By Shana Levy McCracken, Houzz
Saying goodbye to a favorite dress or T-shirt that has seen better days can be, frankly, kind of a bummer. Though that day will inevitably come for most pieces, the good news is that we can push it back by handling our garments with care. Making clothes last longer is good for your pocketbook, good for the planet and, best of all, good for the things you love to wear. Here are my tried-and-true tricks for longer-lasting clothing.
1. Launder less frequently.
Unless you spilled red wine on that pale blue dress or perspired heavily in a white dress shirt, hang it back up to wear at least once more before laundering. I prefer to hang items inside out so they get more air. Machine washing less often literally puts less wear and tear on your clothes, helping them to last longer.
While throwing an entire outfit into the hamper at the end of the day has become the default in more recent decades, it doesn’t need to be. Machine washing only when truly necessary — and spot cleaning in between washings — does wonders for clothes.
This was the regular practice among Americans in the early 20th century. “A home economics textbook from 1935 advised junior high school girls on how to remove spots and wash out collars and cuffs, and then added, ‘If a dress is very dirty, washing it may be best,’ as though washing a slightly dirty dress never occurred to anyone,” says Linda Przybyszewski, author The Lost Art of Dress.
Of course, how far you go in following this advice depends on a few factors, among them your individual body chemistry and the specifics of the garment.
2. Use a gentle detergent, and less of it.
Most of us use more detergent than we need to. We could cut our usage in half or more and still get our clothes clean. Although it’s counterintuitive, using more detergent can actually leave your laundry dirtier. The reason is that the excess suds don’t rinse away and neither do the bacteria and dirt they hold. As a result, we either wear dirty clothes or we wash them more to get them clean. (Even worse, we add more detergent the next time!)
Since learning about this, I started filling the soap receptacle in our washing machine no more than halfway to the “normal load” line. For whites and other loads that may need a boost, I add a little color-safe bleach. Even with both of these liquids added, I’m usually not all the way up to the normal line. Our clothes and towels come out just fine. Second, be sure to use a gentle detergent, which causes less wear on the fibers of your clothing. There are plenty of good brands out there — formulas made for baby clothes tend to be the least harsh.
3. Use cold water.
The care labels on your clothing tell you the hottest setting you can use, but this doesn’t mean you <em>must</em> use these temperatures. Using the cold cycle will clean most clothes sufficiently and won’t cause your clothes to shrink or fade like hot water can. If necessary, add a detergent booster containing sodium percarbonate.
Cold water works for most items, but feel free to make an exception and use a hotter setting for dirty towels — especially the ones used on the dog.
4. Sort your textures.
Many people sort laundry into light and dark colors. While I do this too, more important to me is keeping the soft apart from the rough. I reserve one basket for lighter items, one for darker colors and a third for more abrasive clothes, like jeans. Keeping your clothes separated in this way helps to prevent heavier items from wearing holes in the softer garments.
I also use the gentle cycle for lots of loads besides what most would consider delicates. This is especially helpful for knits like T-shirts and underwear.
Tip: Zip up and button pants, shorts, and skirts before putting them in the washing machine. This will help protect the other clothes from the zippers’ abrasive effects.
l love hanging my clothes outdoors. Besides getting to enjoy the sunshine and the sound of the birds, I feel gratified knowing I’m using less energy while keeping my clothing looking good longer. The umbrella-type clothesline pictured here is a nice way to hang a full load, and it folds away easily.
Instead of clothespins, I prefer to use small plastic clamps from the hardware store. For convenience, I leave mine on the line. Rather than fishing clothespins out of a bag, I just slide my clamps down the line to where I want them.
6. Use racks to dry indoors.
On rainy or wintry days, use portable or built-in racks for drying. You can find lots of cool designs on Houzz. It’s also possible to use clothes hangers to dry garments made from fabrics that won’t stretch out. I can usually fit five or six things over the shower bar and, although my husband isn’t a fan of the practice, a doorknob will also do in a pinch.
7. Store and dry knits flat.
Clothing made from knit fabrics — think sweaters, T-shirts and some dresses — is stretchy, which makes it extra comfortable. But this benefit can also be a downside, since the stretch of knits means they can easily get misshapen.
To preserve the shape of your knit clothing items, avoid hanging them on hangers. Instead fold and stack them. If you absolutely must hang a knit garment to prevent wrinkling (I have a jacket made from an unusual linen knit, for example, that is positively unwearable when I fold it), turn it inside out first and put it on a padded or wood hanger. This will reduce the pokey-shoulder effect.
Also, when a clothing tag advises laying the garment flat to dry, follow that advice. I frequently just lay mine across the top of a section of my umbrella clothesline. Or, during inclement weather, I lay it over a folding rack indoors.
We recently wrote about the many creative ways that readers air-dry their clothes in winter.
8. Repair instead of tossing.
When an item of clothing gets a hole, why not mend it? Repairs need not be invisible to the naked eye. You could have a little fun with a mismatched patch designed to show. I recently covered a moth hole in a wool sweater with a patch that looks like a moth. I figured I might as well give the little guy credit for his hard work. In Japan, the art of patching clothing, or <em>boro</em>, has been elevated to an art form. If patches fit your fashion aesthetic — even for just your weekend wear — you can gain some DIY satisfaction by repairing holes yourself. If you’re not the sewing type, a local tailor will likely be able to help you out.
9. Get to know your local dry cleaner.
If after reading these tips, you recognize you don’t have the tolerance for this degree of care, consider using your local dry cleaner’s laundering service. Dry cleaners understand fabrics and how each must be handled for optimum results. And going forward, you’d also be wise to check care labels before you buy. That way, you can avoid purchasing garments that require a higher level of maintenance than you’re willing to take on.