Office of Energy and Sustainability

Clothing Care and Repair

Why should you care about caring for your clothes?

Proper care of your clothing extends its longevity, allowing you to replace items less often and love your clothes longer. At many stores, cheap clothing prices do not reflect the true value of the garment, the labor that went into its creation, or the environmental impact of the manufacturing process. 

The fashion industry is responsible for 2 to 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to United Nations estimates. The fashion industry produces 20 percent of global wastewater, and 85 percent of textiles end up in landfills or are incinerated (U.N. Helps Fashion Industry Shift to Low Carbon). The industry is also a contributor to ocean plastic pollution as well as unsafe and unhealthy working conditions (U.N. Alliance aims to put fashion on path to sustainability). 

We believe that communities like ours can be part of the solution! Reducing our clothing consumption by caring for the items we already have supports a larger cultural shift to stop treating clothes as if they are disposable. Repairing and remaking clothes can also be a creative pursuit, and clothing swaps between friends or taking items to the campus Free Store, run by the Resource Conservation Team, are great ways to pass along unwanted clothes without sending them to a landfill. 

See upcoming clothing care events

Wash clothes in cold water!

Washing your clothes in cold water dramatically extends the lifespan of your items. Hot water makes clothes fade, shrink, and deteriorate much faster, while cold water is gentler and cleans just as well. Plus, washing on cold saves 90 percent of the energy that would have been used for a hot wash.

Read more about the Cold Water Wash campaign.

Air dry synthetic clothing.

Examples of synthetic fabrics include polyester, acrylic, rayon, nylon, and spandex. Most workout clothes are made from synthetic materials. Synthetics are quick-drying and can be damaged or become misshapen if repeatedly put in the dryer. Air-drying your synthetic clothes is the best way to make them last. Synthetics should also always be washed on cold. 

Air dry all of your clothes if you have the space.

Air drying your clothes makes them last longer for the same reason washing on cold does: You’re not blasting them with heat that can cause shrinkage, deterioration of fibers, and fading. Air drying can be difficult to do in small spaces like dorm rooms and apartments, but some dorms have a room with drying lines next to the laundry. It’s also possible to fit a drying rack in your room if you’re inspired, but if it isn’t realistic to hang everything up, pick your nicest clothes (or your synthetics) and prioritize air drying them. You can also hang items on chairs, bed frames, hooks, or hangers if you don’t have an actual drying rack. Sweaters should always be air dried, but instead of being hung up, place them on an absorbent towel and lay them on a flat surface.

Avoid overdrying clothes.

While the best way to make your clothes last is to air dry them, many people do not have the space or facilities to do so. The next-best option is to leave your clothes in the dryer only until they’re dry and not any longer. Overdrying your clothes can cause shrinkage, fading, and weakening of the fabric. To prevent overdrying, never choose the hottest setting on the dryer. Check your clothes 10 minutes before the end of the drying cycle and take them out if they’re done, as clothes often dry sooner than the machine estimates. Experiment with drying your clothes on the lowest setting and consider using dryer balls to help absorb the extra water. 

Read clothing-care label before purchasing.

Most commercially manufactured clothes will have a tag on the inside telling you if the item needs any specific care. Tags often use symbols instead of words to communicate this. Keys for common clothing-care symbols can be found online with a quick google search. Knowing the care requirements for an item of clothing can help you decide whether you are ready to commit to owning it. Some fabrics, like wool and silk, require special care, and others (like synthetics) should always be air dried. Following the care instructions for your clothes ensures they will last as long as possible.

Treat stains as soon as possible.

Acting fast is the key to removing stains. The longer you let a stain sit, the more difficult it is to remove. As soon as you spill something on an item or notice a spot, soak it in water and treat it with soap or stain remover.

Repair your clothes when needed.

Learning to do basic repairs on your clothing is a valuable skill that can greatly impact the longevity of your items. Sewing small holes, patching over unremovable stains, embroidering over tears, and hemming items that are slightly too long are all simple skills that can save your clothes and your money.

Wash clothes less often.

Oftentimes, washing after each wear just isn’t necessary. Pants, jackets, and sweaters are a few examples of types of clothes that don’t always need to be washed after one wear. You can air out your lightly worn items for a few hours and then put them right back in your closet to be worn again. Jeans especially are an item that rarely need to be washed. You can also hand wash small spots instead of throwing the entire garment into the washing machine.

Wash clothes inside out.

There are several benefits to washing clothes inside out. As long as you haven’t spilled anything on the front, the inside is what really needs to be cleaned. Additionally, shirts with printed decals will last much longer when washed inside out, reducing the likelihood of the design becoming shredded with time. Brightly colored items are also more likely to last when turned inside out. 

Zip zippers and unbutton buttons.

Along with flipping your clothes inside out when washing, take a moment to zip up zippers before washing, since the sharp teeth can tear small holes in other items. The same should be done with bra closures and similar hooks, since closing them protects other items from being snagged. Do the opposite with buttons, leaving them undone to prevent extra stress on the button holes.

Take unwanted items to the campus Free Store!

Did you know that Oberlin College and Conservatory has a Free Store in the basement of Asia House? Among many other exciting things, the Free Store has clothes that anyone from Oberlin can take for free. Also, anyone from the college is welcome to drop off their unwanted items for someone else to find and appreciate. It’s a great way to recirculate your clothing within the community and a great place to find a new outfit for an event or just for fun! Learn more about the campus Free Store.