10 eco-friendly ways you should be washing your clothes

Steamery
Instead of washing your clothes, try using a steamer, like this Steamery version Credit: Steamery

Taking care of our clothes is a complicated business. Dry-cleaning is expensive and not great for the environment, while washing machines and dryers consume huge amounts of energy. Then there’s the question of care labels, which often recommend dry-cleaning even when a fabric is machine-washable. Yet wearing smelly clothes is not an option. So what’s an eco-conscious girl (or guy) to do? 

We talked to a host of fashion, textile and cleaning experts about the low-impact ways they care for their clothes. Here are the top ten takeaways: 

Wash your clothes less

Washing your clothes less frequently is the easiest and most effective way to reduce the environmental impact of doing laundry. “Think about airing and brushing clothes rather than automatically putting them in the wash basket after every wear,” says Mathilde Blanc, co-founder of eco-friendly cleaner Blanc. “If they do need to be washed, think about the environment and wash on a short cycle with cold water.”

 Petra Ringström, co-founder of clothing care company Steamery, agrees: “Airing is especially good for woollen garments, but works for all types of clothes,” she says. “Airing refreshes the garment and removes bad odours.”

Invest in a steamer

Instead of washing your clothes, try using a steamer, which can kill 99 percent of bacteria. They’re relatively inexpensive too, with prices starting from around £25.

“The textile fibres swell and the fabric will look shinier and more colourful,” explains Ringström, whose colourful hand-held steamers start at £75 (steamery.co.uk). “Steaming thickens the fabric and removes wrinkles. It works like magic on woollen clothes.”

Trade dry-cleaning for ‘wet cleaning’

A dry-cleaning-inspired look from Moschino's autumn/winter 2017 collection Credit: Getty Images

Eighty-five percent of traditional dry-cleaners use a solvent called perchloroethylene (known as ‘perc’), which allows them to clean embellished garments and fabrics that don’t react well to water. But perc is not good for the environment or the health of those who work with it. 

There is an alternative in ‘wet cleaning’ though, a technique pioneered by Blanc. “It is suitable for everything with a dry clean label, but delivers a better quality clean and is kinder to your skin, your clothes and our planet,” says Mathilde Blanc. “Many established fashion brands such as Reformation and Hugo Boss are already recommending ‘Wet Clean Only’ or ‘W’ on their garment care labels, which ​allows consumers to make more ethical decisions.”

Get rid of odours the natural way

For stubborn smells, Ringström suggests misting your clothes with an active bacteria spray like her bergamot and oak version (£20, steamery.co.uk), while Sophie Lavabre Barrow, founder of eco-friendly lifestyle brand Kinn, suggests putting mouthwash in your machine: “If you have stubborn gym wear that won’t get fresh then add a cup of alcohol-based, sugar-free mouthwash to the regular wash cycle,” she advises.

Run your washing machine at night

The best time to put on a wash is in the evening: demand is lower, so each unit of electricity has a lower carbon footprint. “Overnight tends to be one of the greenest times to use energy,” says Clementine Hobson of Bulb, which encourages members to use electricity at times with lower carbon intensity. “During peak hours (typically around 4-7pm), high demand on the grid tends to be met with more power from our least-efficient, often coal-fired, power stations.” 

You can also save energy by machine-washing your clothes at a lower temperature, as most of a machine’s energy usage comes from heating the water.

Use a Guppy bag when washing synthetic fabrics

A Guppyfriend collects the tiny microfibres that shed from synthetic fabrics Credit: GuppyFriend

Synthetic fabrics shed tiny microfibres when we wash them, which ultimately end up polluting our oceans. Research group Eunomia found that the UK generates 1,600 tonnes of these microfibres each year. You can reduce your impact by investing in a Guppyfriend (£25, blancliving.co): you put your synthetic garment in the bag before running it through the machine. The microfibres gather in the corners and seams of the bag, so once the wash is complete, you can remove and dispose of them safely.

Buy a set of dryer balls

If you do need to tumble-dry your clothes, consider a set of reusable wool dryer balls (£12.99 for six, amazon.co.uk): they absorb excess water and improve air-flow within the machine, reducing drying time and ultimately your energy bill too. They even help soften clothes and keep bed linen untangled.

Hand-wash your silk, cashmere and wool

“Hand-washing is so much better for the longevity of your knitwear compared to dry cleaning and more eco-friendly,” says cashmere designer Genevieve Sweeney. “People assume that it takes ages to do, but it is super quick. I use baby shampoo and conditioner (mixed into cold water) to wash my jumpers.”

Sweeney advises turning your jumper inside-out before you wash it; once washed, avoid wringing it. “Place the knit on a clean, dry towel, then roll it up and press with your palms to squeeze out excess water, before letting it air dry flat,” she says.

It's even easier to care for silk: “We advise hand washing in cold water with an eco-friendly silk detergent which you can buy in all major supermarkets,” says Ella Ringner, whose label Yolke specialises in silk pyjamas and slip dresses. “Air-dry and they’re good to sleep in. For a more polished look, iron on the reverse side of the fabric.”

Raid the kitchen cupboard

 There’s no need to buy lots of synthetic cleaning products, says Kinn’s Lavabre Barrow. “Adding baking soda to a laundry load will help to brighten whites, enhance colours and will also act as a softener.”

Vinegar is another unlikely store cupboard hero. “Add a cup of white vinegar to your washer’s rinse cycle,” she says. “A single cup of vinegar can kill off bacteria, especially if you’re washing things like cloth nappies. It will help to keep clothes soft and brighten white clothing.”

Put your jeans in the freezer

“I always have a pair of jeans in my freezer,” says German model-turned-fashion-editor Veronika Heilbrunner. “My jeans are often dirty because I have a little son so I’ve started putting them in the deep-freeze to kill bacteria without causing them to lose their shape. They look and feel freshly washed.”