If you’ve gone that extra mile to find a sustainably-led brand that creates garments you love, then you’ll know that satisfying feeling of making better choices for the planet. But, purchasing a garment is just the start of the sustainable journey.
Did you know that the majority of a garment’s environmental impact doesn’t actually happen until after it has been sold? Between 60-80% of all energy and water that is used up in a garment’s lifecycle is generated whilst in the hands of the owner, partly through wear, but mostly through washing.
So even though it’s a mundane chore that we generally do whilst on autopilot, washing our clothes has a far greater impact on the environment than most of us are aware of.
Fashion's Dirty Secret
Fashion brands have historically been rather quiet on this matter. Once they’ve sold their clothes, they prefer not to hear from them again. But we see it as a duty of brands to not only produce clothes in a responsible way, but to help their customers care for clothes and the planet in kind.
To make life easy, we’re here to help you tidy up your washing habits using a simple yet effective guide, to help you protect the planet one wash at a time.
So without further ado, we present you with our top 6 tips for eco-friendly washing.
1. Wear It More Than Once
We know that it might be really tempting to automatically assign your clothes to the ‘washing pile’ after one wear, but take a step back and think to yourself, does this really need washing just yet?
We’re not boycotting the washing of clothes altogether, we’re just saying that you’re still perfectly within your hygiene rights to give them an extra couple of wears before resorting to adding them to the pile.
Considering that the average household in the UK uses their washing machine almost five times per week, adopting the ‘only wash when necessary’ approach could save you a lot of time and money, and spare up to 3.3kg of carbon emissions per wash being emitted into the atmosphere.
Not only does washing your clothes less often mean you have time for more important things, like watching paint dry, it actually makes your beloved clothes last longer.
Wash Your Blues Away
In some instances, you might not even realise that your clothes are being over washed. Particularly when it comes to denim jeans, iconic retailer Levi Strauss knows what they’re talking about, and they recommend only washing your pair once every 10 wears at most, in order to retain the colour and shape of your Old Blues.
When it comes to underwear, obviously this is a different scenario, but instead of washing the whole garment, try spot-cleaning in the areas that need it the most.
2. Time For a Hand Job
Washing machines work best when you have a full load of clothes you’re not too precious about. Your everyday, frequently washed kind of clobber.
But what about when you only have a few items that need sprucing up, or if you have a particularly delicate piece that you can’t bear to risk being eaten by the machine?
Say hello to your new best friend - hand washing.
Of course, you should always check the washing instructions found on the care label of your garments, but more often than not, hand washing falls within the safe zone.
There are a few ways you can do this, so take from this what you will, but the general procedure goes a bit like this:
Step 1 – Fill your container of choice with lukewarm water (a bath, sink, or bucket will do).
Step 2 – Add in a gentle detergent.
Step 3 – Submerge your items into the soapy water, gently working into the garments and focusing on any marks or stains. Leave to sit for 15-20 minutes.
Step 4 – Drain and rinse the garment with more lukewarm water. If you’re working with a bath/shower situation, the shower head would work best here. If not, just fill up your bucket until the garment is submerged again.
Step 5 – Drain again, lift the garment out from the water and gently squeeze to remove any excess water.
Step 6 - Either hang or lay flat to dry in the natural air. No need for tumble driers, radiators, or, heaven forbid, hair dryers.
By hand washing your clothes, you can save up to half as many litres of water being used in the process, and you make sure your clothes are getting the TLC they deserve.
3. Feeling hot, hot, hot
It’s become more on trend in recent times to machine wash our clothes on a 30°C cycle, but, for some reason, certain garment washing instructions still recommend cycles of up to 60°C.
With advances in washing machines and laundry detergents, today’s products are made to achieve high performance results at lower temperatures, so, your clothes will be just as clean on a 30°C wash as they would on a 60°C.
Even reducing your wash temperature by 3°C could make a huge difference, and if everyone in the UK did the same, collectively we could make a reduction in our CO2 footprint equivalent to taking 400,000 cars off the road.
4. Not a dry eye in the house
If you’re a tumble dryer fiend, this ones for you.
Did you know that tumble drying shrinks clothes twice as much as air drying? That’s a lot of shrinkage.
But, it’s not actually the temperature that’s to blame. The issue lies within the forced air that’s found in tumble driers, which makes the fibres of a garment constrict when drying, therefore causing it to shrink.
Whilst this is going on, the mechanical tossing of clothes from the dryer causes further damage, and, you guessed it – more shrinkage.
Repeated use of tumble dryers literally wears your clothes away, so over time, your treasured garments develop micro tears so small that you won’t even notice until it’s too late.
This means that the longevity and quality of your garments will be hugely impacted, making them far more prone to breakage through the weakening of the fabric.
The scary facts
Putting this aside, tumble driers are horrific for the environment.
The average dryer cycle uses just over 4kWh of energy, and produces around 1.8kg of CO2. With around 60% of UK households owning one, that’s a lot of unnecessary energy being used.
If these households were to wash just one load of washing outside each week instead of tumble drying, it could save over one million tonnes of co2 each year.
5. Something in the air
So, how can we dry our washing in a way that’s good for our clothes and the environment?
Good old air drying.
Of course, we understand that air drying is very dependent on having the space to set up a drying rack inside, or washing line outside. But, even if it’s just for your underwear and small hand-washed items, the benefits of air drying are totally worth it.
For starters, air drying doesn’t require any man-made energy, as it works off Mother Nature, so you’re already saving up to £100 on drying costs a year.
In addition to this, whilst you may have to invest a small amount into a drying rack or washing line, it’s counteracted by the money saved through reducing the rate at which your clothes wear and tear, and of course your electricity bill.
For underwear in particular, we recommend laying flat to dry on top of a towel, so, assuming you own one of these, no extra costs will be incurred.
6. Ironing out the finer details
How often do you iron your clothes? After every wash, or just for special occasions?
What if you never had to iron another linen shirt ever again?
Call us crazy, but ironing in general seems like a bit of an unnecessary task. Unless you’re going somewhere especially fancy, no one actually cares about a little crease, so it might just be time to start embracing it.
It’s estimated that globally, each person emits 190kg of CO2 equivalent in greenhouse gases each year from ironing, so, if we were all to just embrace the crease, we could make a huge contribution in reversing the effects of climate change.
If creased clothing happens to be your ick, then don’t worry, we have a solution for you.
When you take your daily shower, bring your creased item of clothing with you. Not literally in the shower with you, but pop it on a coat hanger and place it somewhere in your bathroom.
The steam which is produced from the heat of the water will naturally bring out the creases in your clothes, meaning that you can save time, money and energy from cracking out the iron - all before you even start the day!
We've run a full cycle
And there you have it. You’re ready to be a fully-fledged eco washing warrior, armed with our top 6 tips for a more sustainable washing routine.
Of course, adapt and revamp this guide as you wish, the main thing is that you take a more mindful approach to your next load.