To wash or not to wash: Time to hang up your dirty laundry?
For many, weekend laundry is not usually considered a whole lot of fun, it’s simply a mandatory task and part of our obligatory adultmin. However in a recent interview with the Observer, Stella McCartney, the queen of the sustainable fashion movement, revealed her lack of affiliation to weekly washes. So therein lies the question: to wash or not to wash our beloved wardrobe contents? Should we be avoiding our washing machine like the plague in order to; firstly, preserve the longevity of clothes but secondly to mitigate the impact of a single wash on the environment?
It’s no secret Stella is synonymous with sustainability which is weaved into the DNA of her brand, whether it’s in her garments, retail spaces or philanthropic projects but did you know she has long been an advocate of refraining from weekly washes? When questioned if we REALLY need dry cleaners she recounted her time working on Saville Row at a bespoke tailors. ‘You let the dirt dry and you brush it off. Basically, in life, rule of thumb: if you don’t absolutely have to clean anything, don’t clean it.” She said “I wouldn’t change my bra every day and I don’t just chuck stuff into a washing machine because it’s been worn. I am incredibly hygienic myself, but I’m not a fan of dry cleaning or any cleaning, really.” Stella isn’t the only one in the industry to advocate this, CEO of Levi’s, Chip Bergh to some people’s bewilderment spoke of a pair of his favourite jeans he hadn’t washed in 10 years.
The sustainability of fashion is becoming increasingly frequent topic in the mainstream media but turning to look at our dirty laundry, why is it that washing our clothes is now up for debate and why does this matter?
For many whose wardrobes consist of high street finds that contain higher levels of synthetic materials including polyester and acrylic, it is worth noting that per wash on average 9 million plastic microfibres are released into the environment. As over 60% of our clothing is now made from polyester which sheds plastic in each wash, one item can release approximately 700,000 fibres in a single laundry load. From this, it is estimated that between 15% -31% of marine plastic pollution could be from tiny particles released by households and businesses which increases risks to our marine ecosystems.
Preserving life under sea is one tangible benefit but being mindful of our washing behaviours has the joyous advantage of prolonging the lifespan of our favourite staple pieces. According to Professor. Andrew Groves, head of Fashion Design at University of Westminster, the friction in our machines designed to remove stains often alters and distorts our clothes shapes and colours – hence the all familiar whimpering feeling when your favourite top resembles a grey rag after only a few spins.
Did you know…?
• 97% of UK households own a washing machine, but we work them hard too, putting them through an average of 230 cycles annually
• 15-20% of all water consumed in the home is used in laundry
• Carbonfootprint.com estimates that doing your laundry produces 51kg of CO2 a year (from 187 washes
• Washing 6kg of clothes can result in anything between 137,951 fibres (for polyester-cotton clothes) to 728,789 fibres (for acrylic clothes) released as oceanic pollution
So what’s the best way to launder our clothes in an environmentally friendly way?
• Handwash delicates like bras, silk and lace
• Spot clean the little stains to avoid a whole wash for a single garment
• Switch up the settings on your washing machine
• Wash cooler. High temperatures damage clothing, releasing more microfibres.
• Change to liquid detergent. Laundry powder scrubs at clothes releasing more fibres. (Although the irony of this is that liquid detergent is more likely to come in plastic packaging)
• Fill the machine. A full load causes less friction.
• Buy a lint filter – around £10-20.
• Use environmentally friendly detergents
• Purchase a Guppy Friend. At RRP £25 these genius creations made from microfilter materials capture 99% of fibres released in our washing
There is no feeling like smelling cotton fresh in newly laundered garments, hygiene is key and for the spill prone individuals such as myself washing is sometimes the only option. Never did I think I would enjoy reading into the methods of washing. However it’s clear that by reducing laundry frequency, we can all help with reducing energy usage and preventing the release of microfibres into water streams. Adopting such practices also embraces the new ethos of loving the clothes we have by extending their longevity and ability to survive the ever-changing cycle of trends.
As consumers we must call for change among utility manufacturers to increase their number of eco settings for efficiency, and demand greater development of innovations for in-built filters for microfibres. Additionally, pushing for formulations of washing detergent and softeners that require minimal volumes of water to be activated is a future strategy for fast moving consumer goods giants to consider. Whilst the jury will be understandably split on dirty laundry and whether to wash or not to wash, free up your fashion conscience the next time you forget to put the machine on.
If you’re interested in sustainable cleaning products, take a read of my article detailing brands here.
By Amy Nguyen, Founder and Editor of Sustainable & Social – a curated and dedicated platform for the sustainably curious