The average article of modern clothing lasts about 2-1/2 years before it is worn out and must be discarded. That’s a relatively short time. When you consider all the resources and energy that must be spent to manufacture a quality piece of clothing, it’s a definite waste. And when you find something you really like, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to replace it with something similar to the old, worse-for-wear item. But your wardrobe doesn’t need to wear out so fast. Use these tips to learn how to make clothes last longer. They’ll help you to get the most out of your wardrobe. You’ll save money to boot. And who doesn’t want that?

Get more out of your wardrobe through proper cleaning and storage.

We all want to have nice things. Clothing included. But nice things come with a price. That’s why we must make them last. No one wants to waste money on a primarily disposable wardrobe. We all require those basic go-to pieces that we can wear for years. But in order to wear anything for years, we need to learn how to care for it.

Cleaning and storage are the biggest considerations in getting your clothes to last longer. They are so fundamental to every wardrobe that you might not even think about them. It’s certainly easy to take them for granted. But proper clothing care and closet storage can really extend the life of your wardrobe and save you money in the long run.

How to make clothes last longer through cleaning.

Too much cleaning, too little cleaning, cleaning with the wrong fluids — it’s all bad. Poor cleaning practices will shorten the lifespan of your clothes. Proper cleaning and maintenance, on the other hand, can extend the longevity of anything, including your clothing. Here’s how.

1. Tackle spots and stains right away:

 remove spots on clothes with a laundry stain remover pen.
Remove spots on clothes with a laundry stain remover pen.

Stains come out easier when you treat them right away. The longer you let them set, the harder it is to get them out. If you are in the habit of doing your laundry once per week, be certain not to let a spot sit on the fabric that long without treatment. Get into the habit of carrying a laundry stain removal pen with you. That way, you can treat problems as soon as they arise. A laundry detergent pen works well for most fabrics that can be cleaned with water. A non-water-based spot remover specific to the type of stain may be necessary for suede, leather, or other materials that can’t get wet. If you’re unsure, always test for colorfastness in an unnoticeable area.

2. Don’t over-clean your clothes:

Too much machine washing can weaken the fibers of your clothes. This is especially true when it comes to the dryer. The heat from dryers weakens the fibers of your clothes. To understand this fully, all you need to do is look at your lint trap. That dryer lint used to be part of your clothes and was essential to shoring up the fabric. The more lint you see, the weaker your fabric has become. This is also true of dry cleaning. To cut down on the need for cleaning the clothes, select appropriate underwear to absorb most of your body oils and perspiration. With proper undergarments, you may be able to get by with fewer washings and just a spot cleaning in between cleanings.

Front loading washer and dryer cleaning clothes.
Don’t over wash your clothes or dry them too often in the dryer. Consider line drying clothing to avoid weakening the fibers.

3. Use the right temperature:

Always read the label on the clothes for proper washing temperature. If it says machine wash cold, like colors, don’t put it in hot water. Likewise, if it says hand wash or dry clean only, believe it. There’s no faster way to ruin a garment than through incorrect washing. The one exception is the label that says machine wash in hot water. Clothes that can be washed in hot water can also be washed in cold. In fact, the garment industry recommends washing clothes in the coldest water possible for your clothes. Clothing washed in cold water sees less fading, shrinking, or wrinkling. Using cold water is also more eco-friendly because it saves energy.

4. Sort your laundry:

The agitating, tumbling, and rubbing against other garments can cause fading, stretching, pulling, and other damage to your clothes. Turn your clothes inside out before washing them if possible. To minimize damage during machine washing, sort by type as well as color. That means jeans and similar durable cottons get washed together. (Remember to zip them first to avoid snagging). Towels go in another load. Delicates should always be washed separately. Don’t forget to use a mesh laundry bag for delicate items. It will help protect them from wear and tear in the washer. Those same delicates should be hung on a clothesline or rack to dry rather than a machine.

Mesh laundry bag with delicate lingerie inside.
Use a mesh laundry bag to protect delicate lingerie.

5. Don’t overdo it:

Watch how much detergent and fabric softener you use. Most people, myself included, tend to use too much laundry detergent when washing clothes. More soap does not necessarily equal cleaner. In fact, excess soap won’t get rinsed out and can leave a dingy residue on your clothes. Try half the detergent next time you do wash. You can boost the cleaning power by adding 1/2 cup of baking soda to the load. You’ll be amazed at how clean your clothes get with this simple trick.

Fabric softeners are important can help clothes last longer, reduce wrinkles and static cling, increase stain resistance, and make fabrics feel softer. They work by coating fibers with lubricants that allow fibers to slide against each other more easily. But don’t overdo it. Use only the recommended amount in your wash and never use them with towels. The coating will reduce the absorbency of the towel.

6. Skip the iron:

Irons are hot and we’ve already discussed how heat can damage fabric — especially stretchy fabrics like Lycra and Spandex. But you can make clothes made from any type of fabric last longer by skipping the iron or limiting it to light touchups only. Use fabric softener to reduce the number of wrinkles to start with and then lightly iron on the coolest setting that will do the job. You can usually use a setting lower than the one indicated on the iron for your type of fabric and still get the wrinkles out. A built-in closet ironing board is very convenient for this type of light ironing. Available in pull-out or drawer styles, they slip away when not in use but slide out with ease when needed.

Laundry room with built-in drawer style ironing board next to sink.
This laundry room is equipped with a built-in drawer style ironing board next to the sink.

How to make clothes last longer through proper storage.

Storage technique is equally important as proper cleaning when it comes to making your clothes last longer. In fact, a big part of closet organization has to do with maintaining your wardrobe. After all, clothing storage is the primary purpose of the closet. With proper clothing care and closet storage, you can really extend the life of your wardrobe and save money. The key to making this work is how your store your clothes in the closet.

1. Know your fabrics and use shelves for knits:

Many articles of clothing are better off folded and stored on a closet shelf or drawer rather than hung from a hanger. But you first need to understand what you have in terms of fabric before putting things away. Most of your clothing, exceptions being leather, suedes, etc., are made from either woven or knit material. Woven clothing can be hung from a hanger. This includes your trousers, blouses, button-down dress shirts, etc. Most of what’s left will be clothes made from knitted fabric. This includes sweaters, polo shirts, lace garments, pull-overs, and more. Always fold your knitted garments and place them on a shelf or in a drawer.

There is a good reason for this. According to Wikipedia, “In weaving, threads are always straight, running parallel either lengthwise (warp threads) or crosswise (weft threads). By contrast, the yarn in knitted fabrics follows a meandering path (a course), forming symmetric loops (also called bights) symmetrically above and below the mean path of the yarn. These meandering loops can be easily stretched in different directions giving knit fabrics much more elasticity than woven fabrics. Depending on the yarn and knitting pattern, knitted garments can stretch as much as 500%”. That’s a lot of stretching. Hanging a knit from a hanger will ultimately result in that garment being stretched out to the point that you won’t be able to use it anymore. That’s why you should always include closet sections with many shelves and/or closet drawers in your storage plan.

Folded knits on closet shelves.
Knits should always be folded and placed on a shelf or in a drawer, never hung in a closet.

2. Invest in good quality hangers:

Now that you know the difference between woven and knitted fabric, be sure to hang all your woven garments from good-quality hangers. Invest in hangers with wood or plush arms. Especially avoid using metal dry cleaners’ hangers. These inexpensive hangers are meant for quick trips transporting your clothes from the cleaners to your home without wrinkling the newly cleaned garments. They are not an appropriate long-term storage solution. Use a quality hanger specific to the item you intend to hang. Pants should have a bar if you like to fold them, or a grip to hang them from the cuff. Other types of clothing, like skirts, may require clips to secure the garment on the hanger.

Once you’ve got everything hung on an appropriate hanger, don’t pack the closet too tight. Cramming the clothes in so there’s no breathing space will result in wrinkling. This completely defeats the purpose of the hanger in the first place. If your closet is over-crowded, you either need to purge, put some out-of-season items away elsewhere, or redesign the closet so that you have more of the kind of storage that you need.

Garments in closet hung from wooden hangers.
Woven garments should be hung on sturdy, good-quality hangers like these wooden hangers.

3. No plastic:

Fibers need to breathe. That’s why you should never store clothes in plastic. The plastic coverings from the dry cleaners are meant for temporary transport only. You should remove them when you get home because the plastic traps moisture. This, in turn, can cause mildew, odors, and color changes. Store your clothes in breathable garment bags to let airflow in and out. Add scented pieces like cedar and lavender sachets to keep clothes smelling fresh and discourage insects.

4. Discourage insects:

Cedar and lavender will repel insects naturally. These scents are available as shelf paper, drawer liners, sachets, discs, and more. In fact, whole closets can be made from cedar. Tools like these can be very important if you live in an area that is prone to insect problems. However, simply cleaning the closet with white vinegar will discourage pests as well. Making sure that your clothes are clean, free from food spills and body oils before you put them away to eliminate problems with moths. If you are ordering a new closet system, you can request a cedar plywood backer board behind all the components to convert a laminate closet system into an insect-repelling cedar closet.

Custom cedar closet
This custom closet keeps clothes fresh and organized. It also discourages insects because the closet walls are lined with cedar planks

5. Learn mending basics:

Repair your clothes before putting them away. That means sewing loose or missing buttons, darning small holes in knits, repairing seams, etc. This type of routine maintenance will dramatically extend the life of each garment. If your favorite sweater or blouse loses a button or has a seam that’s come undone, fix the problem instead of retiring that item of clothing. If threading a needle is a challenge for you or you simply don’t like to sew, seek assistance from your local dry cleaners. Many have an alterations service available that will also handle small repairs.

Mending a small hole in a sweater
Mending your clothes on a regular basis will dramatically extend their life because this maintenance will fix little problems before they become big ones.

6. Off-season storage rules:

If you must store off-season clothing outside your main closet due to space considerations, pay special attention to where and how you pack these clothes. Only store clothing that is clean, mended if needed, and in otherwise good condition. Carefully pack and place your out-of-season clothes in a cool, dark, dry place. Avoid moisture-prone areas to discourage mold growth. This will rule out a good number of basements, attics, and even some self-storage facilities. Avoid areas with excess humidity at all costs. Under-the-bed storage boxes work well in the bedroom as long as they aren’t plastic. Simply moving some clothing to a seldom-used guest room or another closet in the home is another strategy. Wherever you put them, be sure to keep these clothes out of sunlight to prevent them from fading.

Put an end to the disposable wardrobe by following these tips.

Nothing lasts forever. But your clothes can last a long time if you take care of them. This is especially true for your quality (aka expensive) pieces. The importance of proper closet storage and cleaning to maintain these clothes cannot be overstated. Make the most of these tips and consider a custom storage solution to make your clothes last longer and help you save more money on the clothes that you wear by having adequate closet shelves plus hanging space to store your clothes safely. With proper cleaning and storage, there’s no reason your wardrobe can’t last many years.

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