Justine’s Guide to Increasing the Lifetime of Your Clothes

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When I was eleven, my mother gave me my own laundry basket, and taught me how to use the washing machine. I was delighted. Best birthday present ever!

I’ve been doing my own laundry ever since. Few things give me more satisfaction and joy than getting out a really stubborn stain.

No, I’m not joking. I love doing the laundry.

The years I lived in NYC without a washing machine were pure torment.

Here are my tips to longer-lasting clothes:1

Other than underwear:2 wash them less, WAY less. Unless you’ve sweated all over them, clothes don’t need to be washed after every wear.3

I deploy the smell test. Does it pong? If no, don’t wash. If yes, wash immediately!

Jeans should be washed once or twice a year. Tops. AND NEVER IRONED.

I have some coats and jackets that have never been anything other than spot cleaned.

Cold or lukewarm water is better for your clothes and the environment. Ditto with slower spin cycles. Slow good. Fast bad.

Gentle, non-toxic-for-the-environment detergents are best. As an Aussie, I’m a big believer in eucalyptus wash. Anything that smells like eucalyptus is automatically good. It is known.

I swear by Eucalan no-rinse, delicate wash. Yes, I use it for machine washing too. A little goes a long way.

Also, when handwashing? That no-rinse claim? Absolutely true! You don’t have to waste water endlessly rinsing the detergent out. Unfortunately COVID-19 means it is currently unavailable. If anyone knows of a no-rinse alternative, hit me!

Spot clean.

If you spill soy sauce/coffee/oil/whatever, wash that spot as soon as you can, before it can stain. If you’re out (lol) rinse it with cold water in the bathroom pat dry with a paper towel. Never wring! Never rub! Nine times out of ten you’ll rinse out the spill before it becomes a stain.

If there’s still a stain, the internet will tell you how to get it out from whatever the fabric is. I don’t know how I removed stains before the internet. It was a terrible time.

Fabric matters. Silk behaves differently from cotton or the various different blends and synthetics.

Do not despair if you discover an old stain on a favourite piece. While it’s always best to deal with a stain straight away, I’ve gotten some stains out that were years old. Decades old even. And if there was ever a time to finally see if you can nuke that long-standing stain you’ve been hiding with a brooch, that time is now!

Some stains, though, are forever. Le sadness. My new approach is to embroider over the top of them. Visible mending for the win. Do an image search on sashiko. It’s stunning. No, I’m not there yet, but practice makes perfect or, at least, less shit. Now is the perfect time to learn to embroider.

Just because you had to wash that one spot doesn’t mean you have to wash the entire garment.

I handwash (or, if there’s no other way, dry clean) most of my vintage clothes and many of my other clothes too. If I love it I usually handwash it.

I get that most people have neither the time nor inclination for that. Invest in lingerie washing bags. Lately I’ve been recommending guppyfriend washing bags, which reduce fabric shredding. Use the gentle wash cycle, setting it to cold.

I handwash bras. A lingerie washing bag will protect them some, but machine washing them will reduce a bra’s lifetime. The elastic dies faster, wires get bent, embroidery and other embellishments unravel.

Handwashing isn’t as hard as people think. It’s mostly soaking and the occasional gentle agitating. The hard work is in the rinsing, and if you can get hold of a good no-rinse handwashing detergent, you take that out of the equation.

Never rub your clothes vigorously. It’s terrible for the fabric. Never wring them either. To dry them, very gently squeeze water out, then roll them in a dry towel and press. It’s astonishing how much water you get out.

If at all possible line dry.

Dryers are the devil. You heard me. They destroy clothes.

Yes, even in your tiny NYC flat, it’s possible to line dry.

Hang clothes to dry in the bathroom. Or in your closet. Just make sure they’re not touching the dry clothes.

Look, I get it. Back when I flat shared, I didn’t hang my clothes to dry in the bathroom. Ewww! Flatmates couldn’t be trusted.

For a long time in the city I was too time and space poor to clean my clothes properly. I would drop them at the laundry. (Never any of my precious clothes or bras.) They would go through the dryer. They would fall apart. It was horrible.

Now I have a wooden folding drying rack. It is joy. Nothing goes in the dryer.

If hanging your clothes up to dry isn’t an option always set the dryer to the lowest heat.

Thus endeth Justine’s guide to longer-lived clothes. You’re welcome!

  1. I understand that some of you are not able-bodied enough to do any of this. I have a chronic illness myself. Some days I don’t have the spoons to get out of bed. []
  2. For some unfathomable reason, some folks rarely wash their bras. Eek! You should probably wash your bra after every 7-10 wears. Obviously this depends on how sweaty you are. []
  3. Yes, I understand that some people are very sweaty. []