Clothing manufacture and sales in the UK is still the fourth largest pressure on our natural resources after housing, transport and food.  It is estimated that, in the UK, the average lifetime for an item of clothing is 2.2 years. By extending the lifespan of just 50% of UK clothing by 9 months could reduce the total clothing footprint by 8% for carbon, 10% for water and 4% for waste, per tonne of clothing. Extending the lifespan of our clothes isn’t just good for our finances, it also benefits the environment.
Here are a few tips to extend the life of your favourite garments.
- Abide by the wash care instructions
The wash care instruction labels of our garments are extremely informative, however, they are frequently ignored – I am guilty of this, and a few wool jumpers and silk blouses have paid the price. To avoid garment damage, make sure you follow the wash care instructions! The manufacturers have put the instructions there for a reason.
If your garments no longer have their care instruction labels, loveyourclothes.org.uk have great content around garment care including ‘how to care for [fabric type]’ guides. Additionally, they also have a care label cheat sheet that clarifies what each symbol stands for.
- Wear your clothes more than once
Cleaning your clothes, even with gentle products, can strip them of their natural oils and softness, as well as damage the colour of the fabric. You can skip a wash cycle by steaming, or hanging your clothes out on the line or clothes horse to air – both techniques assist with killing bacteria and removing odours. Not only does skipping a wash cycle prolong the life of your clothing, but it could also save around 125 litres of water – the average amount of water used in a standard washing machine cycle.
- Cold wash cycles are your clothes best friend
Heat can break down dyes in fabric and causes shrinkage therefore washing your clothes in cold water, using a mild detergent, can protect your clothes from shrinkage, and protect colours from running and/or fading.
Additionally, by not heating the water in your washing machine, you may reduce your energy costs with every load. An estimated 75 to 90 per cent of all the energy your washer uses goes to warming up the water, so switching to colder water can lower your gas or electric bill.
My only caveat relates to items worn close to your skin, particularly underwear and socks. These should be washed at an adequate heat i.e. above 60C. If you are worried about ruining your delicate underwear, wash it at a lower temperature (30C), but add an antibacterial cleanser to the wash.
- Ditch the dryer
The heat of a dryer not only shrinks the fabrics of clothes but can also ruin their fibres over time. Use a liquid fabric softener when washing and then hang your clothes or lay them flat to dry. Your clothes will last longer and you’ll also keep energy costs down.
- Store clothing correctly
By storing clothing in folded piles, away from direct sunlight and moisture, you’re likely to extend their lifecycle. Hanging garments can distort their silhouettes and shapes so if you do need to hang clothing, be sure to use the right kind of hangers. For example, padded hangers are well-suited for lingerie and other lightweight garments, whilst wooden hangers are better for suits and blazers. Plastic hangers work for most other clothing. Try avoiding wire hangers altogether as they are not strong enough to support most items of clothing long term, and due to their shape, will often leave marks on the shoulders of shirts that you won’t be able to remove, even with ironing.
Finally, store expensive items in cotton suit bags to prevent moth damage.
- Don’t let stains linger
Unfortunately, as we all know, set-in stains can ruin clothing. Be sure to treat any stains as soon as you can – the Cleaning Institute has a great stain removal guide that can be found here.
Repairing clothes is a must when it comes to prolonging their lives. Replacing buttons, restitching hems and getting clothes taken in are all skills that you can teach yourself via YouTube. If sewing is not your thing, get your local tailor to help – they will appreciate the business.
 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that a standard washing machine uses 33 gallons (124.9 litres) of water per load, with a highly efficient Energy Star-labelled washing machine using 21 gallons (79.5 litres) of water.