Thrifty threads

21 clever ways to make your favourite clothes last longer

Limited edition Valentine II dress by Kelsey Genna, handmade in New Zealand


We all know about separating whites from coloured clothing, but it also pays to sort your wash by texture. In the machine, any heavy-duty fabrics such as denim will bash away at light cotton or soft fabrics like tencel, modal or viscose. And unless you want to do time with the lint brush – keep those fluffy towels away from anything dark!

The longer you leave a stain, the more likely it is to set, so if you spill tomato sauce or salad dressing down your shirt, treat it immediately before the stain sets in. Different stains require different fixes, so look up the best remedy online or check out stain guru Shannon Lush’s excellent book Stainless.

Heat ages fabric fibres, so set your washing machine to cold (you’ll also save on power) and avoid the dryer (this is especially crucial for fabrics with stretch). Minimise ironing by folding washing as you take it off the line. Revive lightly wrinkled items by hanging them in the bathroom while you shower and letting the steam relax any folds.

Zip zippers and button buttons before chucking things in the wash, as these rough edges wear down other articles in the machine. Hook bras to stop them latching on and creating pulls – or even better, wash delicates in a mesh lingerie bag or old, soft, light-coloured pillowcase.

The process of washing your clothes can be harder on fabric than wearing them, so freshen up items where you can. Storing clothing on the floor will cause it to take on moisture and get smellier more quickly, so hang or fold items – or at the very least, sling them over a chair. Refresh items by hanging them on the line overnight or in the bathroom for a quick steam.

If light-coloured clothing becomes dirty, wash immediately or hang it up until wash day. Pale colours are susceptible to mould when left in the bottom of moist laundry baskets – especially in muggy weather. Hang whites in direct sunlight to make the most of the sun’s natural bleaching action.

Light, stretchy fabric dries in the shape it’s hung in. Avoid misshapen knits by draping them over a clotheshorse rather than hanging with pegs, or drying them flat on a towel.

8 Many fabrics labelled ‘dryclean only’ will stand up fine to gentle handwashing. Use an eco wool washing liquid or dissolve gentle soap flakes in hot water and leave it to cool before dunking your delicates. Avoid wringing or scrunching, especially with silks, and hang up to drip-dry.


9 Leather and stretch fabrics need to be ‘rested’ so they can return to their original shape, so don’t wear the same item on consecutive days. Giving your bra a 24-hour break lets elastic bounce back and prevents prematurely saggy straps. Airing out shoes for a day helps remove moisture which can otherwise break down leather.

10 Don’t drive in your best shoes. The motion of your feet against the pedals causes heels to wear away – keep a pair of casual slip-ons in the car instead.

11 Got something delicate that’s prone to taking on body odours? Wear a slip or camisole underneath and wash this instead.

12 Separate work from play clothes. Change out of your smart duds at the end of the day before doing anything around the house. You can relax and enjoy cooking a lot more if you’re not worrying about splashes, or your clothes absorbing cooking scents.

13 Moisture causes clothing to take on whiffy smells, so keeping fabric dry helps prolong its life. Invest in a classic shower proof jacket or parka for bad weather rather than making a dash through the rain in your smart clothes.

14 Dress like a screen siren: apply deodorant, perfume and hair spray before you put on clothes! Alcohol and other chemicals can cause discolouration and staining – the aluminium content of deodorant is a notorious cause of armpit marks.


15 Don’t hang knits as this can stretch the shoulders. Instead, fold over the lower rung of a hanger or store on a ventilated shelf.

16 Leather cracks when overly dry and wears out quickly when overly damp. Regular polishing keeps the moisture balance right and prevents dirt becoming ingrained. Stuff newspaper inside wet shoes to wick away moisture, or prop them on the bottom rung of the heated towel rail.

17 Give infrequently washed clothes such as men’s suits or coats a quick brush after wearing. This rids them of dead skin or crumbs, which are gourmet treats for bugs.

18 Make sure clothes are clean before storing them away. Dirt, dust, food stains and body oils all attract bugs. Include a natural moth deterrent such as cedar wood or aromatic herbs such as bay leaves, lavender, thyme, rosemary or cloves.

19 Don’t store clothes in drycleaners’ plastic as it traps moisture, causing discolouration or mould. Use breathable fabric clothing bags instead, and include a couple of recycled silica gel sachets to wick away moisture and a few bay leaves to repel moths. If your house is prone to mould, air out stored clothing several times each season, including vacuuming out your storage cupboard.

20 Turn jeans inside out before washing and dry in the shade. For more on making favourite denim last longer, go to www.good.net.nz/jeans

21 Periodically clear out your wardrobe to save it from becoming overstuffed. Take any clean, well made items you’re tired of wearing, and store away with bay leaves, or other moth repellent, ready for another season.

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