Tips for Sustainable Laundry

Choose easy to care for clothing.

Wash your clothes less frequently. Excessive cleaning causes color fading, shrinkage, and fabric loss through friction. Many garments end in landfills long before they should. If clothes aren’t visibly soiled, the sniff test can tell you whether they need to be laundered or if they can be worn again. Some fabrics like denim and wool only need to be washed a few times a year, and can be spot-treated for any small spills. Wool is naturally antibacterial on its own, because of the lanolin, so it doesn’t need a wash after every wear, especially if it doesn’t smell.

Empty pockets and wash garments inside out, advises cleaning expert Jolie Kerr, to reduce color fading and odor retention in clothing such as dark denim, sportswear and dark T-shirts. Wash delicate cloth like silk, lace and nylon separately from heavier fabric such as cotton, denim and wool, either in a separate load or contained in a garment bag.

Wash in cold or warm water. Hot water can shrink clothes and wash out dyes, shortening the useful life of a garment. Doing laundry with shorter cycles is another important step towards a more sustainable routine. A 30-minute cycle at 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) is “significantly better” for your clothes than an 85-minute cycle at 40 degrees (104 degrees Fahrenheit), the researchers from the University of Leeds found out. Shorter and colder cycles also reduce microfibers from breaking apart – by 52 percent.

Use environmentally friendly laundry detergents. Conventional detergents leave a residue on clothes, and 95% of wastewater samples contain chemical contaminants found in laundry products that can disrupt hormones, trigger asthma and threaten aquatic life. Synthetic fragrances found in detergents, fabric softeners, scent boosters and dryer sheets can contain skin and respiratory irritants, endocrine disrupters, and carcinogens. Spot-treat stains soon after they happen to ensure that they can be removed from the fabric. “The sooner you treat a stain, the better your chances of having the stain come out in the wash. Having a stain stick on hand makes it easy to clean spills before they irreparably alter your clothes.

Fabric softeners and dryer sheets don’t actually make clothes softer. You read that right. They are designed to be a cheap shortcut that coats fabric in flammable lubricants and humectants to create an unnatural feeling of softness, rather than actually making clothes soft. Ultimately, this leads to fabric becoming less absorbent over time and actually traps dirt and stains in the clothes.

Reduce Microfibers. Mesh washing bags do more than just protect delicates. They reduce microplastics in the water, a precaution that is needed if you own synthetic blended fabrics. According to research, textiles are the largest source of marine microplastic pollution due to fabric made from synthetic materials like polyester, rayon, spandex and acrylic. These synthetics shed tiny fibers that “can find a way into the water systems through washing,” Barber explains, noting how microplastics in water can eventually get into the human body. “If you are a pregnant person, they may even find a way into your placenta.” If you don’t want to deal with washing your laundry in mesh bags, you can attach an external filter to the side of any standard or high-efficiency machine at home to trap microfibers before they enter the water system.

Air dry clothes instead of using the dryer.

Learn to repair tears, buttons and zippers. For major repairs seek out a local alterations shop.