How to make your clothes last longer

There has been a huge rise in sustainable fashion brands in the past few years. However, no matter how sustainable the brand is, it can’t compete with buying less. To reduce our need to buy clothes, we can take some steps to make our clothes last longer. From washing to maintenance to storage, here’s how you can extend the life of your clothes.

clothes hanging on a rail against pink background

7 minutes to read

Make your clothes last longer – what’s in it for the environment, and for you?

By making our clothes last as long as possible we are creating multiple benefits. From a personal point of view, we get to keep clothes that we love in our wardrobe for a longer time. Meaning that jumper you bought ten years ago can still look great and feel cosy for more years to come. By caring for what we have, we also avoid the need to shop so often. This saves money, time and for a lot of us, the stress of shopping.

In terms of the environmental benefits, keeping our clothes in good condition means that we are consuming less. This is always good for the environment – less shopping means less production. The fashion industry, particularly fast fashion, takes a huge toll on the planet’s resources. So anything we can do to reduce this impact is a positive step.

how to make your clothes last longer yellow pinterest pin

Make your clothes last longer – washing

The washing process can be harsh on clothes and on the environment. But making some small changes to the way we approach laundry day can make a big difference to our clothes’ lifespan and to our environmental impact.

Wash items less often

A lot of items don’t need washing after every wear, and washing items less often can extend their life. Now, I’m not talking about underwear and socks or your sweaty gym gear. But if you can hang your jeans or jumper by an open window overnight you might find that’s enough to get another day (or two) of wear out of them.

Wash cool

The simplest way to make clothes last longer is to wash at a cool temperature. 40 degrees has been the norm for so long that a lot of us just wash at that temperature without thinking. But in reality, the combination of modern washing machines and detergents makes washing at 30 degrees just as effective as at 40. Washing at cooler temperatures is gentler on our clothes, making them last longer. But that’s not all – washing at 30 degrees instead of 40 saves energy, which is good for the environment and for your wallet.

Hang clothes out to dry to help them last longer

Hanging your clothes outside on a washing line or clothes rack is the gentlest way to get your clothes dry and keeping them smelling fresh. Tumble drying can stretch clothes out of shape, weaken fibres and shrink items to make them unwearable. So if you don’t have any outside space or it’s raining, it’s still best to avoid the tumble dryer whenever you can. 
 
One other thing to consider is that direct sunlight can fade bright or dark items, so try to dry those in the shade. White and light garments love sunshine, though!
 
clothes hanging on washing line
 
Sort your laundry

I am so guilty of not doing this! As a family, we don’t own that many white items. So washing my children’s sports socks and my husband’s two white shirts feels wasteful. 

But if we want our clothes to be looking fresh and new for as long as possible, sorting them is a good move. I’m going to start with separating colours from lights & whites. But in an ideal world we should be washing darks, brights, lights and whites separately.

Read fabric care labels

Another thing I’m guilty of ignoring is the fabric care label. Those little symbols can give us a lot of information about how to look after our clothes and keep them looking great for as long as possible.
 
If like me, you’re not entirely sure what all those symbols mean, this diagram might help:

following laundry care instructions can help your clothes last longer

Use a gentler detergent (and less of it)

By choosing a detergent with fewer harsh chemicals, you can give your clothes more life whilst also protecting aquatic life and the planet as a whole. Many new, sustainable detergents use enzymes or natural ingredients to get your clothes clean and fresh and are also more concentrated. This means you can use less and still get the same results.

Use a delicates bag to help make your clothes last longer

To avoid delicate items like underwear getting caught on the inside of your machine or on bigger items, consider buying a delicates bag. These mesh bags come in a variety of sizes and keep your delicates handily zipped away and protected. Using a delicates bag also makes the hanging process a lot quicker, as it keeps all your small, fiddly items together rather than tangled up or lost at the back of the drum. Some bags also collect fibres and microplastics that are shed from clothes when they are washed, like the GUPPYFRIEND.

Spot-clean stains and marks

Rather than washing a whole garment just because you dripped a bit of dinner on yourself, try spot cleaning. A lot of marks will easily sponge out when they’re still fresh. This means you can keep wearing the item for the rest of the day and avoid washing until it really needs cleaning.

Short wash, gentle spin

By putting your clothes on a short wash (an hour or less) and with a gentler spin, you can protect them from unnecessary wear and tear. You might find that they take a little longer to dry if they’ve not been spun as hard. But on a windy or sunny day this shouldn’t make too much of a difference. If you’re drying indoors, try laying a towel underneath your drying rack to absorb any excess drips.

Wait until you have a full load, but not too full

From an environmental perspective, washing a full load of clothes rather than half loads is best. But be careful not to over-stuff your washing machine. This can damage your clothes, reduce the cleaning effect and shorten the life of your machine, too.

Wash inside-out to make your clothes last longer and avoid fading

Darker items in particular can benefit from this approach. By turning them inside-out before washing, you avoid fading whilst reducing the likelihood of colour transferring onto other items.

But actually, turning everything inside-out before you wash it will help make your clothes last longer, regardless of colour. Washing inside-out protects any printed patterns or sewn-on embellishments from damage. It also means that buttons and zips are less likely to get caught on other items and either be ripped off or tear another garmen

Making your clothes last longer – storage

With some quick changes to the way we store our clothes between wears, we can help them last as long as possible.

Fold heavy sweatshirts and jumpers on a shelf

Hanging heavy items like sweatshirts and winter jumpers can leave them stretched and misshapen. By folding them and placing them on a shelf or in a deep drawer, you can help them stay in shape and looking great.

folded jumpers on a shelf

Don’t store in plastic bags

If you have any items that have been dry cleaned, make sure you remove the plastic bag before storing them. Plastic can harbour moisture which can make your clothes smell damp as well as increasing the risk of mould.

Store rarely-worn or out of season items properly

By rotating your wardrobe and storing out-of-season or rarely-worn items, you create space. Space is great because it allows you to easily reach the things you want to wear without tugging everything too much. It also means that the air can circulate your clothes to keep them fresh.

When storing items, make sure they’re in an airtight container or bag, and stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. When it’s time to get them out again, give them a quick shake and hang them outside if possible. This gives them a good airing before they go back into the wardrobe for the season ahead.

Making your clothes last longer – maintenance and protection

Storage and washing aside, there are a few other tricks and tips you can follow to make your clothes last longer:

Avoid ironing

Music to my ears! I’m not a fan of ironing, so it doesn’t take much convincing for me to avoid it. If, however, you a regular ironer, try to take a moment to assess whether you really need to iron everything. Some items like work shirts are a must, though. If something has to be ironed, make sure you follow the fabric care label carefully and iron on the lowest setting possible.

Mend items yourself or get them mended

If you’re pretty handy, you can use online videos to learn how to make basic repairs like darning socks and sewing on buttons. For more complex repairs or if you don’t have the time or inclination, take it as an opportunity to support a small business. Tailors and cobblers will do an amazing job of repairing and renewing your clothes, usually for a much lower price than replacing them.

close up shot of someone sewing a button on a checked shirt

Keep clothes away from cosmetics and hairspray

Two of the biggest culprits for damage and staining to clothes are makeup and hairspray. To avoid your clothes coming into contact with too many of these substances, do your hair and makeup before getting dressed.

Think about repurposing, donating and upcycling

Before throwing anything away, consider whether the item in question can be reused in some way.

If you have an old, stained t-shirt with holes in it, repurpose it into a cleaning rag or stuffing for a dog bed or soft toy. The same goes for underwear and socks that cannot be worn anymore.

If your white t-shirts are looking grey and tired, you could try dyeing them a different colour or even tie-dyeing.

brightly coloured tie-die t shirts hanging out to dry

If you simply don’t wear something anymore but it’s still in good condition, don’t forget your local charity shop.

Making your clothes last longer – summary

So there you have it! We hope these tips help you get more life out of the clothes you have. We’d love to hear about any changes you’re making – please come and join the Ailuna Community Facebook group to join the discussion and find even more eco-living tips.

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