Clothing Care – Laundry and Longevity

This may sound a little out of left field, but laundering has a direct effect on how long your clothing lasts. This impacts your wardrobe’s longevity and thus how often you have to shop for replacements.  I know I like my things to last as long as possible.  I paid good money for those items.

I used to simply wear something, take it off, and toss it in the hamper as dirty, to be washed.  This puts undue wear and tear on our clothes.  Most of the time, gently worn items aren’t truly ‘dirty’, unless you’ve spilled on them or rubbed up against something dirty.  Add to that, many times we don’t even wear something for the whole day, but maybe just to lunch with a friend or out for errands, then switch into casual lounging clothes once back home.

My first step was to stop washing everything automatically.  Good start.  Only, I didn’t have a system to deal with it.  I’d just drape the worn but not dirty clothes over my dresser.  This created a few issues.  First, I felt forced to re-wear items that same week in order to make them ‘dirty enough’ to put in the wash.  Maybe I didn’t really feel like that same top again, or worse it didn’t pair as well with that bottom as a clean top in the closet might have, and so I chose a consolation outfit instead of what I really wanted to wear.  Secondly, piling clothes up (on a dresser, over a railing, on a chair) is visual clutter and chaos and does not lend itself to an organized wardrobe.  Lastly, if you have pets you know they often seek out your clothing as a substitute lap and then you have a major pet hair situation. There is a better way.

This is what I do, you may already have a system of your own – that’s great!  I know some folks air out items over night and then hang them back up, etc.  Here’s what works for me:

Tops I deal with in one of two ways – I either hang it back up backwards with the hanger facing out, or I hang the shirt itself inside out.  I don’t have a specific rule for which of the two I choose, rather I use either method interchangeably.  I suppose the collared shirts I tend to hang backwards, as turning collars inside out would just result in unnecessary crumpling and wrinkling.  I’m probably more apt to turn a tee shirt inside out and hang it back up that way.  For those concerned with getting the clean clothes intermingled with the dirty, inside out is a better choice.  The ‘dirt of the world’ (as my BF describes it) is then inside the shirt, not touching other adjacent clothing items.  The part that was next to your skin is now what’s touching the neighboring tops, and you must be cleaner than the world is, right??  😉

Jeans I store folded on the shelf above my closet rod.  I put worn but not dirty jeans with the waistband or hems facing out.  It may help to see a visual to get an idea of what I mean.

Hangers turned to face out on collared shirts.  Jeans facing out on shelf above.

Hangers turned to face out on collared shirts. Jeans facing out on shelf above.

The jeans in the pile on the right are all clean and freshly laundered.  The ones on the left are a mix of lightly worn and clean.  I can see the red motos, blue python, and black skinnies have been worn, as the hems and waistbands are facing out, toward me, not facing back toward the back of the closet.  Make sense?  To be honest, pants often get a 3rd wear before washing.

At first I was a bit stumped on sweaters since I file them in a drawer.  But then a fellow forum member, Rae, over at You Look Fab suggested I store worn sweaters inside out.  Brilliant!   Again, the ‘dirt of the world’ is not rubbing up against your clean fresh sweaters.

Shorts are dealt with just like pants, waistband facing out if worn.  Skirts I store on a fixed tiered rack, so they get the inside out trick.

Do you stretch washings longer than every wear?  Is your main concern the longevity of the items?  Do you use a similar system?

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13 thoughts on “Clothing Care – Laundry and Longevity

  1. Yes I stretch out washing quite a lot, simply because most of non-lounge wear clothes really just don’t get dirty. Like you said, I’m wearing nicer clothes out of the house for running errands or going to eat or a movie, and when I’m home I change into lounge wear/at home work wear, which DOES get dirty. My work literally involves dirt, so no way around that, and I don’t mind if those work items are faded from frequent washing in warm water.

    I usually hang nice/non-work shirts inside out on a hanger from a high hook outside my closet to let them ‘air’ overnight after wearing. Usually the only evidence of wear is sometimes scented deodorant, and I want that to dissipate. First washes of dark colors I try to do a cold water/vinegar soak first, and even use Woolite dark detergent just in case. More delicate things I hand wash, and I don’t have a dryer, so that’s not an issue.

    With pants sometimes I wash them just because they are looking a bit stretched out, because otherwise it could be quite a long time before they are ‘dirty’.

    Your system for tracking seems good. Do you find that sometimes things really don’t need washing for quite a long time? I’ve been surprised with how little laundry I actually do of any but my lounge/work wear (and of course underwear and socks, and underlayer camis and such).

    Interestingly I’ve gotten much better at cleaning my shoes much more often, wiping them off and checking them after each wear, because cleaning seems to extend their life.

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  2. Yes, I find that often even the second wearing of an item doesn’t get it dirty enough to need laundering. Pants sometimes 4 wearings, but like you mention, the stretching out is more an issue than actual dirt. This is in a temperate climate. In Florida summer, all bets are off! Sometimes one hour in a top is all it takes to get it sweaty and very ready for the laundry lol.
    I was going to mention that underthings were exempt but figured it was an obvious thing and left that out 😉 I also wash my ‘in house’ wear pretty much every wear, or sometimes two, for lounge pants. PJ’s ditto – maybe 2 nights but then they hit the hamper. Some of my in house clothes are demoted things from my prior ‘out in the world’ items, so keeping them up to snuff isn’t much of an issue, so much as comfort is.
    I still need to work on my shoes! Thank you for bringing that up. I really should pay more attention to shoe care overall.

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  3. Mo, this is great. I am currently doing the draping and its driving me nuts. I like an orderly home and I hate to see worn but still clean clothes draped all over the place. I am going to put this in action now. I ended up changing from washing after every wear to stretching it out because our washer isn’t working so by wearing items more I have less to cart off to the laundromat. But I agree with you, it’s also better for the clothes and their longevity.

    Great suggestions. Thanks again!

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    • I understand the stuff lying all around driving you nuts. The organized part of me could never make peace with that, beyond one or maybe two items that I knew would be re-worn asap. Things look so much better now. Ahhhh.

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      • Ha, I’m lucky. Right now I have a spare bedroom that has turned into my wardrobe chaos room. So I just close the door and make peace with it. DH on the other hand leaves his “worn but still clean” clothes all over the house and it drives me nuts. I think I am going to implement this program for the whole family 🙂

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  4. Definitely stretch out my wears! Since my lifestyle is pretty sedentary, I find that I can wear almost any item at least twice – and most of my bottoms I can wear half-a-dozen times before they need to be washed. (I guess it should be noted that I don’t live in a climate where I have to deal with snow, ice, slush, mud, etc. – so my jeans and trousers very seldom get anything more than perhaps a smudge of chocolate on them, which is easily spot removed, rather than needing to go through a full-bore cleaning cycle! So – there is really not a need to wash them very much – except for taking into account whether or not I had a hot-flash while wearing them! If so – they go into the wash immediately – and sometimes that means that I am washing several different outfits a day. Boo!

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  5. Wow!!! Never thought of a system. I use to lay it around the room, on a chair.
    As you and many others, I think in our great-parents’ time, clothes got more dirt due to harder works. Nowadays we have more white-collared jobs, which means we don’t get dirt.
    Brilliant idea that I will start trying tomorrow.

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  6. I love the hanger idea and I think I’ll give it a try. I’ve been really conscious of this lately, since I lost weight and started buying nicer clothes. My first solution was to hang worn-but-not-dirty items on a couple of hooks in the bathroom, right by the laundry basket. Too much stuff accumulated, so I then dedicated shelf-space in my closet to worn-but-not-dirty jeans and trousers. And still it’s too much, and I found–exactly like you–that I was wearing less than optimal outfits because I was “finishing off” a certain pair of pants, for example, because too many were piling up. So I’ll try the reverse hanger trick. I guess the problem with dedicating one end of my closet to this would be that I’d end up again feeling pressure to “finish off” items? Perhaps more importantly then they wouldn’t be right there with the similar items (say, black trousers or fluid blouses) when I go looking for clothes.

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  7. Lots of good tips here. I never heard of the inside-out hanging trick. Nor washing dark items in vinegar the first time around. All food for thought.

    I have two wardrobes, and there is cross-over between the two. One is for restaurant work, the other not. Restaurant work — everything needs laundering, head to toe, after one day. Sometimes I can air out a blazer or pair of jeans if they didn’t get stained, and then I find I need several days hanging to get rid of the fryer oil and Pinesol odor I bring home with me. It amazes me how much odor my bras pick up, but my bras are holding up fairly well from frequent washing (cold water, delicate cycle, circle mesh bag, air dry). The wearing of the item has just as much if not more impact on the bra stretching and decaying.

    As for my non-restaurant items, it depends. I usually hang the item to air it for a few days, I have several spots where I do this. Good thing I’m not disturbed by the visual clutter of garments hanging over doors and on open stair cases. I have also thought of constructing a clothes line outside to air out (and dry) clothes. I live in the country with good air. I just have to find a spot where stickers and dust and things like pine pollen don’t blow onto the clothes.

    This is a bit of a detour, but a few years ago I decided I was done with dry cleaners and I would wash out sweaters myself. I ended up shrinking almost all of my sweaters, not always a bad thing because so much is oversized these days. But now I’m back to visiting the dry cleaners. I wonder where everyone else stands on this. Of course I almost never use dry clean only items for work, that would get really expensive.

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    • Oh yeah – the restaurant clothing is a different animal! My BF would go so far as to strip it off in the garage (where the washer and dryer are) upon coming home and go straight upstairs to shower. For me, it depended on whether I was on shift upstairs where the kitchen smells wafted right through the bar from behind me or the downstairs bar where I could escape relatively odor free lol.
      I rarely dry clean either. I took to washing cashmere sweaters in a tied pillow case. I avoid dry clean only clothes for the most part. There is little reason, with my lifestyle, to buy such items.

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