Why should we wash clothes only when necessary?
Social norms and washing clothes
Growing up in India, in the 70s my wardrobe was predominantly made up of cotton clothes. Our clothes were constantly exposed to the sweltering Delhi heat, dust and sweat. It was common practise in my family to wash clothes after every wear. This was somewhat of a nightmare for me as each time I would seek out my favourite items, my mother had it either in the washing basket or they were being washed, or not fully dried and ironed for use. Of course items of clothing I owned were not that many.
I found my own solution to the problem- I hid my clothes after use from my mother’s prying eyes thus saving them from the onslaught of washing- though my reasoning was very different, little did I know then that washing was doing them more harm than good – I thought I was the bad one! Unwittingly I always wondered why we wash so frequently when (leaving aside the dust and dirt) it makes my brightly coloured pieces fade and the fabric go limp. During my days at the university, away from mother, the rules of washing were of course set by me!
Those were my struggles with a generation for whom washing clothes frequently reflected good upbringing, discipline, and cleanliness. It was good housekeeping!
Decades later today, the whole concept about washing clothes has been redefined from an entirely different perspective. Frequent washing of clothes is harmful to the planet and our clothes.
I wasn’t so wrong after all.
What the experts say!
Stella McCartney- “Basically, in life, rule of thumb: if you don’t absolutely have to clean anything, don’t clean it’’, made this remark in an interview with the Observer. She said that this was a tip she was given while working for tailors on London’s prestigious Savile Row. Instead, she said, the “rule” is to “let the dirt dry and you brush it off”. She goes on to say, ‘’ I don’t wear a new bra every day and I don’t throw everything in the washing machine simply because I wore it once. I’m incredibly hygienic myself, but I’m not a fan of dry cleaning or the washing machine.”
Love Your Clothes campaign head Sarah Clayton, also suggests not washing jeans, but airing them instead: “If they have a stain you could try spot-cleaning them with water rather than washing the whole garment.”
In May 2014, Chip Bergh, the CEO of Levi’s proudly declared that the pair of jeans he was wearing at the time had never been washed. Five years later he informed a CNN broadcaster that he still hadn’t washed them – despite the pair now being about 10 years old.
If Chip Bergh claims a pair of jeans need not be washed for 10 years maybe it really shouldn’t be. I get it, that is probably not easily acceptable to many of us.
The truth is somewhere in between, to prolong the life of our clothes and be a little less harsh to the environment.
It’s common knowledge, that less frequent washing means, reduced use of water, a resource which we need to be extremely mindful of and lesser consumption of energy. The higher the temperature in washing cycles more the energy used which is not only harmful to the environment but also impacts our household budget.
How does washing impact our clothes?
It has now been proven beyond any doubt high temperature is not a necessity for cleaner clothes. Modern day washing machines and detergents can easily give you a clean wash at 30 degrees or even less unless we are talking about heavy duty cleaning of sportswear or clothes caked in mud.
I had mentioned earlier how clothes don’t seem to get better after washing- research shows the harsh detergents, heat, lying in the drum and contact with other clothes do result in thinning of fabric, pillage and fading. Some clothes tend to also lose the shape over multiple washes.
You need to be especially careful about delicate clothing & lingerie. Machine washing no matter what program you use, can destroy lace, and silk and even misshape them. It is advisable to hand wash whenever possible and use a mild agent like baby shampoo. Never tumble dry, instead dry on a line or a flat surface. Lingerie designer Naomi De Haan, advises her buyers,’’ If you absolutely must machine wash, always do up the hook and eyes to stop any snagging, use a lingerie bag, don’t wash with too much heat, and reshape when it’s out and hang it to dry or lie it on a flat surface.”
What we suggest for maintaining the look and prolong the life of your favourite pieces?
As a brand specializing in handwoven and handprinted scarves and kimonos our advice to our clients for pure silk and organic cotton is as follows.
- Wash only, when necessary, it is not necessary to wash after every use. Think before you wash.
- For scarves, wraps and kimonos, both in cotton and silk, airing works great. After each use do not put it in the cupboard immediately, instead hang it out on a hanger or if possible, air it outside in shade but not in sun. Sunlight will cause colours to fade.
- Always use delicate washing agents, baby shampoo is a great option.
- Handwash whenever possible and dry on a line or flat surface. Avoid machine drying completely for all delicate items.
- Avoid fabric softener especially for clothing items- It is simply not necessary.
- Spot cleaning is a great option for minor stains and marks. Treat the affected area, with water and soap, scrub lightly by hand and wash. No need to wash the entire item.
- Remember not to use deodorants or perfume directly on your clothing. These products can stain fabric.
To make your washing friendlier to the environment it goes without saying organic natural fabrics are the best option. Avoid plastics and other varieties of synthetic fabrics.
The organization Fashion Revolution, that aims to change the way clothes are sourced, produced and consumed, claims up to 25% of a garment’s carbon footprint comes from the way we wash and care for it. Over washing actually leads to colour fading, shrinkage and misshaping, which results in around nine out of 10 pieces ending up in landfill before they should do.
So if the celebrity designer and jeans gurus approve of washing clothing items only when necessary I think we should on principle have no problems with that especially when it’s a step in the right direction.
Author- Shayonti Chatterji