8 Ways to Make Your Clothes Last Longer

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Textile waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world. The main factor is due to overproduction of clothing, primarily by fast-fashion clothing brands, who are overproducing because there’s “demand” for it by consumers. One person may not be able to force large corporations to stop creating so much textile waste, but we can reduce our individual impact by using the clothing we have.

This list includes some fairly simple ways that you can extend the life of your clothing and make sure that your favorite sweater lasts for years to come.

1. Wash in cold water

I’m sure you’ve heard that washing in cold water is good for the environment and your energy bill, as it doesn’t require hot water heated by electricity or natural gas to run a cycle.

GE lists on their website that washing in cold water reduces the energy load between 75-90% per cycle. Which can really add up, especially if you are a one load a day type of household.

a man pouring detergent in a washing machine
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Washing in cold water extends the life of your clothes, as it reduces fading of colours and shrinkage compared to washing with hot.

Depending on the material (wool and silk in particular) washing in hot water is a one way ticket to Shrink City.

Cold water is recommended for removing the most common sources of stains (blood, sweat, other stuff that that comes out of the human body) and is typically as good as hot water at removing other common stains, like grass.

If you’re worried about stains, there are many spot treatments products that you can use use before adding the garment into your laundry load.

Washing in cold water is probably the easiest thing you can do to extend the life of your clothing, since you were gonna wash your clothes eventually anyways. Just move the knob to cold and you are rocking!

laundry area with white tiled walls
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2. Bleach Isn’t Always the Solution to Stains

Bleach is actually rarely the solution to stains. When I read Melissa Maker (aka Clean My Space)’s book a few years back, the main takeaways were:

1) if you use bleach on organic stains (body fluids), it won’t work and will just further stain the product; and

2) don’t ever ever mix bleach and ammonia (that ish will kill you).

The first point is due to the free radical oxygen particles in the bleach. The reason bleach is effective at removing stains is due to its ability to break chemical bonds, since things love bonding with oxygen molecules more than a lot of other elements. The chemical reaction that’s suppose to remove the stain, ends up reacting with the organic compounds in the stain, further setting it in the garment.

The second point is because the chemicals react and create chloramine gas which can be deathly.

Bleach is also bad for the environment, it weakens your clothes over time, and no one likes bleach stains on their clothes when used improperly. It’s best to avoid it altogether. If you want your whites to be whiter, add a bit of white vinegar to your laundry load.

bottles of bleach placed on shelves in supermarket
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(please don’t hate me on the explanation of the chemistry. I tried my best)

3. Air Dry as Much as Possible

There are many fabrics that don’t do well with heat. Wool as mentioned in Point 1, but also elastic materials, like your yoga pants or bike shorts.

Additionally, the general tumbling action wears down clothing due to friction between clothing and the drum.

Lint traps don’t magically fill up, that’s your roommate’s clothes sitting in the trap because they forgot to clean it out after they did their laundry yesterday.

striped shirt hanging on gray wire between beige painted wall building during daytime
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Air drying does take a bit longer, but I think the process really gets you to know your clothing better. Since you have more time interacting with it: from pulling it out of the washer, putting it on the drying rack/line and then folding it. You can see wear and tear a bit sooner, which makes you want to take better care of your clothes. Or figure out which clothes you really hate and get rid of them since you resent having to deal with it.

If you can’t air dry due to time, weather or other constrains. I suggest running your clothes on the delicate cycle (if your machine has it). It uses lower/no heat, so it’s less likely to shrink your clothes.

Additionally, you can throw a couple dryer balls or clean tennis balls to allow for air to better circulate through your wet lumps of clothes, instead of using dryer sheets.

4. Don’t Use Softener

Years into living on my own and doing my own laundry, I decided to stop using fabric softener. It was something I just bought because it was part of the laundry routine I was taught growing up. I was too lazy to buy a replacement bottle one time, and I noticed absolutely no difference in my clothes. So I just never bought it again. One less thing to keep track of. #AndThatsMinimalismBaby

Fabric softener does have a purpose, it reduces static, and wrinkles. As well it adds a nice smell to the clothes.

It also reduces the absorbency of fabric, which defeats the purpose of towels, microfiber cloths and sports wear.

close up photo of baby wearing gray pants
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According to the Whirlpool website, it’s also bad for flame-resistant fabrics. You might be like, “Dude, I’m not a firefighter, why would I have flame resistance clothing?”. Well if you are a child in North America (at the very least, I didn’t fact check beyond Canada and the US), that would be your sleepwear. There’s some pretty strict fabric requirements for children’s pajama. I’m not knowledgeable enough on the subject to comment on if that requirement is a good thing. But I don’t think it’s a advisable to be reduce the efficacy of something that’s designed to protect a child in a fire.

All this to say, it’s an extra step that has limited utility in most people’s laundry systems. I think it’s worth ditching.

Nice smells have been achieved with a scented fabric detergent. And static can be reduced with dryer balls in the dryer (see Point 2).

5. Don’t Wash Your Jeans Every Time 

It takes a lot to really dirty jeans. Just regular wear isn’t likely to do it dirty dirty them. You can freeze them between wears to destroy any odors. Or stick them in the sun, as UV rays do a similar thing.

Not washing your jeans (or other clothes when possible) will extend the life of your clothes since they aren’t being frictioned (I know that isn’t the word) in the washer and dryer.

blue jeans side by side
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5.5 Same Thing with Wool

Similar idea with wool clothes. Wool is naturally odour resistant (sorta ironic since sheep don’t smell great), so a single wear isn’t going to dirty the garment. Between wears, airing the garment, or setting it out in the sun, where the UV can break down odours will reduce the amount of washing you’re doing and by extension prolong the life of the item.

I remember taking to a fella that sells wool sweaters at a Christmas craft show, and he said that he only needs to wash his sweater about once a year. The sweater looked great on him and he didn’t seem to smell (I didn’t go up and sniff him, but I believe his claim).

(The fella I didn’t smell worked for Anián, which was mentioned in the first article I linked in the intro. What a coincidence)

6. Keep Your Bras out of the Dryer  

If you are an owner of a bra, you likely know this tip. But a reminder doesn’t hurt. The tumbling and heat of a dryer can prematurely stretch out the material, as well as twist the underwire (if applicable).

I was recently at a bra shop, and talking to the clerk. According to her, a bra should only be worn about 100 times. To me, that number seems extremely low. But I will pop that info in here since it’s relevant and I just learnt it #sharingiscaring.

beige bikini top
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7. Don’t Hang Your Knits

This has come up in a few books that I’ve read where the author is pro hanging all their clothes (most recently was Christine Platt, my review of her book here) since it’s easier to see it all in one spot.

I don’t approve of this (as if my humble approval matters). You don’t need to go full KonMari folding method for everything, but you really should fold your knits. Having them on hangers stretches out the fabric, particularly at the shoulders. This can lead to the garment looking ill fitted and frumpy. The weight of the garment on the hanger can also stretch the knits, and weaken the fabric.

After you are done washing your knits, it’s best to set them flat on a towel to dry. You can gently stretch the garment to the shape you want, like at the shoulders and sleeves. This process is pretty similar to “blocking” if you are a knitter. It allows for the stitches to sit more evenly.

closeup photography of clothes hanger
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8. Get Natural Fiber Fabrics Where You Can

When you do need to purchase new (to you, second hand is dope) clothing avoid polyester and other synthetic fibers since they break down faster than other types of materials, release microplastics into the waterways, and generally aren’t great. Obviously that’s a big ask depending on your location and what’s available to you.

I would recommend by starting with somewhere simple, like when it’s time to replace a shirt or tank top to replace it with 100% cotton since that isn’t as cost prohibitive as other materials. There are many organic T-Shirts that can be purchased for under $30 (which is a lot compared to Shien, but I’ve seen many retailers selling a polyester T-shirt for the same price).

(Yes I know there are issues with cotton, especially if its not organically farmed, heck even if its organically farmed. But that was an example, feel free to work with what’s available in your area and in your budget).  It’s all about the slow process as your wardrobe evolves over time.

abstract black and white cardigan sweater close up
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I’m sure there are many other tips out there for keeping your clothes lasting longer. Clothing can be a major part of people’s budgets, so it’s cool if we can make the pieces we already own last longer and keep them out of landfills. If you have a tip that I’m missing, I would love to read about it in the comments.

If you are interested in other content relating to clothing and fashion, you can check out the following reviews:

Consumed by Aja Barber

Fashionopolis by Dana Thomas

Project 333 by Courtney Carver

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