesn’t use heat.
The lack of heat makes sure you’re dramatically reducing your energy consumption, even if you must resort to machine drying. In any case, did you know there are certain clothing items that are never supposed to be machine dried? Yep; bras, silk, lace, mesh, rubber, shoes, animal hides, and fur (including leather and faux fur). These items fare much better with the gentle conditions of air-drying and they pretty much make up a good chunk of what’s in a closet today.
Energy-efficient Machine Washers
If for whatever reason, you don’t think the manual washer would be practical in your life, perhaps for your linens, then you should know what to look for in a washing machine, other than size, price, and size, as these may not only damage clothes but also consume a lot of water and energy over its lifetime. For one, your average top-loading washing machine will use one of two methods to clean your clothes: an agitator or an impeller.
Washing machines with agitators (the big stick in the middle) can be rough on clothes. If you’ve ever gotten your clothes wrapped around one then you already know this. Impeller washers have more room in the washer barrel, making them ideal for bulky loads. They also use less water for a gentler clean.
Then, you have front-loading washers, which are the most gentle to clothes. They generally use far less water than other machines. However, they may not be suitable for your home if the laundry room is too narrow to fully open the door.
Whichever you decide is right for you, look for the Energy STAR certification on your washing machine, as these use up a maximum of 14 gallons per load and are roughly 25% more efficient. The higher the energy factor (IMEF) and the lower the water factor (IWF) the less electricity and water, respectively, the machine uses.
Phew, so you got the most efficient and gentle washer out there that uses the least amount of water and detergent! Before you start it up, though, let me let you in on another secret: a cold cycle is really all you need to get your clothes clean. Hot and warm water washes can shrink fabrics, cause wrinkles, warp materials, and dull colors. In the worst cases, certain stains like blood and sweat can be baked into the fabric with hot water. On the other hand, cold washes are a much gentler alternative and are only a press of a button away.
Sure, disinfecting bed sheets after the flu or reusable diapers is a good reason to use the hot water cycle. For most other cases though, it’s unnecessary. Dark, vibrant, or bleeding colors fare much better in cold water. In fact, plenty of detergents are now manufactured to be more effective in lower temperatures. If you have a particular stain or heavily soiled clothes, consider soaking them in warm water for a few hours before putting them in the machine.
Sewing, DIY & Up-Cycling
At the end of the day, no matter how hard you try, nothing lasts forever. Your clothes may just be wearable for you anymore. That’s still no reason for them to end up in a landfill so soon. I get that there are certain items you can only reuse so often — how many dusting socks could one possibly need? Other items are so caked in stains and perforated that there’s no way to revive them again. But that T-shirt with a hole by the hem? A pair of scissors can easily turn that into tomorrow’s crop top. Button-down missing a few buttons?
Now it’s a knot-front. Old trousers make new shorts. There’s a bevy of online tutorials on DIYing your rags into fashion. If you’ve found that the clothes are still wearable, just not for your body, there are always thrift stores or family members that will accept donations. Hopefully, you found any information useful in kick-starting a virtuous cycle to reduce your clothing consumption and carbon footprint.