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How To Wash Your Clothes Sustainably

by Alyx Alakija

On average, the typical household uses over 150,000 litres of water each year. The over-laundering of our clothing is one of the biggest culprits of domestic energy and water wastage, and it further worsens our already fragile carbon footprint. But the buck doesn’t stop there. Many fabrics, like polyester, nylon, acrylic and other synthetic fibres, pollute our waterways during the laundering process through the release of microplastics. A single piece of apparel can release up to 1,900 microplastics per wash. To put that into perspective, every year, microplastic fibres equivalent to 50 billion plastic bottles are released into the oceans. It’s estimated that microplastics compose up to 30% of ocean plastic pollution. All in all, washing your clothes can actually be pretty bad.

You probably already know this, but different fabrics require different care. Giving your garments the proper care that they need by washing them according to their composition is a more sustainable way of living for two reasons. Firstly, washing your clothes according to their makeup will allow them to live a long and healthy life, which prevents the urge to buy more and buy impulsively. Secondly, washing well helps to protect our planet by preventing the release of microplastics contained within certain fabrics which, in turn, prevents further pollution of our oceans and waterways.

We've put together a little care guide filled to the brim with some of our best tips and tricks on how to wash your clothes in a way that’s both kinder on our environment and which will help your clothes live a long and healthy life.

Don’t wash your clothes after each and every wear

We really shouldn’t be washing them after every wear. Over-washing clothes breaks down the fibres, bit by bit. Instead, try spot cleaning them if you notice a dirty patch, or give them a light steam and air them out. Only washing your clothes when it’s really needed will extend their lifespan.

Some like it hot and heavy... Clothes don’t

When your clothes are good and ready, wash them on a colder setting. The temperature provided on care labels are suggestive of the maximum temperature that you should set your machine to. It's the most your garment can take before it reaches its literal breaking point. Aim for 10°c lower than the indication. At most, we recommend washing your clothes at 30°c. 

Dump the dryer

It’s estimated that each dryer emits more than a tonne of carbon dioxide every year. Cutting down on the use of your dryer will reduce your household energy consumption and carbon footprint in a really big way, and it’ll save you some money whilst you’re at it. So, it’s kind of a no brainer to ditch they dryer. Instead, hang dry your clothes on a clothing line or a drying rack. Hang drying also works to naturally minimize damages like permanent crinkles and creases that tumble drying can cause. 

Remember to sort your laundry

Most people typically wash lighter clothes together, and darker clothes together. Another pro tip is to wash your clothes inside out, this protects and preserves the colours and print on the visible side of your clothes. It’s also recommended to sort your laundry by delicacy and degrees.  

It's a delicate balance... Don’t overfill, don’t under-fill

Both overfilling and under-filling can cause damage to your clothing, so you want to get it just right. It’s also best to opt for a gentle setting with a lower spin cycle to avoid excessive friction which causes general wear and tear of your items.

When in doubt, go au naturel

Virgin synthetics and recycled synthetics are both fundamentally plastic. That means, with every wash, microplastic fibres are released into our waterways. So, when in doubt, opt for items that are made from natural fibres, like linen, hemp and organic cotton. These fibres also hold other advantages over the more commonly used synthetic fibres. For example, they’re biodegradable, so once they’ve reached the end of their lifecycle they can safely revert back to nature.  

Repair, repair, repair

It’s been estimates that increasing the lifespan of your clothes, from one year to two years, cuts emissions by up to 24%. So, repair, repair, repair. We live in a throwaway culture, a lifestyle which really is not maintainable or sustainable. Whether it’s a little rip in your jeans, or a whole in your shirt, a simple stitch could do the trick!

The moral of the story: clothes that are loved can last. So give ‘em a little lovin.