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How To Take Care Of Your Clothes The Right Way

It’s undeniable: the fashion industry is incredibly polluting and exploitative, and every piece of clothing leaves terrible traces behind it. From fibers cultivation to their disposal, our clothes are destroying the planet and also undermining our existence. I’d like to report a few recent episodes that have in common our clothes and how we take care of them:

  • “Microplastics found near Everest’s peak, highest ever detected in the world” (National Geographic, 2020)
  • “Plastic pollution discovered at deepest point of ocean” (The Guardian, 2018)
  • “Dead white man’s clothes: how fast fashion is turning parts of Ghana into toxic landfills” (ABC News, 2021)

What does clothing care have to do with all this? I dare say that it all starts with care: if we don’t commit to lengthening the life of clothes, we’re contributing to these increasingly frequent and devastating disasters. And it doesn’t even make any sense to purchase sustainable and ethical garments if we don’t know how to properly wash, store, and repair them.

Are you curious to know more? Then keep on reading!

Why take care of clothes?

Clothes are at the center of our life: we wear clothes every single moment of our day. As such, we’re continually responsible for them, moment after moment.

To the same degree by which we are what we eat, we are what we wear.

– Orsola de Castro

And if clothes speak our style and personality out, the same goes for how we take care of them. Whether your garments are made with quality materials or not, taking care of them means extending their lifespan through a few simple actions. Proper care can prevent further damage to the environment and can save you money too.

For example, did you know that the emissions of a piece of clothing can be reduced by 24% by doubling its useful life from 1 to 2 years? On the other hand, reducing the longevity of a basic item from 1 year to only 1 month increases emissions by over 500%. We should also reconsider how often we wash our garments: in a typical wash, 700,000 fibers could come off, and up to 1,900 fibers could be released from a single synthetic garment.

Care for your clothes like the good friends they are.

– Joan Crawford

How do you also save money in the process? Read about the Cost Per Wear principle which explains how you can save money by simply wearing your existing clothes more times instead of buying new ones.

Our first tip is to always choose and buy from ethical and sustainable brands – check out our brand directory to find the ones we’re happy to recommend – as everything we’ve said gets worse if you buy fast fashion clothes. Indeed, those aren’t made to last in our wardrobe (although they’ll never disappear from Earth once made, tho), the fibers are of poor quality, the colors and dyes are toxic, and the never-ending new collections released are meant to push us to throw away and buy on repeat.

If you want to know more about the quality issues of fast fashion clothes, read this post!

But no, simply buying clothes made from sustainable fibers isn’t the solution if we keep treating them in the wrong way. It all starts with the decision of where and whether or not to buy something new, which should be a mindful and conscious act, and continues at home with 3 caring steps: washing; storing; repairing. And guess what, we’ve created the ultimate clothing care guide you’ve been looking for.

Let’s have a closer look.

Washing clothes: here’s why you should change your laundry routines

The fashion industry is a major polluter of water, no stage of its supply chain is excluded: from cottonfields runoffs that cause algal blooms in rivers to the dyeing process that releases toxic chemicals to our homes where clothes keep losing microplastics wash after wash.

Think about how many people are washing their clothes on a daily basis, and how many clothes we all have. Even when we’re walking around, not washing our clothes, tiny fibers are falling off. It’s everywhere.

– Imogen Napper

Believe it or not, the clothes washing routine is something you have to pay close attention to as it pollutes water and increases landfill filling up. We’ve already mentioned how many microplastics are released into rivers and oceans with each wash, so let’s focus on the landfills issue.

I bet you’ve heard what’s going on in Ghana: on the shores of the Korle Lagoon, there’s a 20 meter high escarpment made up of waste. Yeah, you got that right! Around 60% of that garbage is unwanted clothing shipped to Ghana for resale and reuse. Every single week Ghana receives 15 million used garments from western countries, the 40% of which is of such poor quality that is deemed worthless and ends up in landfills.

By the way, this is exactly how much waste the fashion industry produces!

As you can guess, buying clothes impulsively and falling back on the excuse that “I’ll donate them once worn out” is no longer a viable option. Every and each careless purchase we make contributes to fueling an environmental catastrophe. So let’s start by buying only what we really need and like, and then commit to treating it properly.

Why not start now? Here’s what you can do as of today:

  • Wash less: clothes don’t really need to be washed every time we wear them (more on how to wash different fabrics later). Of course, items like underwear can’t be worn multiple times, but even in these cases there’s a better option than turning the washing machine on: hand washing. The latter is way more gentle and reduces fibers’ tangling and damage. And when it’s time to use the machine – which of course we all do as it’d be unthinkable not to – it’s best to use it fully loaded.
  • Wash at low temperatures: 90% of the energy used by washing machines goes to heating the water, and simply cold washing will save up to $70 in electricity costs over the year. Also, washing at 30 degrees or less helps reduce emissions and protects your clothes from fade, stretch, or shrink.
  • Wash inside out to reduce the rubbing of fibers in the machine.
  • Read the labels: understanding the information on the labels is crucial because they tell us the materials and how to wash, dry, iron, and much more.
  • Use laundry bags to reduce microplastic pollution: as mentioned, synthetic fibers come off during the wash and there’s no filter inside the machines to catch them. Using laundry bags can help.
  • Choose alternative laundry products: most detergents and cleaning products available today are not biodegradable and made from fossil fuels. And we don’t want to wash our clothes with substances that are toxic to the environment and to our skin too, do we? Look for plant-derived products in recycled or, even better, in refillable bottles. In my routine, I can’t do without 2 products:
    • Sodium percarbonate: I use it on stains, and bleach is just a distant (and bad) memory. Plus, it’s safe on whites and colors;
    • Citric acid: my all-time favorite fabric softener alternative. Citric acid acts as a pH adjuster, prevents color fading, and also works as limescale remover, so it’ll extend your washing-machine life too!
  • Avoid the dryer if you can: hanging clothes out to dry in the sun is a very gentle and sustainable method. If you can’t help but use it, collect the wastewater from the dryer and utilize it for ironing or, once cooled down, for plants.

How to spot-clean different stains?

Why fill up a load if you can just spot-clean stains? There are a few tricks you can use depending on the stain:

  • Wet coffee-like stains are generally easy to remove. A napkin and a little hot water should suffice, while at home you can help yourself with a bit of detergent.
  • Dry mud-like stains can be removed by gently brushing them. Brushing works wonders with all tightly woven materials.
  • Stubborn stains: along with sodium percarbonate, you can also use baking soda, vinegar, and salt. Create a paste by mixing sodium percarbonate or baking soda with water, or baking soda with vinegar (for grass stains), or pour vinegar only (for tomato stains), or add salt to vinegar (for sweat stains), then rub into the stain, let it dry, and rinse the area.

How to deodorize (and disinfect) clothes without washing?


Steam is a great crease remover and the best way to remove odd smells and kill germs and bacteria from clothes without washing them. And if you don’t have one, there’s no need to buy a steaming machine! Just take your clothes to the bathroom, hang them up, and take a nice hot shower… everything else will come accordingly.

Steaming is ideal for cotton, linen, synthetics, wool, silk


And if the heat does a good job, the cold is no exception. I bet you’ve used ice cubes at least once to get gum off your clothes. Well, freezing is also a great way to deodorize and disinfect clothes. How does it work? Easier done than said: put your garment in your freezer and leave it there for a few hours.

Freezing is great for denim, cotton, linen, synthetics, wool, shoes

How (and how often) to wash different materials?

We’ve worn as long as possible, spot-cleaned stains, steamed, and even froze our clothes… but the time has come, and they need to be washed. Not all fibers can be cleaned the same so let’s take a look at how and how often we should wash the most common materials. But please, never forget to read the labels.

  • Cotton: maybe the easiest fabric to care for. It supports different temperatures, is shrink-resistant, and its creases and stains are easy to remove. Wash at 30° and once every 3 times.
  • Linen: unfortunately, this fiber is quite tough to spot-clean as it’s extremely porous. Plus, linen loves creases! As such, avoid fast spin cycles and too high and too low temperatures. Wash once every 3 times.
  • Polyester, nylon, etc.: as all fibers derived from plastic, these materials should be washed as little as possible and always put in a laundry bag. Luckily for us, these plastic-derived fibers require little maintenance and can be easily and rarely washed even by hand.
  • Wool: to say goodbye to felted clothes, wash cold and avoid fast spin cycle. Wash once every 5 times.
  • Silk: wash at low temperatures, preferably by hand. Wash once every 3 times.
  • Denim: at Levi’s they say that “A good pair of denim doesn’t really need to be washed in the washing machine except for very infrequently or rarely”. Wash at 30° and once every 10 times.

Note: wash underwear, socks, and everything is in close contact with your skin after each use. The only exceptions are bras that can be washed once every 4 times.

Item / MaterialWashing frequencyWashing temperatureInstructions
Underwearafter each wearhand wash
Brasafter 4 wearshand wash
Socks, hoiseryafter each wear30° (lukewarm)
Cottonafter 3 wears30° (lukewarm)
Denimafter 10 wears30° (lukewarm)
Syntheticsafter 1-3 wears30° (lukewarm) or hand washuse a laundry bag
Linenafter 3 wears40° (warm)avoid fast spin cycles
Woolafter 5 wears30° (lukewarm)savoid fast spin cycles
Silkafter 3 wearshand wash

How to store clothes the right way?

Storing is another crucial step – we can’t just throw garments into a full, damp wardrobe and hope they come out like new when it’s time to put them on. Before I reveal a couple of tips my grandma passed on to me, make sure you:

  • Don’t store dirty clothes with clean clothes
  • Fold correctly: an accurate way to fold sleeves, for example, will avoid creases, and properly folding will also give you easy access to what’s inside your drawers and/or wardrobe.
  • Create the appropriate place for your clothes in terms of space – stacking stuff is never the wisest choice – but also in terms of wardrobe health. Clothes dislike direct sunlight, heat, odd odors, moisture, mold, and moths. About that, my grandma recommends:
    • Fill 2 small cups with salt or baking soda, or alternatively 1 with baking soda and 1 with salt, and place them in the inner corners of your wardrobe: moisture and smells will no longer be a problem.
    • Create little tissue pouches and fill them with lavender, rosemary, thyme, cinnamon, then place them next to your clothes and… bye-bye moths!

Small damage on clothes: a good reason to throw them away?

My grandma was a seamstress, she created wonderful wedding dresses, elegant suits, and essentials in a tiny room of her house. I jealously keep some beautiful black and white photos of her works… how much we’ve lost in the name of progress.

Unfortunately, we live in a society where is easier and cheaper to throw anything away than to repair – or at least try to repair – even the smallest damages. Today we don’t even think about going to a tailor to have a zip fixed, or to have a button replaced. And we don’t even know how to do it ourselves.

But it’s never too late! Some damages are so small that it’s really a shame not to try to fix them: holes, hems, buttons are just a few examples. Repairing minor damages is easy and fun – on YouTube there’s a bunch of tutorials – and turning ruined garments into something new and unique is even cooler (and sustainable!). After all, pants turned into shorts is an evergreen.

Wear-and-tear is symbolic of a personal, individual path, with breakages (mended or raw) as a powerful visualization of our activities, memories of moments, the scars of our everyday, an integral part of our clothes stories.

– Orsola de Castro


Alberta Bernardi
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Alberta Bernardi is a Ph.D. in Management, Innovation, and Sustainable Development. She likes to call herself a “sustainability warrior” because she aims to spread knowledge on the environment, ethics, and plastic pollution day after day. Her love of nature and battle against plastic around the world are on Instagram @together_no_plastic