Have you ever heard of the no-wash movement? It came about because people like you and me were concerned about how washing their clothes affects the environment. Since starting Sympatico Clothing, I’ve learned a lot about natural fabric care, including how to cut down on washing clothes while staying clean and presentable. Read on to learn more.
Jeans don't get dirty!
Many years ago, my family was on a trip to Malaysia. We heard a backpacker exclaim confidently, “Jeans don’t get dirty!” Although he exuberantly announced this as if it were fact, I wasn’t sure, especially in the hot and humid climate of SE Asia.
The funny thing is, though, Levi’s CEO and President Chip Bergh agrees, but for a slightly different reason. He says you should never machine-wash jeans because it can damage the material, and he feels it’s just not necessary. Instead, he suggests spot-cleaning stains with a toothbrush.
Learn new ways to care for natural fabrics
Many of us already have ingrained clothing care routines. But in this article, you’ll learn some new ways to increase the longevity of your clothing, do less harm to the environment, and create more time for other stuff besides laundry. Sounds good, right?
When it comes to your clothes, how large is your ecological footprint?
The average household uses 13,500 gallons on nearly 400 wash loads annually—enough to supply a lifetime's worth of drinking water for six people.
According to estimates I've seen, about one-third of a garment's climate footprint happens after it's sold as a result of laundering or dry cleaning. But if you minimize the amount of laundering you do and incorporate other eco-friendly approaches to clothing care, you can substantially reduce that impact.
What are the pluses of washing less?
Designer Stella McCartney says, “The less you wash your clothes, the better.” Washing your clothes less means you conserve water and reduce energy consumption. It also prolongs your clothing’s lifespan and reduces wear and tear. Plus, who wants to spend their whole life washing clothes? Less laundry means more time to do other things.
What is the fabric content?
The way you care for your clothing depends on the fabric content. The hemp in Sympatico clothing is naturally resistant to microbes and mildew—so you can extend the time between launderings.
Another great aspect of the hemp/Tencel blend that we use for Sympatico’s line is that it doesn’t hold onto odors, and wrinkles are easy to release with a simple spray bottle of water. I’ve found that there’s no need to immediately wash my Sympatico clothes after a day’s wear. Instead, I:
- Check the garment in good light to make sure there are no spills or stains.
- Spot-treat any stains with a tiny dab of detergent and a toothbrush, then rinse the stain with cold water.
- If the garment looks rumpled, I put it on a hanger and spritz it with a little water.
- If the wrinkle factor is especially notable, I hang the garment in the bathroom where the moisture will help the fabric relax and smooth out.
Looking to get your hands on some of our breathable, easy-to-spot-treat hemp/Tencel clothing? Take a look at our line.
Heating water accounts for almost 90% of the energy consumed in laundering clothes.
Did you know that care symbols on clothing labels show the maximum treatment? Washing at lower temperatures has many benefits. It can help the environment by using less energy, it may reduce shrinkage, and your clothes will last longer.
I recommend using cold-water detergents—they're formulated to clean without hot water. But even conventional detergents will often do a good job in cold water.
Types of detergents, softeners, and spot washing for natural clothing
Resist the temptation to use chlorine bleach—it's highly toxic to you and the planet.
Instead, try spot-cleaning stains with detergent and use oxygen bleach products for brightening and whitening. This versatile all-purpose cleaner and stain remover is made from a dried form of hydrogen peroxide that's environmentally friendly. We've used it successfully on everything from clothes to stained sinks.
Some oxygen bleach products also contain Earth-friendly sodium carbonate. Sold alone as washing soda, it fortifies your detergent to deal more effectively with grease and ground-in stains and works well on cellulose fabrics (those made from plants) but not protein-based fabrics such as silk or wool.
Fabric softeners and dryer sheets contain potentially harmful chemicals and fragrances and they cost a bundle. As an alternative, add a cup of white vinegar to rinse water in place of commercial fabric softeners. It's highly acidic, having a pH factor of about 2.4, thus balancing detergents with their pH factors of 8-10. This results in fluffier towels and softer tee shirts at a fraction of the cost with none of the environmental and health concerns of softeners.
High-efficiency (HE) machines
If you have a front-loading high-efficiency (HE) machine, you can also use HE detergent. HE machines require a smaller quantity of detergent and water. If you think about it, this also reduces the amount of packaging that enters our waste stream.
Join the no-wash movement with our breathable clothing line.
After a full day of exploring a tea plantation and getting caught in a thunderstorm, my clothes got a bit rumpled. Luckily, spraying my top with a water bottle and then hanging it up to dry got rid of the wrinkles for my next wearing.
How climate and the season affect clothing care
If you’re on a trip in Malaysia walking miles a day, chances are you may need to launder your clothes more often than when you’re at home in the wintertime. The idea here is to wash your clothes only when necessary, and not each time you wear them, unless it's truly warranted.
How to tell? Do a sniff test, and look for any stains that need to be treated.
Although machine drying is convenient, it’s less wasteful to line-dry. Plus drying your clothes outdoors imparts a freshness and wonderful, natural smell that no perfumed softener can match.
Now, some fabrics do develop a rather stiff hand when dried outdoors. But a few minutes of tumble-drying on a cool setting using several tennis balls or dryer balls (made expressly for this purpose) will impart a softer texture and shorten drying time.
Another thing to try? Remove your clothes from the dryer while they’re still a little damp. Not only will this reduce energy use, but it can also help you minimize or even eliminate ironing since damp clothes can be hand-shaped and smoothed.
If your clothes are looking wrinkly, the dryer isn’t the only way to get them looking presentable again. Instead, try hanging them in the bathroom as you take a shower. The steam will encourage wrinkles to release. (This is especially true of Sympatico’s blended hemp and Tencel fabric.)
When in doubt, air it out!
Airing out clothes can cut down on the need to wash clothes. Unless clothes are visibly soiled, try airing them out first.
Airing out your clothes allows them to breathe and helps dissipate any trapped odors. If you hang your clothes or spread them out flat on a drying rack outdoors, this can help work wrinkles out. (Give them a little spray of water to help even further.)
Sunlight has natural antibacterial properties. Try hanging clothes in direct sunlight for a short period to kill bacteria and freshen them up.
Wash less, care more
As you see there are quite a few creative ways to cut down on washing and drying, make your clothes last longer, and reduce your carbon footprint. I hope the tips and practices in this article empower you in your quest to wash less. So, what will you be doing with all your new-found time?
Explore our sustainable hemp Tencel collection of women’s clothing.