How to Make Clothes Last Longer

More than eight years ago I first wrote about how to make clothes last longer. Our family was full on into our suddenly frugal years. We were cutting costs and trying to stretch our dollars further.

It was around that time that I came to embrace this notion of getting value for the long term. For example, buying clothes and other items from companies that stand behind their products.

This led to our embracing products with lifetime guarantees. Plus, these kinds of items with a warranty tended to last longer anyway. This includes clothing.

For example, I’ve written about the guarantees that come with clothing from Lands’ End and LL Bean, for example. Even Eddie Bauer clothes last for a long time, though the company no longer has a generous guarantee as it once was.

Why write about making clothes last longer

There are a couple of reasons I wanted to delve back into this topic of how to make clothes last longer. One, our society has become so obsessed with fast fashion.

Now, the opposite of fast fashion is something called slow fashion. This is an offshoot of sustainable fashion. This is an approach that takes into consideration the resources and supply chain involved in making an article of clothing. Here is my article on sustainable activewear.

Two, everything became disposable in the last few years. Primarily, this was because of public health initiatives to keep everyone safe.

Now that all of that is in the rearview mirror, we can bring our own bags again to the store. In addition, many locations have banned single-use plastic bags, such as Maine where I live, so having your own bags is a good idea. Then you don’t have to pay for a big.

Three, you know how people always say the rich get richer by pinching their pennies? Well, making your clothes last longer means you can buy fewer things. And if you’re spending less on clothing, then you can be saving more.

How to make clothes last longer

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I don’t know about you, but when I spend my hard-earned dollars on good clothing, I want them to last as long as possible. So, how do you go about making clothes have a longer lifespan in your closet? Here are a few ways. Also, these tips should save money in the long run.

Don’t wash your clothes as often

Believe it or not, you don’t have to wash every piece of clothing after each time you wear it. Of course, there are caveats.

For example, if you exercise daily like I do with my Peloton, then, yes, please wash those sweaty workout clothes after each wearing. Same with underwear and socks.

Here are tips for getting the stink out of workout clothes.

But shirts, pants, sweaters and the like? You can probably get away with washing them after every second or third wearing.

Wash jeans less often

A few years ago, the CEO of Levi-Strauss, the maker of denim jeans, told us that we didn’t need to wash our jeans. At all. That’s a bit too extreme for me, thank you very much.

However, I did take the message to heart, somewhat. These days, I don’t wash my jeans after every time I wear them. In fact, I’ll usually wear a pair of jeans five to seven times before washing them.

Of course, this assumes that I haven’t spilled anything on them or sat in anything stinky. Basically, as long as my jeans are not visibly dirty or still smell fresh, I’ll keep them in rotation.

Make clothes last longer by wearing them less often

When I talk about keeping my jeans in rotation before washing, I’m not wearing the same pair every day. In fact, experts say that you can achieve clothing longevity by rotating what you wear. It’s why I own five pairs of jeans and multiples of other favorite pieces of clothing.

This way I can wear my favorite “uniform” of everyday clothing. However, I’m not wearing the same items day in and day out. Therefore, you wear and wash each item less often. In the end, your clothing doesn’t wear out as quickly.

Resole shoes rather than buying new

I’ve gotten into the habit of having my shoes resoled if possible. I’d rather spend a quarter or half of a Benjamin to have new soles put on shoes that buy a whole new pair. This is all about restoring shoes.

This makes sense for the shoes I’ve paid a lot of money to buy. I have a few of these in my closet, because I have hard-to-fit feet. One pair of loafers, purchased years ago and worn every day on a walking trip, is on its third set of soles.

Of course, the caveat to new soles is with sneakers, trainers or tennis shoes–whatever you call them. I’ve never heard of anyone being able to get new bottoms put on this kind of footwear. 

Plus, since I walk my dogs daily and long distances, I’ve gotten in the habit of replacing my sneakers every three or so months. Once the soles become transparent, I know it’s time for new ones.

Treat stains on clothes ASAP

My husband and I have gotten into the habit of keeping a Tide Laundry Pen with us most of the time. We’ve got one in the center console of the car, one stashed in our suitcase when we travel and I’m getting ready to replace the one I carry in my bag. 

Of course, you want to attack food stains right away, to avoid the embarrassment of having food on your clothing. However, there’s another good reason to get out the Tide stick: food stains left unattended can ruin your clothes. Literally.

For example, anything with sugar in it that drips on fabric–and is left there–eventually eats through the fibers. Or it discolors the fabric in a way that can never be fixed. So don’t leave stains to chance. Always treat them on the spot.

Wash clothes on delicate cycle

Today’s washing machines are much more gentle on clothes than they used to be. This is especially true if you have a front loading machine or a top loader without a center agitator. 

However, if you have neither, then choose cold water plus the delicate cycle. This ensures that what you’re washing doesn’t get beat up too much during the wash, rinse and spin cycles.

Finally, use mesh lingerie bags for delicate items. All of my bras and bathing suits go in these lingerie bags before going in the washing machine.

Air dry your clothes

sweat smell out of clothes
Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

I got into the habit of hanging clothes up to dry to avoid having them shrink in the dryer. Turns out the dryer is bad for clothing in another way.

The heat of the dryer contributes to the breaking down of fibers in your clothing. This could make your clothes not last as long as you would like them to. 

If you must dry your clothes in the dryer, put the dryer on the coolest setting possible. But the best-case scenario is hanging clothes up to dry, especially delicates.

How to avoid wrinkles

Finally, to avoid wrinkles, try this trick. One, put clothes you intend to hang up in the dryer to start. Two, set a timer for five or so minutes. Three, pull clothes out after the timer goes off and hang them up.

This little bit of time should have helped to get the wrinkles out from the wash cycle. Plus, because the clothes didn’t spend as much time in the heat of the dryer, you likely haven’t done any damage that will shorten their lifespan.

Finally, invest in good hangers–I like these huggable hangers–so your clothes don’t get stretched out. The Costco hangers are the best. You can buy a box of 100 for not a lot of money.

Also, get yourself a foldable drying rack. We love this drying rack from Target.

Don’t overstuff your closets

dorm packing checklist closet organizer
Photo credit: Adobe Stock.

Recently, my husband and I went through a purge in our closet. He had just gotten a new job that required him to wear suits to work every day. To make room for his new suits, we had to make room in our closet where the business casual clothes he wore to his previous job were stored. 

We had crammed quite a bit of the clothing into this one closet. As we were pulling pieces out, we discovered, to our dismay, that much of that clothing was starting to get covered in mildew. 

Why? Because the clothes were so tightly packed into the small closet, no air could circulate between the clothes. And if anything had been put away the was the least bit damp, that was the perfect environment for mildew to grow. While I cleaned off his clothes as best I could, much of it ended up in the rag bin.

Dry cleaning shortens clothing lifespan

Dry cleaners use harsh chemicals to get clothes clean. I realize some clothes are dry clean only, according to their label. However, don’t overuse the dry cleaner if at all possible.

Also, with the aforementioned mildew problem in mind, do not keep any dry cleaned items in the plastic bags they come home in. Plastic does not allow for air circulation. And I’ve already explained the importance of that in keeping your clothes, well, healthy.

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