Steam more and hold a good sponge: How to wash your clothes less | Australian lifestyle

When the world feels out of control, like it is right now, I find myself doing basic chores to help me relax, like putting in a load of laundry.

The gentle hum of the washing machine and the promise of new T-shirts, underwear, and towels seems like a small but tangible victory.

Unfortunately, this is not an ecologically comfortable way to relax. Washers and dryers use large amounts of energy and water, which is compounded by the frequency (often) that most of us wash our clothes.

Fortunately, there are alternatives to a washing machine that will keep clothes looking (and smelling) good. And since some of these technologies save time and energy bills, the scant sense of victory lingers.

Prevention is better than cure

“Thinking from a prevention perspective is a good strategy,” says Kate Fletcher, Professor at the Center for Sustainable Fashion, London College of Fashion.

A few small, thoughtful changes can help reduce your laundry load. Fletcher advises wearing an apron while cooking; Tuck the legs of the pants into the socks to keep the edges free of mud when walking outside; And you wear a T-shirt or undershirt under shirts and blouses, so you only need to wash the bottom layer, not the outerwear.

Woman cracking an egg in a mixing bowl while wearing an apron
Small changes — like always wearing an apron when cooking — can reduce your need for laundry. Photo: JGI / Jamie Grill / Getty Images / Tetra Images RF

Fletcher says thinking about the fibers you buy and wear can also help. “Wool is the fiber of choice for dealing with stains and odors,” for example, because it “has a complex flaky structure that gives the fibers a natural stain repellent.”

By contrast, synthetic fibers are known to contain odors, including body odor, especially if fabric softeners are used. Fletcher says you should avoid using fabric softener and wear synthetics “if you’re concerned with less washing.”

Stop the stain from the stain

Fletcher says pre-treatment and spot prevention can help reduce laundry. “For areas with a lot of stains, soaking or scrubbing the selected spot is recommended. This helps prevent re-washing if the garment has not been cleaned.”

Orsola de Castro, founder of the Fashion Revolution collection, has key advice for preventing spots, even on the go. “I don’t go anywhere without a sponge,” she says. “Because you can get rid of the stain almost instantly in every case – even if it’s oil – if you have a good sponge with you.

“If you act fast, you can clean the stains with a sponge and just a little warm water, no detergent.” She also recommends firmly pressing a dry sponge on a wet spot because it “will absorb most of the stain’s moisture, thus containing it.”

A clothes brush removes dirt, especially from wool and tweed.  While you can use a special brush, an old toothbrush works, too.
A clothes brush removes dirt, especially from wool and tweed. While you can use a special brush, an old toothbrush works, too. Photo: Zinkevych/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Brushing can also help. Fletcher recommends using a “clothing brush to remove dirt like mud.” You don’t need a special item either: “This could just be an old toothbrush.”

Brushing “works wonders on wool and tweed,” says de Castro. Because of the way the material is woven so tightly, stains stay on the surface.

Create an air space

Fletcher recommends checking each item before putting it in the laundry basket. “Ask yourself: does it really need to be cleaned, or can it be worn again?”

If you don't want to put worn clothes back in the wardrobe, create a new space to store them.
If you don’t want to return worn clothes to the wardrobe, create a new space to store them. Photo: Carol Yepes/Getty Images

Sometimes pieces can be rested between periods of wear, because some of the causes of washing clothes (such as faint scents) fade over time. “Blow it up and hang it on the porch or in the steamy shower,” Fletcher suggests.

While a steam shower works well, an electric steamer is more efficient. Steaming will “immediately refresh a piece and release most wrinkles, making it appear shinier,” de Castro says. This is especially good for outerwear such as coats, jackets, suits, and knitwear.

If you don’t want to put worn out items in your clean clothes, Fletcher suggests creating a new place to keep them, such as a hook on the back of your wardrobe or bedroom door.

When it’s time to wash up, Fletcher suggests you “postpone” doing it “until you have enough for a full pregnancy.”

Know what you’re washing

De Castro says we need more information about our clothes to make sure we’re not washing them too often, at the wrong temperature or too often.

She says when “we don’t know the properties of the materials we’re washing” we often wash clothes unnecessarily, using lots of water and detergent. Because different materials require different methods of care, detailed and accurate care labels are important, as is an understanding of the properties of each fiber.

But don’t blame yourself. De Castro says the problem is structural. Globally, there is a lack of regulation around clothing labeling. “We need the regulations in food, beauty and pharmaceuticals when it comes to declaring and disclosing the ingredients in our clothes” so we can take care of them properly, she says.

Leave a Comment