For environmental-fashion-lovers around the world, the ongoing quest to reconcile a love for style with a commitment to the earth can be troublesome. You would not be alone if you thought that once you’ve committed to buying from sustainable, transparent, organic, ethical (the list goes on….) fashion brands, your work as a responsible consumer is done.
Although it’s widely accepted that the fashion industry (at large) is complicit in a number of unethical and unsustainable practices, you may be surprised to learn that the fashion industry is responsible for 4% of global carbon emissions
An even lesser-known fact is that product use, that is the way we wear, use, and wash our garments, constitutes 20% of the fashion industry’s total 2 billion tonnes of CO2 output per year. Responsible consumership doesn’t just stop at the checkout - how we look after our clothes also has a significant carbon impact. To make good on our commitment to sustainable fashion, the way we do laundry (or don’t) has got to change.
How is garment care linked to the climate?
It might seem strange to think that laundry, a loathsome task for many of us, has an environmental impact at all. But according to The Guardian, a single load of laundry washed at 86F and air-dried has a carbon footprint of 1.3lb of CO2e. If you wash that same load at 140F and use the dryer, the carbon impact increases to 7.3 lb of CO2e.
Most energy is consumed during the drying cycle because the more heat an appliance is generating, the more energy it’s using. It follows that washing in hot water also carries a significant carbon cost. All in all, it seems our laundry habits are weighing heavy on our carbon footprints.
WASTE AND WATER POLLUTION
Washing machines use a lot of water - ever thought about where that water goes? According to Energy Star, the average household with a top-loading washer uses a whopping 13,500 gallons of water per year.
Although our water usage at home may seem far removed from pollution in the high seas, our laundry is actually directly contributing to the pollution of our oceans. It’s easy to miss, but toxic chemicals present in most artificial clothing dyes and micro-plastics embedded in synthetic fabrics are released into our waterways every time we put on a wash. The same goes for household laundry detergents which contain harsh chlorine bleach and detergents.
These pollutants make their way from our homes into rivers and oceans, contaminating precious ecosystems. Creatures, big and small, ingest these chemicals and micro-plastics, which gradually accumulate up and down the food chain. So, when we eat fish, we’re also ingesting those micro-plastics. The very toxins and pollutants that we release into the world are not only damaging the environment but are coming back to haunt us too.
And it’s not just about our diet. Do we really want all these toxic substances on our clothes and skin? Surely ditching these in favor of natural remedies is a no-brainer.
How to look after your garments sustainably
BUY CLOTHES MADE OF NATURAL AND ORGANIC MATERIALS
Synthetic petroleum-based materials, such as polyester and nylon, shed microfibers when washed - a lot of them. In fact, according to a study carried out by Mark Browne, an estimated 1,900 individual microfibers can be rinsed off a single garment every time it’s washed.
To combat this, shop from brands that use natural and organic materials and dyes. Good for the planet and good for your body - a win-win. We’ve made your life easier - shop our eco-friendly collection!
WEAR CLOTHES MORE THAN ONCE BEFORE WASHING
We’re all guilty of wearing an item of clothing just once and then chucking it onto the laundry pile, but this is just excessive and unnecessary. According to a McKinsey report, reduced washing and drying by consumers could deliver an additional 186 million tonnes of carbon emission reductions.
Don’t worry, we’re being reasonable. We’re not talking about your lingerie or socks!
There are plenty of natural and sustainable ways to keep your clothes fresh between wears:
Wear an undershirt or vest - this will keep your shirts and sweaters fresher for longer.
Spray on some vodka (seriously!) - the vodka disinfects and freshens your clothes between wears. And no, don’t worry, it won’t leave any odor or stains.
ONLY RUN YOUR WASHER WITH A FULL LOAD
Avoid wasting water on a single item wash. We’re all guilty of wanting to wear that one dress that needs a wash, but this is super wasteful. Try as far as possible to load your washer with the maximum amount so that the energy used has the maximum effect.
USE NATURAL LAUNDRY DETERGENT
If you haven’t made the change already, what are you waiting for? There are plenty of organic laundry detergents available at most retailers. Most mainstream laundry detergents, bleaches, and softeners contain sodium lauryl sulfate, optical brighteners, and artificial fragrances. These toxic chemicals are neither good for our bodies or the environment. Try PUR Home’s Laundry Detergent or Dropp’s Laundry Detergent.
AIR DRY YOUR CLOTHES
Air drying may take longer, but it’s a much more sustainable option and will save you money. It’s estimated that a household that runs their dryer 200 times a year could save nearly half a tonne of CO2e by switching to drying their clothes on a rack or washing line.
Try using high spin speed at the end of your load so that most of the drying has been done by the time you unload your washing machine - this will save you time. Air drying is also a far more gentle drying process so your clothes will actually last longer.
WASH IN COLD WATER
As much as possible, do your laundry on a lower temperature setting to use less energy. Often, there’s no tangible difference, and your clothes end up just as clean. Clothes washed at 80F have been found to shed fewer microfibers and keep their color for longer.
SWITCH TO A FRONT-LOADING MACHINE
Front-loading machines are more energy-efficient because clothes are thrust upwards by the machine, then gravity pulls them back down. According to the sustainable fashion collective, you could save up to 7000 gallons of water a year by replacing your top-loading washer with a front-loader.
But wait! Don’t just replace your washer for the sake of it. If your washing machine is working just fine, replacing it before it’s really necessary could actually have a more negative carbon impact than just sticking with the one you’ve got.
THINK TWICE BEFORE DRY CLEANING
We tend to over-rely on dry cleaning when a lot of the time it’s simply unnecessary. The chemicals used during dry cleaning are not great for you, your wallet, or our environment, so wherever possible, avoid it.
Disclaimer: the responsibility does not lie solely with the consumer. Fashion brands often recommend dry cleaning instead of offering more detailed care instructions.
Top tip: when in doubt, contact the brand directly asking for more specific care instructions.
DO LESS IRONING
This is probably a cause for celebration (thank us later). Instead of ironing try hanging your creased clothes in your bathroom - the steam and moisture will work their magic.
DON'T JUST THROW OUT YOUR OLD CLOTHES
Just as sustainable consumership doesn’t end at the checkout, nor does it end when you’re finished with your clothes. Even if an item no longer vibes with you, someone else may be able to give it a second life, saving your clothes from the landfill.
Try giving your clothes to friends and family, reselling using an app like Depop or ThredUp, or donating to a local charity store.
Wearing clothes and doing laundry are integral parts of daily life - that’s not going to change. However, to cut the critical impact of the fashion industry on the climate, the sustainable consumer has got to do more than put their money where their mouth is. We’ve got to change how we use our clothes once they’re ours to cherish.
As we’ve seen, it’s simply a matter of integrating more intentionality into the way we wear our clothes, the way we look after them, and the way we clear out our wardrobes. A simple shift really can go a long way!