Green Clothes Part I – a long lasting wardrobe

September 6, 2007 at 1:22 pm 47 comments


Photo: Nicky’s Eye View

No matter how many discussions we have about the benefits of buying green vs buying nothing, there is one thing that widely agreed on: the greenest garments are the ones you already have [TH]. The less stuff you buy, the better for the environment. (Yeah, that’s right, screw the economy, I am NOT here to serve you, so no, I DO NOT have the obligation of spending my money to make you sure you capitalists get fat off the backs of the poor.)

Therefore, I am going to start my Green Clothes series with how we can extract the most life of the stuff that is already in our closet. This means making it last as long as possible, and delay the dreaded moment when your favorite shirt makes you look like a scrub. Personally speaking, I am a very fussy shopper, so I need to absolutely love anything I buy, as well as be convinced that the piece in question makes me look good and passes my quality inspection (part II). So you can be sure that the moment I realize that I can’t wear my favorite sweater anymore because it looks like I stole it from a homeless person is a heartbreaking one. (And my hope is that I realize it before anyone else does, but who knows).

The first thing you must know is that your clothes’ #1 enemy is you wearing them. They get worn, deformed, stretched, pilled, dirty, stained and just plain old. But I have a solution for you. Ready? Take your clothes off! No, really! Take off your clothes as soon as you get home. Slip into something more comfortable *wink wink*. Relax. For example, you can promote some of the stuff you can no longer wear in public to ‘house clothes’.

Consider the benefits:

  • No grease stains (and smells) on your work outfit
  • No tomato sauce on your white shirt
  • Less dirty clothes means you need to wash less
  • No trying to get your pet’s angora off your pants
  • No pulled threads/ruined pantyhose from kitty claws

And here are some other gentle wearing tips:

  • Don’t put stuff in your pockets, namely, cellphones, wallets and hands. Deformed pockets are one of the first things that makes coats unwearable.
  • If you wear a purse or bag of sorts, don’t wear the strap across your body. You’ll notice that the friction leaves pilling and chafing marks on your shirts/sweaters. Those marks get ugly really fast.
  • Also avoid labels from your top layers chafing against your inner layers. (Personally, I cut the labels off, but keep them for the care instructions).
  • In the colder weather you may also want to wear an undershirt or t-shirt under a shirt or a sweater, it’s warmer and means you don’t need to wash shirts/sweaters as often.

Let’s move on to clothes’ enemy #2! As you may guess, enemy #2 is washing. Washing is BAD, using energy, water and detergent, as well as wearing out your much loved stuff, so you should do it as little as possible. By the way, did you know that most of the environmental impact of clothing comes from washing and drying? Of course I am not suggesting that everyone start walking around in dirty clothes. I am just saying you should keep the washing down to when its really necessary.

Personally, I identify laundry by smell (unless I made a mess out of myself with tomato sauce or something, which sometimes happens too). I normally don’t sweat very much, so I wear skin-contact tops and shirts and such for about 4-5 times, pants a little more, about 5-7 times. If you always wear sweaters and knits over something else, you probably don’t need to wash them at all, if you are lucky enough to avoid stain incidents and don’t cook dinner in your favorite cardigan. The same goes for skirts. I hardly wash my skirts, maybe few times a year. I do have to wash my sweaters a little more often than I would like.

Now before you dismiss me as a ‘European’ or someone who clearly never went to a smoky bar and came out smelling like cigarette butts, here is what you should know: the trick is hanging your smoky or stuffy clothes on a hanger out on the balcony, in the wind and sun. Leave them during the day, and they will smell as fresh as when you last washed them (Do I sound like a Febreeze commercial? Sorry…) No, really. You just have to try it, it really works.

So trust me on this, let your nose tell you if you can wear that again, and hang it outside if you want to freshen it up. Don’t forget, if you wear your ‘house clothes’ at home, you can wear your office clothes a few more times before you need to wash them. And be sure you always hang up or fold away the ‘re-wear’ stuff. If you pile everything on a chair, the psychological effect will be that the pile is dirty, even if its not.

Washing Photo: stevec77

More washing tips:

  • Wash garments inside out
  • Use wash bags to protect undies and other delicate items
  • If you get a stain, rinse it and give it a little hand wash if necessary. Machine washing does nothing to dry stains
  • Don’t use softener. Besides being nasty by itself, softener coats the fibers and decreases their longevity. Many people recommend a spoon of vinegar in the rinse cycle, but I never tried it. I just don’t use anything. (a little more on this later)
  • Separate darks from lights, to avoid the classic pink shirt.
  • Don’t use bleach. Some fabrics can’t be bleached even with non-chlorine bleach.
  • Use an appropriate temperature to what you are washing and to how dirty it is. I know cold-washing is the green thing to do, but there is nothing green in a cold-wash followed by another cold or even warm wash because you realized that everything is still dirty
  • And finally, this one is a little blasphemous so use at own risk: some dry-clean only items can be hand-washed very carefully. Basically just wiggle it a little (very little) in cold water with some delicate detergent like Ecover and rinse by wiggling a little more in clean water (change 1-2 times). Don’t wring or twist, just lightly squeeze the water out from the flat fabric. Dry flat.

So now we move on to enemy #3: Drying. Now drying is as evil as it gets for your clothes, as well as for CO2. If you notice, most clothes, and ALL delicate ones, will have a “do not tumble dry” sign on the label. The heat is very damaging to everything, but cotton normally handles it a little better. But it still lasts less, as opposed to shrinking on the spot like wool. Air dry. Use a clothes line, drying rack or even shower curtain rod, whatever strikes your fancy.

Partial Rainbow Photo: tillwe

Useful tips (from someone who never used a drier, EVER)

  • Drying in the sun is great and all, but if you do, dry inside out. The sun discolors fabrics.
  • Listen carefully, because here is the secret of soft clothes without drier or softener: do not overdry. Big mistake. That is the very cause of cardboard stiff jeans off the line. I can’t really describe it better than this: clothes should not feel wet, but should feel cold to the touch. A little moisture should still be left but not too much.
  • If you are going to iron them, then they should be a little more on the moist side. It’s easier to iron and you can use a lower temperature and no steam.
  • Be careful with delicates. Wool and easily deformable fabrics need to dry flat, in which case you should lay it on a towel somewhere. Other things do just as well on a hanger, if not better. Sometimes lengthwise stretching actually works to your advantage, to counter a little shrinking. Drying on a hanger also prevents the line mark and sometimes, even the need to iron.
  • By the way, if you are new to air drying, you may be faced with the situation where you just did a load of laundry, but realized that you don’t have the time or disposition to hang it up. Don’t leave the laundry in the washing machine for more than 12 hours. It gets all musty and stinky and you’ll have to wash it again. Try to time your laundry so that you can hang it right away.

Green Clothes Photo: Ninette Luz

Speaking of ironing, as you must have seen this coming, ironing is, of course, enemy #4. Basically, if you must iron, do it on the lowest temperature that gets the job done, even if you need to use a little more muscle power. Another trick I like is the hanger in the shower, works well for shirts, skirts and tops, etc. The steam gets rid of most of the wrinkles for you. Folding tightly also works on cotton T’s for example, among other things. Also, if you are ironing something for the 1st time, especially with synthetic fibers, do a little test on an inside seam. Just to make sure you don’t end up with a big hole on something brand new. If doubt persists, iron through a sheet or something of the sort.

So there. That’s about all you need to know about making your wardrobe last. You can probably tell that I learned most of this stuff the hard way. But now you don’t have to make the same mistakes I did. Do you have any more tips? Feel free to leave them in the comments!

Further Reading:

How to Green Your Wardrobe

Eco-Tip: Choosing Green Clothing

Ten Ways to Ensure Long Life for your Clothing

Coming up: Part II – Green Shopping for Quality


Entry filed under: cleaning, energy, environment, Family, water. Tags: .

Shameless plug Went to Portugal. But I’m back now.

47 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Activist Mommy  |  September 6, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    Great tips! Getting more life out of your clothes is a great way to have to buy less. And knowing that the clothes you are bying are going to ahve to last it makes you more responsible in shopping. Look for clothing that is made well and will last and don’t jump on every fashion trend that comes your way.

  • 2. Teresa  |  September 6, 2007 at 9:06 pm

    “Take your clothes off! No, really! Take off your clothes as soon as you get home.”

    I’m actually naked by the time my key hits the latch. I have these lounge pants from high school I still wear! I’d like to hear more on fabric softener actually. I use this a lot, so I’d like to know what it’s doing to my clothes. I heard that using more than one dryer sheet is pretty bad too because it actually causes problems to the dryer itself with all the chemicals it has.

  • 3. Nice 'n Earthy Girl  |  September 6, 2007 at 9:49 pm

    I found that putting some baking soda in during the rinse cycle is a great substitute for fabric softener.

    Also, if you have a Downey Ball (or something similar), you can put some white vinegar in that instead of liquid softener. It will automatically release it during the rinse cycle. (Your clothes won’t smell like vinegar.)

  • 4. Christina  |  September 7, 2007 at 1:07 am

    this is great!

  • 5. Top English WP Blogs « Hành trang 8X  |  September 7, 2007 at 2:37 am

    […] Green Clothes Part I – a long lasting wardrobe   [image] Photo: Nicky’s Eye View No matter how many discussions we have about the benefits of buying green vs […] […]

  • 6. Jana  |  September 7, 2007 at 3:07 am

    I used to use the drier all the time, but then was faced with ironing the linens and cottons that we wear year round. I’ve learned to dry for about two minutes, just enough to relax the wrinkles from the washing machine, then hang to finish drying. NO MORE IRONING, The linens are crisp and wrinkle-free. And my electric bill has gone down.

  • 7. dominique  |  September 7, 2007 at 4:32 am

    Brilliant! I support this campaign a 100%. I’m from Argentina, and here the environmental issues are not “a la page” and it hurts to watch all the waist we produce and that are not being reused.
    so thanks again.

  • 8. J  |  September 7, 2007 at 5:12 am

    Excellent post! Thanks for the info…I have been a vegan for the past 10 years and have recently strayed, but everything we do individually contributes to the larger cause!

  • 9. holy crap, this link is a must read! « AND WE LOVE !  |  September 7, 2007 at 5:26 am

    […] September 6th, 2007 go to this blog alex! it will give you so many green tips: […]

  • 10. anna  |  September 7, 2007 at 8:20 am

    excellent article!
    save money, time, and make the clothes last longer.. I have always been amazed when I meet people who wash their jeans, bedsheet etc after every use.
    and people abusing the clothes drier irritate me .. it makes the electricity bills so much bigger.

  • 11. james dwyer  |  September 7, 2007 at 8:31 am

    A minor quibble with the green-themed photo: knitted polo shirts shouldn’t be stored on hangers. Doing so lets them stretch out of shape.
    Otherwise, great article.

  • 12. Naomi  |  September 7, 2007 at 9:48 am

    Fabric softener? Dryer sheets?!? Teresa what are you doing? You dont need either of these things at all! Well, having said that, I dont know, maybe your water does strange things to your clothes? I dont use either of these things and my clothes, sheets and towels come off the line (and out of the drier if needed) nice and soft. I wash with less than the reccomended amount of a ‘green’ washing powder, and am smart with how I hang things up/lay them out to dry, thus avoiding almost all need for ironing (I cant remember the last time I ironed).
    James – It depends on the hanger you use – use a large one that supports the shirt well and it wont stretch them out of shape.
    That brings me to enemy of clothes no.5 wire clothes hangers – these are evil for your clothes. Invest in some good quality ones that are thicker – even cheap thicker plastic ones are better than wire ones BUT need to be treated carefully so they dont break and become and environmental waste.
    Great blog, keep it up.

  • 13. melissa  |  September 7, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    Great tips! Though I’m surprised you didn’t mention soap nuts at all… I switched to soap nuts a few years ago and I love that they get everything clean without any gross perfume smell and they’re all-natural, and way cheaper than detergent, too. We live on a boat so all our grey water goes straight into the river. Knowing we’re washing with something all-natural that isn’t going to affect the fish or ducks is really important.

    I’ve become something of a soap nut evangelist over the past few years, though, I must admit! Several friends have switched after I gave them a couple samples from my bag…

  • 14. melanie  |  September 7, 2007 at 4:55 pm

    I love clothes, so even if I wasn’t an aspiring environmentalist I would still appreciate these tips! thanks

  • 15. Emily  |  September 7, 2007 at 6:05 pm

    So, a few thoughts:
    1) Baby, you clearly don’t have two little kids. I used to only wash when stinky. Now I wash when coated with oatmeal, tomato sauce, sand, and bodily waste. In other words, at the end of the day.
    2) Here’s my dilemma: We use rags and washcloths instead of paper towels for obvious reasons. They have to be wet (see above). Where we live is a very mildew-ridden kind of place, so these cannot sit overnight without stinking the whole house up. We have to do wash at night. Which forces me to use the drier. Any suggestions? This Catch-22 is killing me.
    3) Am I weird? I like the stiff feeling when clothes have been dried in the sun.
    4) Your tips on saving clothes are not only environmentally sound, they are economically sound, too. If you wanna stimulate the economy, folks, spend more on organic produce.

  • 16. Alina  |  September 7, 2007 at 6:24 pm

    Oh man. That’s a lot of comments…

    Activist Mommy, I agree, and in fact that’s what I’m planning to talk about in Part 2 😉

    James, you have a point, but I didn’t even notice that. I only used the photo for artistic purposes 🙂

    Naomi, you are very right indeed. But I do keep the wire hangers, they are very handy to hang tank tops and things like that.

    Melissa, I’ve never heard of soap nuts, but its good to know, thanks!

    Emily, you are right, I don’t have little kids, I can imagine the situation is quite different for you. Most smaller things air dry just fine overnight. Only sheets, towels and jeans need a day or two. For sure the washcloths will dry well overnight. Just try it. And I like stiff towels too, I like the exfoliation 😉

    And otherwise, welcome to everyone who is new here, hope you stick around 🙂 And thanks for commenting, I’m glad you guys liked it.

  • 17. Linda  |  September 7, 2007 at 9:26 pm

    Great summary of how I learned to do laundry from my Mum. What has happened between me learning all this and you needing to explain it? I guess some would call it progress …….

    Emily I had little kids (and survived!) I used to cover the smellies with waterin a bucket overnight and wash and hang out the following day when the air was warmer. (A bit of vinegar in the water might be kind on the nose and loosen some stains)

  • 18. Lori V.  |  September 8, 2007 at 5:59 pm

    Great post, Alina! I covered some of this, as well as a few other points, back on St. Patty’s Day, in a post called, “The Wearin’ o’ the Green.”

  • 19. Emily  |  September 9, 2007 at 10:55 am

    Another trick I learned to save energy and clothes — buy clothes that don’t need ironing. Life is too short.

  • 20. Sweet Sassafras » On Slow Fashion  |  September 9, 2007 at 7:18 pm

    […] Taking care to prolong the life of your clothing […]

  • […] A long lasting wardrobe – Green tips for extending the life of your clothes by proper care and weari… – […]

  • 22. Carnival of the Green # 94. « Camphor’s  |  September 10, 2007 at 7:50 am

    […] of the pro-green world is all for the preservation, and this post from Alina consists of various tips and tricks to ensure that the clothing already in our closet […]

  • 23. mary  |  September 11, 2007 at 5:59 pm

    I’ve been line drying since last year. My only problem……our fine feathered friends that decide that’s a nice place to have a bowel movement. Those stains do not come out. That has since passed. Vinegar is a great fabric softner. We have well water that is extremely hard. Love this blog!

  • 24. Alina  |  September 11, 2007 at 6:13 pm

    Mary, hihihi, you know what they say… sh!t happens. Lol. Couldn’t resist 😀 And thanks, glad you like it.

  • 25. Ana  |  September 11, 2007 at 9:24 pm

    These tips are GREAT. It sounds more like my philosophy about clothes. LOVE it. I will add a few more tips. I handwash ALL my cashmere sweaters – don’t send anything to the dry cleaners (except coats). The way I wash our cashmere sweaters is: fill the sink with warm water and woolite. Put in 1-2 sweaters (light colors together, darks together – common sense) and let them sit for 15 minutes or so. They should be inside out. So after 15 minutes, with a mild soap, scrub gently under the arms (for me my sweater always gets a mark of sweat and antiperspirant – sorry for being graphic). So after you have scrubbed with your hands a bit, let it sit again in the water for 5 minutes. Take the sweater out of the water, rinse 2-3 times, pressing gently to remove excess water. The last time, twist the sweater gently and then – here comes my magic trick, I take a large towel (I save it for this job only) and lay it flat on the counter, put the sweater over it in the one half of the towel (very large towel) then fold the other half of the towel on top of sweater, roll the towel in a rolly-polly thing, hold the two ends and twist in opposite directions – sometime my husband helps 🙂 I promise you, your cashmers will be as new as ever. I have a few that I have had for years, and they look like new – everyone comments thinking I just bought it.
    Regarding the rinsing with vinegar, I read somewhere that you can put dropps of lavender oil in it and use it that way. I am going to try it.

  • 26. Ana  |  September 11, 2007 at 9:26 pm

    oh, forgot to mention the last bit after the towel. Please don’t assume that the sweater is dry now :-0 it still needs to be layed flat and air dry near a radiator – I usually do this job 30 minutes before going to bed, so by the morning the sweater is dry, and you can always do 1-2 at a time – don’t have to do all at once.

  • 27. DIY clothing | Tiny Choices  |  September 12, 2007 at 12:06 pm

    […] am excited to follow the Green Clothes series at Confessions of a Closet Environmentalist. Part I is titled “A long lasting wardrobe” and discusses all the ways that we shorten the life of our clothing by wearing and caring for them. […]

  • 28. Giselle  |  September 12, 2007 at 7:07 pm

    Anyone know where I can find these soap nuts in the US? I checked out the website but it appears a bit more complicated to get some samples shipped out to me in California.

  • 29. verb2be  |  September 13, 2007 at 10:26 am

    Excellent article!

  • 30. Michelle Verges  |  September 15, 2007 at 11:37 pm

    Hi Alina,

    I hate to do this to you since I know you’re busy working on your thesis, but you’ve been ‘memed’–I tagged you to participate in the 8 random things about you meme. Maybe this will give you a little break from all your work!


  • […] I know you must be hanging on the edges of your seats waiting for the follow-up post to my last post, but I’m afraid you will have to hang in there a little longer. Things are going to be a […]

  • 32. LifeLessPlastic  |  October 14, 2007 at 6:53 pm

    Amazing post! I’m always so incredibly mean to my clothes, partially because I’m sort of sloppy. I throw my clothes over the chair or on the bed, and sometimes even on the floor. It’s horrible. But this post has really inspired me to go get everything back in order and start taking better care of my clothes. It has also really inspired me to try and wash my clothes less. Right now, I probably wash pants after 3 wears and shirts after 2 wears, regardless of how they smell. This shall change!

  • 33. Katie  |  February 13, 2008 at 7:08 am

    Thanks… wardrobe is the hardest thing for me to be “green” about… 🙂

  • 34. Saffie  |  May 13, 2008 at 6:50 am

    Cool as article~!

  • 35. GoingGreen  |  June 3, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    One of the best way to market these green clothes, is to make the worlds best models to wear them in a fashion parade, which will create good response and review in the media.

  • […] on gathering, storing, and sorting laundry, on eco-laundry and an excellent one on how to get a longer lasting wardrobe.  These article explain how often one should launder clothing and give great tips on how to […]

  • 37. Mark  |  July 10, 2008 at 1:38 am

    Some really great tips here. I’m slowly making the transition myself…. to hang dry clothes and use dryer less/eliminate all together. I find that you clearly need the right setup whether it be indoor/outdoor and with timing, convenience being a factor, its hard to go completely one way. I supplement hanging sweaters, jeans & shirts with tumble drying socks, underwear, towels. Am I alone in this?

  • 38. Christine  |  July 26, 2008 at 8:23 am

    I wash in cold water, and dry for 30 minutes, on cold. Sure works for me. Going to save this in my documents. It’s all good advice. Sometimes I don’t use soap. Still comes out clean.

  • 39. Crow  |  January 9, 2009 at 1:49 am

    “Yeah, that’s right, screw the economy, I am NOT here to serve you, so no, I DO NOT have the obligation of spending my money to make you sure you capitalists get fat off the backs of the poor.”

    You’re right. No jobs for poor people. Let them starve. Apparently.

  • 40. James  |  January 15, 2009 at 5:27 am

    I recommend Merino wool undershirts. I started using them as a base layer for cycling and noticed that they don’t smell like cotton or synthetic ones do. I wear one for a couple of days and then just hang it out on the balcony. No sweat smell! Something about the wool makes it difficult for bacteria to survive.

    They are a little pricey, but they are so comfortable and they save you lots of money as you use much less water, soap and energy than with ordinary undershirts.

  • 41. Jen V  |  April 21, 2009 at 11:38 pm

    Vinegar definitely does wonders as a fabric softener. I put it in my machine where the fabric softener usually goes. It softens clothes and doesn’t harm the environment. If your clothes are damp you may smell a little vinegary, but once they dry the vinegar smell completely dissipates.

    I also use vinegar to clean just about everything in my house. It’s so versatile, it cleans and disinfects better than most products out there, and it’s cheap to boot.

    Don’t get me started on baking soda….another cheap household necessity that can be used for so many applications.

  • 42. tina  |  August 13, 2009 at 1:46 am

    hi, tried hanging the clothes to get rid of wrinkles but it doesn’t work.

  • 43. Machja  |  December 30, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    If you are looking for organic clothing, check out these organic dresses or organic jeans by Machja.
    I can guarantee you the high quality, since I work for this company. 🙂

  • 44. Kersti  |  January 25, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    Two or three items at a time in the dryer for 3-5 minutes. Hang the tops on hangers with really wide shoulders (e.g. men’s suit hangers) to avoid the pointy shoulders you get from narrow hangers. Hang pants and shorts upside down, folded to keep the crease and held at the cuffs by pant hangers with clips or clamps. Can’t remember the last time I used an iron.

  • 45. Best Fashion Info  |  June 16, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    This spot has real inspired me to go get everything rear in say and commencement winning meliorate mend of my clothes. It has also rattling inspired me to try and lavation my clothes little. Justice now, I belike watercolour garment after 3 wears and shirts after 2 wears, disregarding of how they aroma

  • 46. jessy nguyen  |  October 3, 2010 at 10:44 am

    thanks for your great tips.
    i wonder if you care about recycled shoes or not. can you visit this :
    it’s the sandal made from the mix of rice husk and rubber. can you tell me what you think about it and how to make it better?

  • 47. Darlene Oakley  |  April 24, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    Some really great and simple tips. Needed this info for a book I”m writing, plus some basic laundry things I didn’t know. Bookmarking this one!

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September 2007

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