Increasing the lifespan of clothes has a whole HEAP of benefits. At muka kids we know making kids clothes last longer will actually will help save the planet and is (of course) better for family budgets. This is part of the reason why we have a marketplace to buy and sell previously loved organic and ethical kids clothing. In part 1 of this blog topic, I focused on ten design features that make kids clothes last longer that you can look out for. This second post is focussed on the ten things you can do to look after kids clothes so they last (based on science- I love science!)
Is that a collective groan I hear? I imagine so! Frankly as a parent there is nothing worse than ANOTHER list of things you should be doing, that will make your already packed and inconveniently busy day/week more packed, and dare I say less fun, because inevitably it involves more washing or cleaning!
So approach this as a pick and choose kind of list. Have a read of the ten things that you CAN do to make kids clothes last longer, and then maybe just choose those that work for you and your lifestyle. No one wants a lecture (or worse more time as a laundry drudge). Every little bit helps when you are trying to make a difference to both your pocket & the ecological footprint of clothing (Extending the average life of clothes (2.2 years) by just three months of active use per item would lead to a 5-10% reduction in each of the carbon, water and waste footprints), so a little is just fine when you can!
It is Mainly about the Science
It is always good to know why certain tips will work, otherwise it just becomes another list of someone’s opinions! So, to get a little technical, taking care of clothing to improve its lifespan often comes down to ways you can help retain the ‘molecular structure’ of fabric. Many of the tips I have included are about the different ways you can prevent bonds between the fibres in fabric breaking (the polymers to be exact), as it is the breaking of these bonds that lead to clothes wearing out.
TEN TIPS TO MAKING KIDS CLOTHES LAST LONGER
1. Rotate their wardrobe
Rotating a kid’s clothing prevents too much wear on one or two items. Have a good look in the back of those draws, research shows about 30% of our wardrobe is never worn. I know I was surprised at how many clothes my kids actually owned when I counted recently. The less you wear an item, the less stress on the fibre and the less you need to wash, which yes you guessed it weakens & wears the fabric, (refer to no 6.).
2. Have a pod or capsule of clothes
Expanding on tip number 1, if you plan your kids wardrobe a little, you can have a smaller set of more functional & higher quality clothes (a capsule), that can be rotated and all worn equally, getting more value for money. When thinking about what to buy for a kids capsule look out for good design features that indicate quality and longevity.
3. Pimp their clothes
Kids don’t like the clothes at the back of the wardrobe? Pimp them. Here is a project I did with my oldest to encourage her to wear a dress she was a bit picky about wearing as it was “too boring”.
4. Get down with the dirt
Most children are usually pretty ok with wearing dirty clothes for a bit longer, but are you? A bit of adjustment to kids wearing clothes a few more times before washing will not only go easier on the clothes but mean you become less of a washing drudge. Some fabrics are particularly prone to wearing out with frequent washing. Washing wool too often wears it out quickly for example.
5. Fold em!
Believe it or not folding clothes also helps the fibres retain their bonds, as the wrinkles in clothes actually cause
damage to fibre bonds in fabric!!! Arg to folding though. Frankly this seems the perfect excuse to train kids to fold their clothes, because really I hate folding. This sometimes works in our house when the 4 year old is on a cleaning drive (I did only say sometimes!).
6. Try to avoid heat in washing & drying
It’s a big one. Cold washes and line drying (or at least cooler dryer temp) places less stress on the threads in a fabric.
Why is heat such a problem for your clothing?
Without getting too tedious about all this (and I already promised not to talk about the science again) applying heat, hot washes and dryers, is excellent way to break the molecular level bonds in fibres in. Once the bond are broken the fibres can loosen, and shift, and as the clothes cool they lock into place causing the clothes to lose shape, and stiffen and even to break off the fabric. All that fluff that gets caught in the dryer trap? it is threads of your clothing
And not to worry experiments have shown that cold water and detergent are just as effective as killing bacteria as hot, and our advances in technology mean washing machines are much better at physically removing dirt than they used to be. So it is fine for cloth nappies too.
Heating the water for warm washes is also the single biggest expense of washing (90% of the energy is for heating water), so if you have kids and 27 loads to do a week, cold washing and line drying will really keep your energy use down
If like me you find you need to use a dryer at times, a sensor dryer can be a good option for not over heating your clothes.
I could not find any science on whether eco laundry detergents help extend the life of your clothing (perhaps exposing fibres to fewer harsh chemicals at the molecular level helps?). Regardless putting fewer chemicals into your clothing and the ecosystem via waste water can only be a good thing.
7. Sorting Washing & Following Instructions
Tedious I know – but separating your washing helps, putting denim with zips in with lighter cottons creates friction which yes you guess it wears out the threads in the fabric. Turn printed clothing inside out, to stop wear on prints.
Make sure you always follow washing instructions as the fabric manufactures have tested the best way to wash for preserving the fabric
8. Mend & maintain
So once the clothes have worn a little, you can get creative with mending if you are handy with a needle and thread (heart shapes darns anyone?). Put fun patches on knees, elbows etc. If no one in your family has got the hang of the old needle and thread dance, iron on patches can be successful, or you up for a bit of internet directed learning perhaps? If not make friends with a good garment repair and alternation person.
Here in Wellington Silver Circus Clothing does a great job of making, adjusting & repairing kids clothes.
Cut off trousers and leggings with holes too big for repair and turn them into shorts. If you are handy with a machine there are heaps of good ideas on the net for new clothes from old or even toys like fabric books. A good pair of pinking shears, for those without a machine, will do wonders.
10. Clothes for ‘Good’
Dressing for task seems a good way to go to keep clothes in good shape for longer. Heavier weight, more durable clothing for play. While heirloom garments, knitted by granny are worth treating with a bit of love and kindness so they can be handed on down the line so not great for bike riding practice day.
So that’s my top ten for trying making kids clothes last longer. What are yours?
Jess Berentson-Shaw founded the social enterprise Muka kids’ to connect consumers, designers and garment workers across the world, and empower them to make the clothing industry a sustainable one. Muka kids has a marketplace to trade preloved organic, ethical & sustainable clothing. Through its partnerships with accredited brands it also helps make new sustainable clothing more affordable. Sales on the marketplace fund a micro finance scheme for women cotton farmers in India trying to pull themselves out of poverty.