Molly Geoghegan

July 17, 2020

*Gahh* – this is the environmental impact of washing our clothes

*Gahh* – this is the environmental impact of washing our clothes

Molly Geoghegan

July 17, 2020
Unless you are a nudist, you own clothes. And with clothes, come repercussions (I know, I know, way to be a party pooper).

Whether you like it or not, owning clothes means you’re making an impact on the planet. Washing, drying and ironing our clothes accounts for MOST of the damage in regards to clothing’s environmental impact (European Parliament 2019).

Of course, it takes energy and materials to create your fave dungarees, but studies are now showing that it’s the wearing and washing of clothing that has the most lasting ripple effect.

HOWEVER. That’s where we (the collective) have some control and can make a few behavioral changes that can mitigate this ripple effect. So if you were feeling guilty about your Penneys jumpers from last autumn, know you have the power to lessen your environmental impact in the way you treat and care for them. 

Buy well

Investing in good quality clothing isn’t just for your fancy auntie toting a Brown Thomas bag along everywhere. We all know how quickly fast fashion sandals deteriorate over the course of a single summer. 

If you buy well, maintenance will be easier; you’ll have to iron less and you’ll have a wardrobe that simply lasts longer. An average piece of clothing lasts 2.2 years before it’s thrown into a landfill or an incinerator.

This doesn’t necessarily mean buying fancy clothes, or wearing a fascinator every day. There is a growing movement of earth-conscious, sustainable brands. Even starting with a few basic pieces to mix and match throughout all four seasons will lighten your carbon load. 

Wash less

Is the piece of clothing ACTUALLY dirty? Studies show that garments are being washed more often than necessary, and as a result we’re leaching the synthetic (ie. plastic. I’m looking at you, polyester, nylon, lycra, etc.) micro-fibres into our water systems. This in turn has a disastrous effect on sea life and our own subsequent health through ingestion.

Give it the ol’ sniff test

There’s a difference between sweating through a shirt at Zumba, and simply bringing a fun romper out to dinner with the gals. More simply, wearing a jumper out to the shop doesn’t necessarily mean it should end up in your laundry basket.* 

*Does not apply to teenage boys.

Wash with a FULL LOAD 

If you’re going to use the electricity needed to run a wash cycle, you should make the most of it! Putting on one full load is much more efficient than several washes with a handful of stinky socks. 

If you’re finding yourself out of clean underwear but don’t have a big load, ask your housemates to throw their bits in! Sure who cares, it’s all gonna get sudsy anyway…

Fewer washes ALSO means a lower electricity bill, so this is truly a win-win situation. 

Get the right Temperature

The tag attached to any item of clothing will usually have a temperature in which to wash your clothes. This is the MAXIMUM amount of heat the fabric can withstand, meaning that washing at this temperature will actually wear on your clothes faster (ie. break them down). 

Some washers have a temperature dial, think about moving that down closer to the 20-30 degree mark—it’ll take up half the energy per wash. Others have an ‘Eco Wash’ option, which is not only a faster cycle, but a cooler temp. (Things still get clean in cold water, ya’ll!). 

Decreasing the temperature increases the lifespan of your clothing as well, so once again, WIN-WIN!

Tumble drying…don’t do it. 

Not to be dramatic, but tumble drying is THE most energy-sucking vampire part of the clothing care process.

In a coal power station, 1.5 pounds of carbon are emitted to create 1 kilowatt hour of electricity and for 1 hour of a tumble dryer, it  can use anywhere up to 5000 watts per hour.

Air dry whenever possible, this has the dual bonus of smoothing out creases too, sans iron

Stop Ironing!

Not ironing for the sake of Mother Earth is probably the best non-refutable-excuse-to-stop-ironing there is.

In a (relatively) humid climate like Ireland, there are loads of ways to hang your clothes and let steam and moisture work their magic on wrinkles. Another pro-tip is to take your clothes out as SOON as the wash is finished as this helps with avoiding wrinkles in the drying process. 

Other bits n’ buttons…

For all your sexy lil underwear, bras and silks:

→ Hand wash where possible, using a mild detergent.

Wool? 

→ Avoid washing altogether. Call your Nan and ask, she’ll tell you you should never wash it, and she’s right (mostly). But do call your Nan anyway, she’d appreciate hearing from you. 

Your beloved Levi’s…

→ Another item that need minimal washing! These are durable pieces of clothing that can simply be spot-treated when you inevitably spill sauce on them. When you DO wash them, turn them inside-out. It will maintain the colour and make them last longer.

Did a button pop? A small tear along the seam?

→ You sew can put it back together! *haw haw*

Check out our Instastories highlights reel for simple tutorials. Having sewing as a skill gives you a green card to brag about how much of a renaissance person you are to your friends. 

Keepin’ it colourful

→ Turn clothing with prints inside-out so that the colours and pattern maintain their vibrancy.

En fin…

The environmental effect of an item of clothing doesn’t end with the sale of a garment. As we’ve outlined above, how you wash and care for your clothes has a lot to do with the impact that they have on the planet. 

How we care for our clothing provides an opportunity to minimise our negative impact on the world around us, lessen the release of microplastics in our oceans, **AND SOLVE WORLD PEACE**

(Okay, maybe not that, but you get it by now)

Hope you found it all helpful!