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How Often Should You Wash Your Clothes?

by Jill Culbertson

Are you over laundering your clothes? The process of washing our clothes is causing huge environmental problems, but there are things we can do to help reduce the negative impact of this daily routine. 

The plastic particles in synthetic petroleum-based fabrics and the chemicals found in many laundry detergents are ending up in our oceans and waterways, and can even end up in our food and drink. 

Designing for Violet Fish, we only use plant-based fabrics and, although they are still not the perfect answer to creating sustainable fashion, we feel they are the better option. Not only will plant-based fibres break down completely over time, they are so much nicer to wear and launder. Even a small amount of synthetic fibre content can cause discomfort and perspiration especially in a hot climate. Having grown up in the tropics, I've quickly learnt that 2% polyester is very unpleasant! Bed linen must be pure cotton or nights are unbearable as natural fibres absorb sweat, helping the body to cool down.

Rayon is a fabric we use a lot as it is perfect for Australian summers. Rayon has very thin fibres which allow it to breathe. There is a lightness to rayon that prevents it from sticking to the body in hot weather. If laundered correctly (cold hand wash only), the garments will last for many years. Viscose is also another great option. The treatment is slightly different to rayon, but it is also a plant-based fabric.

Our clothes deteriorate quickly with constant washing and hanging in the sun. And really, why do we insist on washing everything after one wear? Most items are hardly dirty, it’s just a habit. Think of all the extra time you will have! It’s a simple mindset change from over laundering everything. If we learn to love our clothes, we will want to cherish and look after them for many years. 

Here are our top tips for a sustainable laundry routine: 

  • Think twice before throwing items in the washing machine. Air them outside for a few hours instead. Some items seldom need laundering. Our kimonos, for instance, should simply be aired outside and spot cleaned if you spill something on them. 
  • Use a good quality natural detergent. Check your local supermarket or health food store, or you can even make your own. There are many recipes online which avoid the use of toxic chemicals such as 1,4-dioxane. 
  • Use a ‘low water use’ washing machine. Front-loading washing machines can use up to 70% less water than the same size top loader. That's because they are able to wash by picking clothes up and dropping them into the water repeatedly. Front loaders operate by having the clothes float around in high quantities of water.

  • Hand wash precious things in a bucket with a good quality low-chemical detergent. Wring out by hand and dry in the shade, or flat on a towel to avoid stretching.
  • Try to minimise use of a dryer and air-dry wherever possible. Dryers are notorious for high power usage.
  • Buy natural fabrics such as cotton, rayon, viscose, linen and silk. All these fibres breath and absorb sweat allowing the wearer to cool down. Thus they do not hold onto smells as much as synthetic fabrics. Often the only thing necessary is to air an item outside for 24 hours.
  • Spot clean items with a cloth and a gentle detergent if necessary for spills. No need to wash the whole garment.
  • Talcum powder is perfect for grease stains. This is an old trick we use all the time in our studio. Simply pour approximately a teaspoon of talc on the grease spot and gently rub in and then shake off. Works a treat!

Obviously, there are items such as underwear and socks that need regular laundering, but so many clothes really don’t need laundering as often as we are led to believe. With a little consciousness you will be helping the planet; saving your clothes; saving time and money! Win, win, win!