Washing Green: How to clean your clothes environmentally
An under discussed topic in the world of environmentalism is the topic of green washing. No, not that kind of green washing, although that is important too. Instead we’re going to talk about how to your clothes in an environmentally friendly manner. Much of the literature on sustainable fashion is about what to buy, what not to buy, and what to do with the articles of clothing when it is used, but taking proper care of the clothing is almost equally as important as the rest of it. The goal of course is to reduce the impact of your washing while keeping your clothing in good condition for as long as possible. So here are our sustainable washing tips and tricks.
The first eco friendly washing tip is one of the simplest, just to wash less. We actually wash clothes way more than we’re supposed to without a real need for it, and washing everything after one use is a privilege we cannot afford. Now obviously workout clothes and undergarments need to be washed a lot more than the rest of the outfit, but make sure something is actually dirty before washing it. Does it pass a sniff test? Will aerating it after wearing it help? Do you need to wash the entire garment or will spot removing the stain work? Washing your clothes in a good machine uses 15-25 gallons of water per wash, and older less efficient machines use up to 45 gallons per wash. If we’re just throwing clean clothes in there time after time, that is a massive waste of water. Simply making sure your clothes are dirty before washing them will go a long way for conserving water.
Cold Water Wash When Possible
Another big energy waste when it comes to washing clothing is heating the water. Luckily it doesn’t have to be, because washing your clothing with room temperature or cold water works just as well. Now there are a couple caveats to this. Always check the directions on the clothing to make sure you’re taking care of it properly. Wash with hot water when your worried about contaminated clothing cause the heat will help disinfect it. And if you live in a colder climate and you’re cold water goes below 40°F (or 4.4°C) you either need to use more detergent or use a warm setting. But otherwise go ahead and wash it cold, it’ll save electricity, and as a bonus, it'll keep your clothes from getting frayed for slightly longer.
One of the silent issues of the ocean’s plastic pollution crisis is micro-plastics, and micro-fibres from your wash are a significant contributor to that. While picture of hunks of plastic garbage patches floating as far as the eye can see make for dramatic photography, quite a bit of the plastic in our oceans is in the form of tiny particles of broken apart plastic. These small plastic bits are no less of a problem however, as small fish eat these plastics and larger fish eat the smaller fish, getting plastic deep into the food chain causing buildup of indigestible materials as well as heavy metals, as these plastics soak up the metals like a sponge. Micro-fibers are tiny plastic fibers that shed off of synthetic clothing when you wash them, and then they go down the drain and find their way into the ocean. Luckily people are making micro-fibre catchers these days, like the Guppyfriend and Cora Ball will significantly reduce the amount of micro-fibres your shedding.
Sometimes the simplest methods are the best. Hang drying your clothing is gentle on your fabrics, helps remove odors and replace it with a springtime freshness, helps whiten your whites, and all while saving a massive amount of electricity. In fact it saves about $200s worth yearly, so if you need another reason to go old fashion do it for entirely mercenary reasons. Now again, sometimes you need the heat of a dryer for disinfecting, and sometimes hanging your clothing in nature has its risks like bugs and sudden showers, but overall its a real easy way to do something sustainable and gets you outside.
Green Dry Clean
Finally, if the clothing needs to be dry-cleaned, look and see if there is a green dry cleaning place near you. Dry cleaning is filled with toxic chemicals that are hazardous to the workers and the environment. But luckily there are several, more environmentally friendly dry-cleaning options available, including wet cleaning, liquid carbon dioxide cleaning, silicon-based dry cleaning, and others. Wet cleaning is currently the most environmental, but any of these alternatives are still going to be better than the standard version of dry cleaning. Check your area and see what’s available, so that your special occasion clothing doesn’t cost the earth for its maintenance.