All the clothing we stock at Small Eco Steps is fair trade, made from organic cotton produced ethically in a way that doesn't harm the producers or ecosystems where they live and work. Chemicals which are carcinogenic, hormone disruptors or which create polluting run-off are omitted. These chemicals would normally be used to make clothing more resistant to bobbling, fade or creasing; they also cause long term harm to the people who work with them day to day and the land around where they live.
Making clothing without these chemicals isn't a problem - in order to be GOTS-certified organic, clothing needs to be strong and durable and goes through testing to ensure this is the case. But it does mean that extra care is needed in order to give the clothing the long, bright life that we want.
We investigated why it was that some second hand clothing on sale sites was bobbled, shrunk or very faded, whilst others were still bright and in great condition, and came up with a guide which we hope will help you keep clothing bright and strong, so that it can be passed on to others as it is outgrown.
1) Natural Drying
The biggest thing that you can do to protect against shrinkage is to keep it out of tumble dryers! Children's clothing hates tumble dryers, even moreso with organic cotton. Anyone who has seen the power of the Sun to make stubborn stains on white clothing disappear can appreciate that it might not be the best thing for clothes you want to stay bright; we recommend drying inside out on the line.
2) Optical Brighteners
Many of the "big brands" of laundry products use synthetic chemicals called optical brighteners in their formulations.
Optical brighteners are a little bit sneaky in that they don't have anything to do with cleaning; they transform UV light so that the yellow is minimised and this makes the items appear whiter to our eyes than they would otherwise. They have the potential to irritate skin, they don't readily biodegrade and they bioaccumulate - this means that they can cause lasting harm in aquatic systems.
3) Washing Machines
I would never, ever think about throwing my best and loveliest clothing around. But every time it goes into a washing machine, that's exactly what happens, over and over again it is tossed and tumbled. The trade off we make in the huge amount of time saved by using a washing machines is that it does batter clothing around; turning clothing inside out before washing minimises the abrasion to the outer surfaces, thus reducing pilling.
Minimise washing where you can - sometimes force of habit makes you pop things in the wash when it isn't needed at all.
We asked some of our customers who said they never experienced fade, shrinkage or bobbling for their tips; here are their responses:
- "When my baby was born, I switched to using Bio-D products because they were better for the environment and cruelty-free. I ruined a lot of clothes and nappies in the beginning by tumble drying, as I didn't know it was so bad for little clothes! Now I wash and dry clothes inside out, drying on the line. We wear lots of Frugi, Kite and Toby Tiger and when other people complain of fading, we find our items are fine."
- "When my son was small, every item of clothing would be stained and grubby, so throwing everything in the wash was normal. When he reached 3, I realised I was washing things like pyjamas after one wear for no reason at all, and needing more pairs. Now I just wash them every few days and only need 2 pairs, and they stay in better condition that way too."
- "When I first wash new clothing, I add 1/4 cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle; this helps to lock in dyes and prevent fade. I also make sure that I cold rinse stained clothing (especially blood & chocolate) as soon as possible- hot washes can make these stains set in."
We are also often asked about the backing on appliques - appliques are glued in place for stitching with a glue that is water soluble - thats why appliques often feel stiff at first and then soften after the first wash. Because the hard glue doesn't feel great against the skin, manufacturers will usually stick a backing to the inside to protect skin from the hard edges of the glue. This is designed to fall off as the glue softens so don't worry when it does. Similarly, if the applique doesn't feel soft, or the backing uncomfortable, another wash may be needed to remove the glue.
We would love to hear your tips too -send them over to firstname.lastname@example.org