The first thing to do when laundering a garment is to check the care label. The majority of our garments are hand or machine washable, although there are a few, usually with wool content, where we recommend (preferably green) dry cleaning. It's important to use the correct temperature water if hand or machine washing to avoid damage to the fibres and dyes. Some people prefer to hand wash delicate clothing believing it to be gentler, but modern washing machines are increasingly sophisticated in handling special fabrics, as well as being water and energy efficient.
We all need to wash our clothes eventually, but it's worth bearing in mind that according to fashionrevolution.org, 25% of the carbon footprint of clothes come from how we care for them after we've bought them. We probably wash our clothes more frequently than necessary using up water, detergent and energy.
We recommend only washing clothing when needed and aim to get several wearings in between washes, if possible. It's very easy to put clothing in the laundry basket for washing at the end of one day's wear, but depending on the garment (obviously), the likelihood is it won't need to be washed that regularly. Sometimes a 'spot' clean will remove a small mark without having to wash the entire garment.
Delaying the frequency of washing and using cooler water will be better for the environment and preserve fabrics and therefore the clothing, for longer.
How we dry clothes has implications for both the clothes themselves and the environment. Using a tumble dryer might seem convenient, but it can shrink clothes and harm the fabric; we only have to look at the filter to see that some fibres from the fabric have ended up there and are no longer in the clothing! And of course, using a tumble dryer uses up energy and increases the cost of electricity bills.
Air drying, whether on a clothes airer inside or on a line outside, is traditional and all round kinder to clothes and environment. Line drying outside gives clothes a good airing and on a blowy day leaves hardly any creases, making it easy or even unnecessary to iron. If possible, allow all laundry to air dry, it really will contribute to help everything last longer.
As they say, the old ways are often still the best.
Green Dry Cleaning
Conventional dry cleaning uses perchloroethylene, also known as PERC, which is effective at removing stains from fabric, but it's also a toxic chemical. Not only will the production and waste from this toxic chemical have an impact on the environment, but the chemically 'cleaned' garment will be worn against the skin. If we are conscious about what we are putting into our bodies in terms of the kinds of food we eat, we also need to consider what we are putting on the outside of our bodies.
Some professional garment cleaners now offer a non-toxic cleaning service using products that are fully biodegrable, which is better for you, your clothes and the environment. At the moment, these eco-conscious cleaners seem to be situated in cities, but try asking the local cleaners if they offer a green dry-cleaning service or would consider offering it. When there's enough demand from conscious consumers, it might happen sooner than later!