Monday, April 28, 2008

Improving the lifespan of cotton knit tops

I estimate that about 20% of my wardrobe is knit cotton tops (T-shirts, tanks, turtlenecks), so it is a category that cries for attention from the green consumer. Because I wear (and wash) them frequently, cotton knits need to be replaced more often than my wool blazer and dressy black trousers. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the tendency of cotton knits to shrink, lose fibers and fade in the laundry cuts their lifetime for work and dressy occasions. For this post, I'll put my PhD-in-textiles hat on and offer a few suggestions for buying and maintaining these wardrobe staples.

1) Don't be a purist; a little spandex goes a long way. Adding a touch of spandex (often listed as the brand name "Lycra") adds stability, stretch recovery and can reduce shrinkage. If you air-dry your clothes (and you should, see below), you'll find the shorter drying time a plus, as well. Yes, you can find organic cotton T-shirts with Lycra online and at your local REI store, if you have one.

2) Wash each garment less frequently. I know, I know, some of you are thinking "ew"! But just as some folks have gone overboard with the disinfectant wipes and sprays, some people are too quick to toss their washables in the hamper. Here's a baby step: if the T-shirt you are wearing during the day is still unstained at bedtime, wear it to bed. By doing this, you are halving the environmental load of maintaining that shirt. (Bonus: you won't need to buy pajama tops.)

3) Wash your cotton knits in cold water on a gentle cycle. Unless your clothing is heavily soiled (say, after a day of gardening). It doesn't need any more, and the agitator gives clothes a real beating -- that's why you're not supposed to stick your hand in the machine when it's washing.

3) Air dry your shirts, instead of tumble drying. While cotton can withstand high heat, the tumbling -- like agitation when washing -- results in loss of fibers over time, which is why your T's seem to get thinner and thinner. Line-drying your shirts not only saves energy, it helps improve your T-shirt's "wearage". If you want to avoid the wrinkles and stiff hand that can plague air-dried fabrics, go ahead and give them a quick (5-minute) tumble in the dryer on medium heat.

1 comment:

MadeByAmanda said...

And here all this time I thought I was just being lazy, wearing my tee-shirts to bed. :)