Now you have picked out some fabulous second hand fashion, what next? How do you keep that amazing wardrobe working for you for as long as possible? Nothing is more tragic than shrinking a beloved garment or realizing that you simply can’t get more life out of a piece of clothing. Nothing lasts forever, but with a few small changes, you may be able to make things last just a bit longer. I have cultivated a list of ideas for how to care for older or thrifted clothes so that you can get the most out of your wardrobe for as long as possible. A whole blog post about doing laundry doesn’t seem exciting or revolutionary, and it probably isn’t. Still, I learned a few things as I prepared this post, and I hope you’ll find a few helpful tidbits in here as well.
Doing less laundry is definitely a start that will improve your environmental footprint and make your clothes last longer, but the way in which you do your laundry also plays a role.
*Machine wash cold! If your machine has a tap cold setting, that’s the best choice for environmental reasons. The only time I use a hot wash is if I need to sanitize a dog towel or something else that’s gotten really yucky. Otherwise, washing on cold will minimize shrinkage and keep everything happier.
*Hang dry: I hang dry most of my shirts, jeans, exercise clothes, undergarments etc. Basically, the only things I don’t hang dry are towels and sheets. If you are worried about wrinkles, you can pop things in the dryer for about 10 minutes on low heat and then hang them. A clothes drying rack will make hang drying so much easier. There are many inexpensive options from IKEA, Costco, and basically every store that sells homegoods, but they seem to be a thing that many people tend to ditch when they move. I found one that I used for years on the curb, and you might have some luck on Facebook marketplace or at a local secondhand shop to find one used. If you don’t have a drying rack, just hang clothes on hangers and place these hangers over the backs of chairs, the tops of doors, on door knobs, or on handles and drawer pulls in the kitchen.
Depending on where you live, you may be able to rig up an indoor or outdoor clothesline which will also help a lot. I like to set up a small fan to blow on my drying rack which really helps to cut down on dry time. If possible, lay sweaters flat to dry. If you are lucky enough to have your own washer and dryer, do this on your washer/dryer. Otherwise, lay them out on a towel or on top of a drying rack. Carrying wet clothes back from a laundromat might seem annoying at first, but also not having to wait for the dryer will cut down on the time you have to spend waiting around, so it may even out for you in the end.
*Dry on low heat: High heat will shrink your clothes over time. I have definitely inherited some severely shrunken garments from my partner. It happens slowly but surely, especially with fabrics like cotton. Drying on low heat will help slow this process.
*Don’t iron things that don’t need to be ironed: We know that ironing damages clothes, so try to steam or hang clothes in the bathroom while you shower to cut down on the amount of ironing you might need to do. (I very rarely iron anything. I like to think wrinkles look fashionably windswept, but you may feel differently).
*Refresh clothes with a little essential oil and water in a spray bottle: Skip the chemically fabric refreshers available in stores. I don’t necessarily know that every single one of these harms clothes or the environment, but it will probably be cheaper, easier, and better to use a few drops of tea tree/lemon/insert your fav essential oil in a spray bottle with water than whatever refreshers are commercially available.
*Skip the bleach: This almost goes without saying, but it’s toxic and we need to try to use it sparingly if at all.
*Skip that dryer sheet: I haven’t used a dryer sheet in years, and I honestly do not really notice a difference. I like having one fewer disposable household item wherever I can. If you do notice a difference, you might try wool dryer balls. You can add essential oil to them to give a little fresh scent to your laundry while removing static. I find that using them does cut down on dry time for things like sheets and towels.
Now, let’s talk detergent. Most laundry detergents contain sodium lauryl sulfate and/or sodium laureth sulfate. I’m not a chemist or a doctor, but these compounds are generally agreed to be detrimental to the water supply and the humans, plants, and animals who rely upon that water. Additionally, you may find dyes, fragrances, and other potentially hazardous chemicals in the products that you use to wash the clothing that touches your skin all day every day. Chemical regulation in America is shockingly lax about what kinds of chemicals can be put into our water supply and on our bodies. I don’t mean to inspire panic or tell you to throw away every cleaning product you own, but this is something worth thinking about the next time you find yourself ready to purchase a laundry detergent.
There are a number of recipes and methods I’ve seen online to make your own more natural detergent, but I don’t have the bandwidth to be measuring out baking soda and grating washing soap right now. If this works for you, go for it! I’d love to hear about what you tried.
If you, like me, are buying detergent, I would recommend avoiding products that contain dyes and fragrances. I also encourage you to be on the lookout for “greenwashing”. Greenwashing is an all too common practice which involves branding products to make them look environmentally friendly without actually changing the product to actually make it environmentally friendly. This branding strategy allows companies to hop on the bandwagon of the now trendy eco conscious movement without actually making any meaningful change in production process or formulation of their products. I have an entire post in the works about greenwashing, and there is a lot more to this issue, but this is the tldr.
If you have the energy, do a little research on the brand and see what you can find out about their practices and ingredients. If possible, see if there are bulk refillable detergent options in your area (if you are in the Hudson Valley, check out the O Zone in Red Hook – it has great sustainable options!) You can also buy sheets of laundry detergent which minimize packaging and work well. Maybe I’ll finally get inspired to try making my own detergent, and then I’ll report back!
Perhaps one of the easiest changes lies in the frequency with which you do laundry. I’m always here for advice that makes my life easier, so I hope you also find this helpful! Basically, you can probably wash everything less often.
*Jeans: You can usually wear jeans at least 3-4 times before washing if not many more, particularly if you alternate days between two or more pairs of pants. If your jeans have a lot of elasticity and tend to stretch out with wear, you may have to freshen them up more often. Sometimes a quick mist of water and a tumble in the dryer can be all it takes to shrink them back up. Some people swear that you can freeze your jeans to avoid washing them. In my experience, this just makes them cold and unpleasant to wear, but you do you. Give it a try and let us know what you think!
*Sweaters: A thick warm sweater basically doesn’t need to be washed until you spill something or it starts smelling bad. Sweaters made of wool are particularly prone to shrinking so washing as infrequently as possible will make you and your sweaters happier. (Thinner sweaters that are being worn as base layers may need more frequent cleaning.)
*Shirts: Unless it smells or you spilled something, you can typically wear a shirt at least 2-3 times before washing.
Caring for our clothes is important, and I hope you find these suggestions helpful to extend the life of your garments. Here’s to maintaining the quality of our clothes so they can be loved and worn for years and years! What is your favorite tip? Did we miss anything? Please let us know!
Eleni Georgiadis is a classically trained horn player currently residing in Kentucky. Outside of music, she enjoys knitting, sewing, composting, kombucha brewing, and spending time outdoors. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to share her thoughts about sustainability and inclusivity in fashion, weaving together her technical knowledge, passion, and research.