Thursday, January 28, 2010

How to extend the life of your clothes

If you're like me before I had my financial epiphany, shopping for clothes would have been a frequent activity. While most of those purchases were really 'wants', some could definitely be classified as 'needs'. Why did I need to routinely buy new clothes? It wasn't that I was deliberately hard on them, but as a recovering germophobe - I've been known to partake of very little water in order to avoid public restrooms! - I just washed them too often, causing the colors to fade or the material to shrink or disintegrate in the dryer.

When I resolved to refrain from buying any clothes for the entire year, I had to make a plan to make sure the clothes I had would last me a while. So I investigated methods on preserving your clothes and realized that others could benefit from those findings as well. And it doesn't cost you extra either:

1) Line dry - This might be hard if you're living in an apartment or if you live in a neighborhood with official or unofficial 'no-hanging' rules. But line drying is not only gentle on your clothes, it also uses a free energy source and therefore, minimizes your utility bills. You can even line dry in the winter - just expect it to take longer than usual. If you have no space for a clothes line, a drying rack like the one pictured on the right offers an efficient indoor solution.

2) Prep clothes before washing - Washers and dryers are rough on your clothes. Each wash will cause your colors to fade and increases the chances of snags or pulls from zippers or hooks on other clothes. Minimize the damage by pulling up zippers and fastening hooks and eyelets. Wash anything with fine detailing inside-out. And always air dry sweaters on a flat surface.

3) Read care labels before washing or drying - The colors will run on some items and ruin your lighter colored clothing. Consider washing them separately or by hand. Other items are dry clean only. Personally I try to limit buying stuff labeled 'dryclean only' because while dry cleaning is expensive and a hassle, the chemicals used are also not too good for your health. If you end up dry cleaning, make sure you don't store your clothes in the generic plastic bags from the drycleaner's as they tend to trap in moisture.

4) Wear protective covers where appropriate - Aprons and bibs (for your infants) were invented for a reason. Use them for their intended tasks and you'll have less work later when you don't have to remove that oil splash or marinara stain.

5) Learn to mend pulls and pills - Too much drying can shrink your pants or cause hems to come undone. You could have a tailor re-hem them or you can save the $15-$20 if you can do it yourself - you don't need a sewing machine to do a simple hem. Also, invest in an inexpensive tool like a knit picker or snag-repair needle to fix pulled threads or snags on clothes. Make your sweaters look like new again by removing fabric pills (the fuzzy balls that appear where fabric can rub together) on sweaters, using a gadget called a pill-shaver or a fine toothed comb. Be very gentle if you use the latter. My baby's infant comb multipurposes as a pill-shaver for me.

6) Be gentle on your delicates - Secure hooks and wash underthings in a mesh fabric bag on the gentle cycle. Always air dry even if the label says that it can go in the dryer as the dryer heat can deform the foam on bra cups or cause damage to the elasticity.

Got any other tips on making your clothes last longer? Help me out by sharing them here.

Clothespegs image by tuareg


  1. Thanks for the overdrying tip on tip #5. I knew my pants were shrinking! Luckily, I've learned to mend and add a little flower patch to pocket corners.

  2. My advice, avoid wearing them! Haha.

    Uh oh, now I got an article idea... are nudists extreme frugalists???

  3. @Little House: Glad I could be of help:) Thanks for the flower patch idea! I think I'll use that on my favorite white shirt on which I managed a minor tear.

    @Ryan: lol! they're probably not motivated by frugality.

  4. You're not buying clothes for a year?! Holy cow! I admire your fortitude. Not sure I could do it. I did create a clothes budget of $20 a month that rolls over, so since I don't buy clothes very often, I will at least have a set amount to spend when the urge strikes me. Like you I have had to get serious about reading labels, though. Too much care means I wont buy it. It is really aggravating and wasteful to get the wash instructions wrong and ruin something, but I have done it more times than I care to admit.

  5. @Tracy: It's not a big feat really. I have 3 sets of clothes as I live in an area with a seasonal climate. So I would theoretically only be needing each set to last me 4 months on average. Besides I have way too many clothes right now and I also stocked up at the post Christmas sales. And unlike you, having even a small budget would only weaken my resolve. I need to go cold turkey!

  6. I am not a big shopper myself, nor do I enjoy an overstuffed closet but I always find myself buying clothes, especially when I need it. I am trying to figure out how to budget ahead for it, like a year in advance because there is always a closeout special after the season is over.

    Howevfer, taking care of your clothes, that's one way to stretch the budget without spending anything. I too do the line-drying option but almost always with just socks, undies, towels, and such because they take little time to dry.

    I never knew that overdrying could make my clothes expire faster. I will have to keep that in mind with the fancier clothes I keep. Keep these little tips coming.

  7. Nice helpful article Thrifty Gal! I have WAY too many clothes, it's annoying. My wife buys so many articles of items too, and our large walk in closet is packed.

    Is it possible to install a "Tweet" button so I can help tweet your post? If you have one, I can't find it.


  8. @Mark: Thanks for stopping by. Glad I could be of help. I've heard that winter stuff goes on sale around the beginning of March. I'll keep an eye out for them.

    @FS: I can see how having a big walk-in closet can contribute to the problem. I have to constantly purge but still have too much stuff!

    And I didn't have a retweet button. But just installed one. Thanks for the suggestion :)

  9. "But line drying is not only gentle on your clothes, it also uses a free energy source and therefore, minimizes your utility bills."
    The money you can save with a cloths line is significant. Towels are the best item to dry. They cost abut 25 cents per load in electricity plus they smell better. If they are a little stiff put them in the dryer for a few seconds.


Have something to say? Disagree with me? Please leave a comment as I'm always looking to expand my horizons.