8 Ways to Help Your Clothes Last Longer

by Kentin Waits on 7 March 2014 4 comments

If you've gone shopping for clothes lately, you know that making a few new additions to your wardrobe can involve dropping some serious cash. I mean, who decided that regular button-up oxford shirts are worth $45 each? And on what remote mist-covered island are monks weaving denim that makes jeans worth $155 a pair? (See also: Refresh Your Wardrobe for Under $25)

As the price of clothing goes up, so does my interest in doing whatever I can to stay out of clothing stores. But regardless of how much you spend on your clothes, making them last longer is just a sound part of good frugal strategy. Thankfully, there are some very effective steps you can take to help keep your duds looking good and wearing well.

1. Buy Quality

First, let me stress that higher quality doesn't always have to mean a higher price tag. To help your clothing last longer, start by learning how to spot better made products. Check the fabric content, the quality of stitching, and look for reinforced seams, and dense weaves. Within the parameters of your budget, begin to consider each piece of clothing you buy as an investment and choose pieces that will last year after year. (see also: Wardrobe Basics Worth Investing In)

2. Rotate

If you're like me, you tend to gravitate toward a few select clothing items and just wear them to death. But this approach can lead to a threadbare wardrobe in no time at all. Rotate shoes, suits, jeans, and other pieces to let them air out, avoid wear and tear, and give them a break from the constant wash and dry cycle.

3. Treat Stains Fast

Stains are a part of life, but the faster you treat them the less likely they are to permanently turn your clothing into abstract art. Stain pens and wipes are easy to use and convenient to carry in your purse or the glove compartment of your car. If you're treating a stain on-the-go, just make sure to follow the directions carefully and then pre-treat more thoroughly and launder quickly when you get home. Not sure how to treat different types of stains? Check out this handy stain removal chart from Martha Stewart Living. And for stains on clothing that are specifically grease and oil-based, review these stain removal tips.

4. Wash Less Frequently

Some items like socks, underwear, and swimwear should get a thorough washing after each use, but other items don't really need it. Instead of automatically tossing jeans, sweatshirts, and sweaters in the "to-wash" pile after a single wear, spot-treat any stains, let items air-dry, and fold. You can usually get three or four wears between washing.

5. Use Less Detergent

Follow the amount guidelines on most detergent bottles and you'll be sudsing your clothes to within an inch of their lives. Remember, more detergent doesn't equal cleaner clothes. On the contrary, too much soap makes it difficult to get a thorough rinse — and that makes it much easier for dirt and oils from our skin to stick to fabric. (See also: 5 DIY Laundry Detergents)

6. Lighten the Load

As tempting as it is to make laundry day shorter by stuffing the washer to the brim, crammed loads can damage our clothes. First, overstuffed machines don't clean and rinse clothes as effectively. Second, when machines are packed too densely, clothes rub together constantly during the wash and rinse cycles and that wears out fabrics.

7. Avoid Over-Bleaching

Chlorine bleach is caustic and will damage nearly any fabric in the wrong concentration. Make sure to use the right amount of bleach and dilute it properly with water. Typically, bleach stains on clothing result from washing machine bleach dispensers that aren't rinsed out completely, accidental spilling and splashing, and bleach that's added to laundry in the wrong concentration. If you're unsure how to whiten and brighten safely, check out the specifics on how to bleach your clothing.

8. Read and Follow the Care Tags

It's important to read the care instructions on clothing carefully and choose the correct water temperature for laundry. Hot water and extreme dryer heat can set untreated stains and cause shrinking and discoloration in some fabrics. When in doubt, hedge your bet by washing in cold water and air drying or drying on a low heat setting — it's much less likely to damage fabric. (See also: What's in Your Dryer Sheets and Fabric Softener?)

If you need proof of how the wrong laundry cycle can chew up your clothes, take a trip to your local thrift store. Sprinkled throughout the inventory of good used clothing, you'll find the inevitable "oops!" item — the men's XL wool sweater that looks like it was tailored for a toddler (no doubt the result of an unfortunate machine wash-and-dry mishap). When I see these items, I can't help but cringe a little for the original owner who surely kicked himself as he opened the dryer door.

New clothing is like anything else we buy — it represents an output of our cash and cash is essentially a token of our time and labor. With retail prices creeping up in this category like most others, caring for our clothes is really just for caring for our budgets and bottom-lines. Every good year we can get out of a shirt, a fleece pullover, or a pair of skivvies, is money in the bank.

Have you had a regrettable laundry moment? What tips and tricks do you use to help your clothes last longer?

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Guest's picture

#1 is incredibly important. It really is the foundation for all of the other tips. If you start with a higher quality garment, it will be easier to take care and make last for several seasons. If you start with a cheaper quality garment, it's going to start falling apart the first season, especially if you wear it a lot.

I will pass this on to my clients. Thanks.

Guest's picture

In my opinion the most important advice is the firts. Nowadays the clothes are so cheap (at least in my country)but they are also so bad quality.

Guest's picture

Air dry your clothes - not only does this make your items last longer (especially items with stretch, i.e. jeans with stretch should never be put in the dryer if you want them to last), but it also cuts your electricity bill at the same time!

#1 is THE most important. I have some quality items that I wear at least biweekly that I've had over 7 years that don't look faded or worn in the least (these aren't all expensive but are mostly mid-range items well constructed of quality materials, some even purchased second-hand)-- making the cost per wear much lower than a 'cheap' item that falls apart quickly.

Guest's picture
Catseye

Another good tip is to avoid putting clothing in the dryer. Get an old-fashioned drying rack and over-the-door clothing hooks to dry items on hangers. I still use the dryer but mostly for towels and bedding.