Sustainable Clothing Care

Amy Arani

How to Look After Your Wools, Organic Cotton, Linen, and More

If you’re reading this post, you’re probably on a path toward a gorgeous, sustainable closet.

But now that your closet is filling up with earth-friendly pieces that can be mixed and matched, you might find yourself not knowing how to keep them looking their best. Sure, your mom taught you how to keep your white cottons white, but what about more unfamiliar sustainable fabrics like silk and bamboo?

Part of what makes clothing sustainable is the length of time that you keep it. So if you want the collection you’re curating now to look incredible five years from now, read on. We’ve collected some tried-and-true clothing care tips that will help your wardrobe last a lifetime.

Wool

When it’s cold outside, or you need something breathable, choose wool. Why? One word: Cashmere, of course. Because what self-respecting fashionista doesn’t have at least one piece of cashmere in her collection?

But beyond that, wool is both sustainable and warm and only takes a year to decompose! And Merino wool makes wonderful high-performance sports apparel, so consider that instead of polyester when you choose your next pair of yoga pants.

However, wool is not known for is its durability. When caring for it, remember that its hair. Just like your lovely locks, the main thing is to remember to handle with care: It’s protein, and it’s delicate. Spend as much energy choosing your soap as you do your dry shampoo, and make sure the formulation will work for wool.

You’ll need to either hand wash your items or put them in a laundry bag on the gentle cycle. And no dryer—that spells shrinkage and will make your garment wear out faster! Either shape your wool and lay it out to dry or hang-dry the pieces that won’t stretch.

If your wool crinkles after drying, use a steamer rather than an iron. When you do need to iron, use the wool setting, spritz with water, and put a clean cloth between the iron and the garment.

Your piece will probably get stained over its long life. If that happens, first read the care label. Then blot the stain, pre-treat it with a non-bio based soap, pat it dry, and wash it as usual.

Organic Cotton

The great thing about cotton is that it’s one of the most durable fabrics in existence, so it doesn’t require much extra consideration beyond separating the lights and darks. As a general rule, cotton should be washed in cold or warm water and dried with medium heat. The sun is the most eco-friendly way to dry your items, but keep in mind that cotton is easily misshapen, so save the clothesline for your crisp cotton twills.

One thing you won’t ever want to do is use fabric softener, which can dull the color. And remember: Some cotton garments do need dry cleaning, so you’ll want to pay attention to the care labels.

Linen

What’s better than slipping into your linen kimono after a bath or when you need something to wear over your yoga pants? Linen is one of those timeless textiles that’s elegant, hardy, and low maintenance. Some pieces have special care requirements, but in a pinch, you can be pretty careless with linen. To make your linens last longer, wash them in cold water on a delicate cycle or by hand and air dry.

Linen stains easily, so when that happens, act fast before it sets. If the stain dries, you may have to get it dry cleaned, which is not ideal and can ruin your garment. Shake off liquids, scrape off solids, and work from the outside in, using a towel and water. Use a chemical stain remover, then soak in hot water mixed with another removal agent.

Hemp

Once for the crunchy set, hemp is now having a resurgence due to marijuana’s legalization throughout the United States. Hemp has been cultivated as a textile for thousands of years and takes minimal water to grow. This sustainable crop can even improve soil health.

With three times the strength of cotton, this hardy fabric is durable and easy to care for. You can wash it in the machine on cold and dry it in the dryer on medium whenever you’re pressed for time. When machine drying, remove your pieces while they’re still damp.

But if you want hemp to last, hand wash it in cold water and make sure to rinse it thoroughly because soap in the fibers can create marks. And remember, air drying is best.

Bamboo 

Bamboo is a fast growing, super sustainable crop that also happens to make the softest fabric. Luckily, it’s super easy to care for—wash it in cold water and dry it on medium. Be sure to double check your care labels because some of the more structured shapes will need dry cleaning.

Hand wash your bamboo knits so that they don’t stretch out and make sure to shape them if you choose to air dry. When it comes to stain removal, just make sure to stay away from chlorine bleach and hot water.

Silk

Silk is a luscious, sustainable option. Although most silk production kills the worms that create it, there is such a thing as ethical silk, which is made by allowing the worm to leave the cocoon before the silk is extracted.

Caring for silk is easy—all you need is a mild soap and some water. Sure, some silk should be dry cleaned, but most of it can be hand washed in cold water. Plus it dries fast, which makes it a great fabric to travel light with. Rinse well and gently press the water out of the garment before either laying flat to dry or hanging.

Stain removal can be challenging, however. First, absorb the stain with baking soda or another absorbent powder. Let it sit for a few hours. If the stain is persistent, it'll still be there when you dust off the powder. If that's so, use dish soap or a dry cleaning kit.

So there you have it, eco-fashionista. Here's to the long life of your sustainable closet!