Washed up: Are you looking after your clothes sustainably?
Washed up: Are you looking after your clothes sustainably?
Being a ‘sustainable’ clothing owner doesn’t stop the moment you buy the product, and in fact the most active part you can play comes after you get your gorgeous new garments home.
Consciously caring for your clothes by not over washing, drying, or ironing them can help to reduce your carbon footprint by a staggering amount… so step away from the washing basket and read our top tips for practicing sustainable aftercare.
Are you washing your clothes too much?
If you’re washing all of your clothes at 60C then you’re just too hot for this planet to handle, so turn down that washing machine dial to 30C and then get drying your clothes outside on the washing line, instead of in a tumble dryer.
Making these two simple switches can save 2.7CO2e in just one wash, the equivalent carbon footprint of producing an entire cotton shirt.
So before you chuck on a load of washing you’ve only worn once, think twice … do I really smell THAT bad?
It is entirely possible that you DO smell that bad, especially if you’ve been wearing non-breathable polyester which requires more washing due to the amount it makes people sweat.
But consider that with every wash of your polyester t-shirt another 700 thousand to 6 million microplastics are released into the wastewater, and then decide if your clothing really does pong or if putting it straight in the laundry was just force of habit.
Your grandma probably already told you this, but you can avoid unnecessary washes by hanging your clothes outside to ‘air out’ and spot cleaning any marks with a cloth, soap, and warm water.
But if your clothes really do need to be washed, remember that most modern washing detergents work just as well at 30C as they do at 60C.
You may choose to wash bedding, towels, underwear and socks at a higher temperature to ensure all bacteria is killed off for hygiene reasons, but most other clothing is perfectly fine being washed at 30C or below.
Reading the item’s clothing care label and turning down the dial to the appropriate temperature can save you money on the energy bill, as well as helping to preserve the planet’s resources.
Let the wind be your tumble dryer
Airdrying rather than tumble drying one load of washing can save 1.7kg CO2e of emissions – that’s the same mass of emissions produced from using 56 disposable plastic supermarket bags (and we all avoid them like the plague).
Around two-thirds of the energy used in the clothes washing and drying process is gobbled up by the electric tumble dryer – so if this is something you rely on, you may want to look for alternatives that suit you.
If you have no space or you’re not allowed to hang your clothes outside (which shockingly is the case in some places), perhaps invest in a heated drying rack that uses 60% less energy than a tumble dryer.
Alternatively dry clothes on a regular clothes rack, or on radiators that you’re already using to heat your home in the winter.
Avoiding a dryer will ultimately extend the life of your clothes as they aren’t exposed to the high temperatures and the rough and tumble of a spinning drum.
Filter that fluff out
To combat some of the microplastics released by your clothes divide your washing into organic and synthetic fibers and place the synthetic items inside of a specially designed microplastics filtration bag before washing (available online for around $35 USD).
You will see the microfibers collect as fluff inside the bag after several washes, which you can then dispose of in the bin, doing your bit to reduce ocean plastics for the health of marine life.
You can also buy a microfiber filtration system to add to your washing machine’s drain pipe (available online for around $70).
Place the synthetic items inside of a specially designed microplastics filtration bag before washing
Pay attention to the chemicals you use
A large number of regular washing detergents also contain chemicals that are toxic to aquatic organisms, but they are washed into the sea none the less.
Phosphate is still present in many detergents internationally and causes a number of water quality problems, including reacting with nitrogen in freshwater to form ‘nutrient pollution’ that stimulates plant life and algae to grow.
When the plants and algae die, the bacteria that feeds off them depletes the freshwater of oxygen in a process called eutrophication. This disrupts the delicate balance of the ecosystem and often causes the local population of fish to die.
Brands like Ecover and Method offer plant-based detergents that are non-toxic to aquatic life, you can also buy detergent strips which are zero-waste and ensure you use the right amount of chemical for each wash.
For another natural zero-waste alternative you can use soapnuts, a foaming berry from the Sapindus Mukorossi tree, native to the Himalayas in India and Nepal, that contains the natural ‘soap’ Saponin.
Fabric softener can be replaced with a cap full of vinegar which will have the same softening effect.
For a nice fragrance adding essential oils that are especially designed for washing can awaken your senses during your weekly cleaning routine, without the need to pour harsh chemicals down the drain.
Here’s your excuse not to iron
Before you fire up your electric iron, save energy (around 275 watts per day) by hanging your crinkled clothes in the shower room as you wash, which should steam most of the creases out.
Does it really need to be dry cleaned?
Often brands will use a dry-clean-only label to cover their asses incase the garment gets ruined in the wash.
But a lot of the time it will either be perfectly safe to hand wash the item in your bathtub with your regular eco-friendly detergent, or to use the washing machine on a low-spin and low-temperature wash (take this advice at your own risk)!
Perchloroethylene, the chemical most commonly used in dry cleaning, is banned in France and California after being linked to cancer and neurological impairment by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Several international dry-cleaning companies, including UK’s Timpson Group, are making the move away from the compound, instead ‘wet cleaning’ with GreenEarth solvent, a liquid silicone, Vogue reports.
‘Wet cleaning’ is already used by 60% of cleaning shops in Germany.
For items, like leather jackets, that are not stained but need freshening up inside, an efficient way of ridding them of any smell is to spritz the lining with rose water or vodka solution, Sophie Slater, founder of sustainable brand Birdsong London told Vogue.
Mend your own clothes, or have them repaired
It’s easy to fall into the trap of replacing instead of repairing when a new t-shirt is only $5 and your old one has a hole.
However picking up a needle and thread to close up a small hole in a t-shirt costs next to nothing and will extend the item’s life by another year or so – therefore cutting emissions that would have been released creating another t-shirt.
To produce a new virgin polyester t-shirt this is approximately 5.5kg CO2e, for a new non-organic cotton t-shirt it would be around 2.1kg CO2e.
So why not get your sewing kit out for the sake of the planet!