Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I care for my clothes. Perhaps it is the move to wearing more of my own creations and being more “attached” to them, but I think more about how I wash my clothes and indeed how much I should be washing them. After all, laundering is another thing that wears clothes out and indeed can completely ruin them if you get it wrong!
I have to admit I have been a little scared to put some items in the wash unless they fall apart. I did have a bit of a wardrobe malfunction with my grey trousers after their first wash. I found myself in a work situation with a hole developing in the crotch seam; I’d spotted it on a trip to the loo. Not something I care to repeat!
In an ideal world, I would prefer not to wash my clothes at all. Think of all the time and energy that is spent on this. Wouldn’t it be great to live in a world where there are textiles such as in “The Main in the White Suit”?
If you haven’t seen this film, it is a British film from the 1950s, where a young research chemist discovers an incredibly strong fibre which repels dirt and never wears out. From this fabric, a suit is made, which is brilliant white because it cannot absorb dye and slightly luminous because it includes radioactive elements. On second thoughts…perhaps not the radioactive elements….
Sadly, this is not reality and we are stuck with the mundane chore of laundry. So how much washing should we do, to get the most “life” out of our garments and is also socially acceptable?
I picked up this book, Sustainable Fashion and Textile by Kate Fletcher at the library. I would imagine it is a text book that a student of Art and Design might have to read, but I found it contained some interesting statistics and discussion. The book demonstrated that how different patterns to wearing and washing our clothes can have different outcomes for the environmental footprint of the garment.
To appeal to my geeky side, here is a graph from the book. It shows how the energy requirement per wearing of a polyester blouse i.e. how much energy is used each time the garment is worn taking into account washing, manufacture and disposal. In the Base case the blouse is worn 40 times and washed after every other wearing (i.e. 20 times). In the Long Life case, the blouse is worn 80 times and again washed after every other wearing. In the Low Wash case the blouse is worn 40 times, just as in the Base case, but washed after every 4 wearings. In the Disposable cases, the blouse is not washed at all. In Disposable 1 the blouse is worn 5 times and discarded. In Disposable2, the blouse is worn 10 times and discarded.
I’m not sure how many times I’ve actually worn a garment or even sometimes how long I’ve had a particular item in my wardrobe. However, I do know with more certainty how much I wash my clothes. I suspect that most of my clothes fit into the Base Case scenario.
Research from the Netherlands presented in the book, shows that “the average piece of clothing stays in a Dutch person’s wardrobe for 3 years 5 months, is on the body for 44 days and during this time is worn for 2.4 and 3.1 days between washings.”
The Netherlands is similar in terms of climate to the UK, so I expect my wardrobe habits are broadly similar. There are, of course, items that get worn many times more (I’m thinking about pairs of jeans, underwear here) and items that get worn much less (I have some summery garments that are almost exclusively worn when I’m holidaying abroad where it’s warmer or occasionally when the weather is very hot).
Do I think we wash our clothes a bit too often? Probably. Certainly, making my own clothes has made me think about this. I find that in an average week, I’ll wear all sorts of clothes, it’s often necessary to chop and change based on the weather and what is needed (smart or casual) for work. I think it is so easy to just gather up the clothes that accumulate after one wearing on the bedroom chair and fling them in the wash. I just need to make a conscious decision not to do that.