By Ivory King
Talking responsibility for how we shop and what we buy is such an important way to lessen our individual impact on the environment. Each dollar we spend is a vote that tells clothes companies what is important to us. But after we choose what we wear based on what they are made from and who makes them - whether that’s parameters based on natural fibers, organic material, fair trade values - what comes next? Actually, a lot of the sustainability of textiles comes into play after we take them home, in the choices of how we care for our clothes, how long they last, and what becomes of them when we no longer want them. Many of these aspects are directly influenced by something so mundane - a big component of how eco-friendly your clothes are is how you wash them.
The most overwashed item in your closet? Jeans. You actually could just never wash your jeans. How could you even consider this possibility? Well, the CEO of Levi explains it in a more utilitarian, aesthetic-first sort of way: that the day to day use of jeans - what you put in the pockets, sitting down, hands in pockets - all of these little details makes your pair unique. "When it comes to the big day, the indigo will fade where you made those little creases to reveal the contrasts that give it the well worn look. If you wash your jeans too early, the indigo will wash off uniformly so it will give it an even, dark indigo cover which means the magic will have gone… Like anything in life, there are no short cuts.”
This doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to freshen up your well-worn pants - denim labels recommend sticking them in the freezer overnight or leaving them in the sun to kill bacteria, as well as spraying them with a odor- and germ- minimizing spray. We recommend lavender or basil essential oil in water. These recommendations can be applied to denim jackets as well as outerwear - with a little management they hardly ever need to touch water, if only to get a stain out with a toothbrush.
For clothes that hit a little closer to the skin, of course you’ll want a more thorough approach. But the default setting on your washer unit really doesn’t do you any favors. Unless you’ve got a specific problem that you’re trying to combat, like someone in your home is sick, or you’re worried you were exposed to bedbugs, all you need when you wash your clothes is cold water. This saves a lot of energy - almost 90 percent of the energy used to wash clothes just is used to heat the water. Laundry detergents have enzymes and surfactants that are designed to work in cold water - though if you live in places with extremely cold water you may want to add a little hot water so the detergent dissolves properly.
Along with using biodegradable detergent, you’ll also want to choose concentrated formulas - or powdered. When you’re purchasing anything else, basically you’re paying extra for the water content. And make sure to recycle the bottle - or if you can refill your container at the grocery store, better still. Make sure every time you wash that you’re filling up the machine - about ¾ full is optimal for front-loading machines. Wash towels separately, use chlorine bleach - or better yet, lemon juice to whiten, and always remove the lint from the dryer. Actually, consider just skipping the dryer. You save on energy, money, and wear and tear on your clothes. If it’s a necessity due to how much laundry your household creates, or because of the climate, consider line-drying at least underwear, socks, shirts and light clothing. It can really add up for your wallet and the environment.
Making eco-friendly choices for your clothes really is a win-win situation. The fact that jeans and outerwear should be washed less often than you might think could be liberating. Many of us just mindlessly throw everything into the laundry after a single wear - but who wants to do all that laundry? These greening tips save wear and tear on your clothes, so they last longer. The cold water setting and skipping the dryer both save you money. Since your clothes will definitely be in better shape by the time you want to give them to the thrift store and they’re more likely to have resale value, and therefore won’t fall into the secondhand clothes sorting cycle where they get bulk sold and shipped across the ocean to Haiti or another secondhand economy.