Editor’s Note: This article was produced by CNN Style’s editorial team in partnership with Fashion Revolution, an international non-profit campaigning for a clean, safe, fair, transparent and accountable fashion industry. It was first published in September 2020.
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The way we care for our garments makes a huge difference in both their longevity and their impact on the environment. Factors like overwashing, tumble drying and choosing the wrong temperature setting can lead to shrinkage and discoloration, as well as excessive water and energy consumption. Meanwhile, washing synthetic fabrics by machine or by hand sheds plastic microfibers, which travel from your home into our waterways.
It’s unrealistic to suggest simply giving up laundry altogether, but there are ways to minimize harm, including switching to detergents that won’t damage the environment, such as Seventh Generation, Method, and Bio-D Laundry Liquid.
Here’s a rundown on the most eco-friendly ways to treat the clothes in your closet and extend their lifespan.
Cotton is best washed on a 30°C (Cold) cycle, which ensures that the fibers do not shrink and conserves electricity. Switching from a higher temperature can lead to a 40% reduction in energy usage, according to the UK’s Energy Saving Trust. Air dry the garment flat or by hanging it up to avoid ironing.
Naturally resistant to stains, odors and creasing, your wool garments probably don’t need to be washed very often. You can pick up detergent specially formulated for wool fabric (the Australian industry organization Woolmark has a handy list of recommended brands) and wash it on a gentle cycle at 40 °C (Warm), or hand wash in lukewarm water. Lay the garment flat to dry, pressing it into its normal shape so it doesn’t stretch.
Fashion Revolution advises that you “leave your jeans alone.” “Denim is sturdy; its lovely pliable fibers don’t like being all tight and box fresh, they like to relax and breathe out the more they are worn,” they advise on their website.
As an alternative to the washing machine, you can freshen your jeans up, surprisingly, by putting them into the freezer. Just place them into a bag and pop it in overnight.
However, if you don’t have the space for such an experiment, turn your jeans inside out – and fasten zippers and buttons – before washing at 30 °C. Lay them flat to dry in their correct shape so you don’t have to iron them.
Acrylic, nylon and polyester
These synthetics, and others like them, are some of the cheapest fabrics to produce and are the least environmentally friendly, releasing hundreds of thousands of microfibers each time they are washed. According to a 2017 report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), laundering synthetic textiles makes up for 35% of the primary microplastics released into the world’s oceans each year.
To catch those microfibers, try tossing in a Cora Ball or use a Guppy Friend washing bag, which are designed to filter them out. Also, be sure not to tumble dry these fabrics, as it weakens and damages the fibers. Hang them out to dry instead. Follow the same instructions for fleece, which is designed to take on similar characteristics to wool, but it’s actually made from poly-ethylene terephthalate (PET plastic).