$1700! According to the U.S. Department of Labor that’s how much the average American family spent last year on clothing.
Clothing is a necessity, no doubt … we can’t exactly go running around naked. We need to look professional for our job. We need to be warm and protected. We want to dress clean and look nice.
But frankly, that’s a chunk of change I’d rather keep in my pocket.
Clothing, especially when buying quality, is expensive. Given the right care it will look better while you have it and last much longer.
Make smart clothes buying decisions.
The first thing you can do to save money on clothing is to make wise choices from the beginning.
1. Read labels before purchasing.
Every garment has a fabric care label sewn into the seam. Read it. Make sure you understand what is necessary to properly care for that garment. If dry cleaning is required, and you’re not willing or able (it gets expensive) to provide it, choose something else. Incorrectly cleaning a garment can cause major damage and is usually non-reversible.
2. Shop for durable clothing.
Many beautiful garments lack durability. Loosely knit sweaters snag easily. Flimsy fabrics fray and cause seams not to hold. Poor workmanship leads to clothing which quickly falls apart.
Learn to recognize the potential for problems and limit these type purchases.
You may need to pay more for better quality clothing, but it will cost less in the long run.
3. Buy the correct size.
Some garments can take the stress of fitting a bit tight, others not so much. If the fit is tight enough to rip seams and pop buttons, you’re obviously not going to get much wear for the money.
Wear clothing longer before washing.
Clothes take a beating, literally, every time they’re washed and dried. It also costs money just to run the washer, the dryer, and turn on the water. There is no real need to wash clothing as often as we do.
4. Don’t wash too often.
With each wash, a small part of every garment is lost. Don’t believe me? Look at your dryer lint trap. (I know you clean it regularly … don’t you?) What you see there are fibers from your clothing.
Assuming you work and live in a clean, cool environment, and with the exception of workout gear and undergarments, most clothing can be worn multiple times before laundering is necessary.
NOTE: Research for this post led me somewhere I never realized existed. Some denim aficionados (That’s a fancy word for people who really love denim.) firmly believe denim jeans should NEVER be washed. Whaaat? More about that: The Dirty Jeans Manifesto and Vogue: Why I Never Wash My Jeans and Maybe You Shouldn’t Either
5. Don’t dry clean too often.
Dry cleaning is expensive, and uses harsh solvents. Like any cleaning method, over time, clothing is weakened.
Limit trips to the dry cleaner. Between professional cleanings, consider using a fabric steamer, such as this Steamfast SF-407 Fabric Steamer. You’ll do less damage to your outfit and get that fresh-from-the-cleaner look for a fraction of the cost.
6. Wear underwear!
Not everyone does, so … just sayin’. This is especially important if you plan to wash less. Wearing undergarments will help keep outer garments clean.
Ladies, take a tip from the guys and wear undershirts to protect clothing from perspiration and other bodily fluids.
7. Change clothing when you return home.
Professional clothing for work or evening attire typically cost at least double that of more casual clothing. Often it also has more expensive and more time consuming cleaning requirements. Get into the habit of removing these clothes immediately upon your return home.
Don’t forget to also immediately hang or fold and put away your better clothing.
Don’t wear the same shoes day after day. They need time between wearings to air out which will reduce odor build up. The same is true of clothing which is not washed regularly, such as suits and coats.
Prevent damage to clothing in storage.
Proper storage of clothing is important to prevent damage. Correct storage also keeps items looking their best and ready to be worn without needing to first clean or iron.
9. Choose the right clothes hanger.
Thin, wire hangers take up much less space in the closet, and for this reason have their fan following, but they’re harsh on the clothes they hold and often too flimsy to hold heavier clothing, such as coats.
Other options include:
- thicker plastic or wood hangers which provide better support.
- shaped hangers are a good choice for coats and suits.
- cedar hangers; great for adding an aroma that moths hate.
- padded hangers which help keep clothes on the hanger and off the floor.
Or … you could choose no hanger at all.
10. Some clothing should never be hung.
Some clothing items, such as sweaters and knitwear, are easily stretched out of shape. To preserve their shape they should not be hung, but folded and laid flat.
11. Take care of leather accessories.
Leather is extremely durable and will last a lifetime if properly cared for.
Always remove dirt and grime from shoes before storing, then drop in a homemade shoe deodorizer sachet to combat odor. Stuff shoes with paper to help hold their shape.
For longer term storage, application of a good leather condition is also a good idea.
Because leather needs air circulation and to “breathe”, never store leather in plastic. Use breathable fabric bags or covers, boxes, or baskets.
12. Guard against critter infestation.
Good news! Moths which chew on wool garments and make ugly holes hate light. That’s why they are seldom found in your closet. They are more likely to attack clothing in storage where it’s dark and they’re undisturbed for long periods of time.
Wool clothing which is worn regularly and kept clean will likely never have a moth problem. It still doesn’t hurt to add a bit of extra protection. Moths are repelled by the strong smell of moth balls or cedar.
13. Special rules for long-term storage of clothing.
To prevent setting of stains and discourage pests, remove stains and odors and thoroughly clean all clothing prior to placing in storage.
Clothing should then be packed loosely and stored in a container or bag which allows air circulation. To prevent mold, mildew, and fading, storage should be in a cool, dry, dark place. See Clothing Storage Tips for more details.
NOTE: For long term storage of priceless items, such as family heirlooms, it is best to seek professional help.
Develop smart cleaning habits.
One of the quickest and easiest ways to damage clothing beyond repair is to clean it wrong. Correct cleaning methods don’t need to take more of your valuable time, it’s mostly a matter of creating better habits.
14. Sort clothing before washing.
Sorting clothes for washing is done because different colors or different types of clothing are best washed different ways. It also helps prevent bleeding of colors. Washing everything together may work most of the time, but once you turn an entire load of clothing pink, you can never go back.
At a minimum, start with at least three piles: whites, darks, and colors.
Some like to go further and sort by fabric weight or type of clothing, such as separate piles for jeans, towels, and delicate items. I don’t do this, but can see the benefit.
For example, towels give off a lot of lint. If you have clothing which naturally attracts link, such as corduroy, it wouldn’t be wise to wash the two together.
Thin fabrics dry much quicker than heavier items. If they are washed separately, the lighter weight clothing doesn’t need to spend as much time in the dryer.
15. Close zippers before washing.
Rows of tiny little metal teeth … that’s what a zipper is. When you leave it open, those teeth are pushed and shoved and drug over every other piece of clothing in the lot. Closing zippers before washing will prevent snagged clothing and will avoid damage to the zipper itself as well.
16. Wash clothing inside out.
Over time washing causes wear to clothing. Wear can be made less noticeable by turning clothes inside out. It’s extra work, so I don’t do it for everything, but some clothing benefit more than others.
- For T-shirts with graphics on them, there will be less wear to the graphic.
- For material which is prone to pilling, the pilling will be created on the inside of the garment.
- Jeans, because of how the fabric is made, will fade less if washed inside out.
If you hang your clothes outside to dry, leave them turned inside out. This keeps them from being faded by the sun.
17. Wash bras by hand.
Sports bras excluded, all other bras should be hand washed. It’s not difficult, and you’ll never again need to see the sad, warped shape of a padded bra which has been drug through the wash and dry cycle, fabric shrunk and pads all bunched up inside.
Grab a bucket, or even a large kitchen pan, add warm water and toss in a bit of laundry soap. Swish the bra around in the water, then allow to soak 30 minutes. Remove and gently squeeze dry. Roll it inside a towel and squeeze again to get even more water out. Never wring or twist harshly. Hang to dry.
18. Always rinse swimsuits after a dip in the pool.
Chlorine in the pool is the same as chlorine bleach you use in the wash. Eventually (even if you do rinse) it is going to take its toll on your suit fading and weakening the fabric. Rinsing after swimming will make it last longer.
19. Wash delicate items inside a pillowcase.
Keep an old pillowcase beside the washing machine for delicate items such as a lace blouse, lingerie, nylon stockings, or other items labeled ‘hand wash’. I prefer a king size pillowcase because it’s large enough to tie a knot at the top to close it. If you’re using a smaller pillowcase, tie it shut with a hair band before tossing it into the wash.
20. Use cold water.
Unless you’ve got an extremely dirty load of wash, hot water really isn’t necessary. Washing in cold water saves energy and prevents most colors from running.
21. Use less detergent.
Obviously, the goal of detergent manufacturers is to sell as much as possible. For a normal load, I use about a fourth of what is recommended and our clothing still turns out clean. If I have a load which is dirtier than normal I use slightly more.
22. Learn to soak clothing.
I’m not sure why it took me until I was well into adulthood to develop this habit, but it’s easy and it has saved so many pieces of clothing.
Soaking is useful for removing stains from clothing, and it’s the best method I’ve found for removing the smell of mildew.
Most washing machines have a ‘Soak’ setting, if not you’ll need to hand soak. I load the washer, add a standard amount of detergent, and set it to soak. I leave it to soak for several hours, returning later to run it through a regular wash cycle.
23. Go easy with the iron.
There are gentler ways to remove wrinkles from clothing.
Often I could care less about a few wrinkles, but on the rare occasion when I do, I use a fabric steamer, such as this Steamfast SF-407 Fabric Steamer. With a steamer there is no risk of scorching material, no risk if it’s accidentally left on, and I trust the kids to use it as well.
24. Skip the dryer.
It’s economical and much easier on the clothing, but … the dryer is so convenient. And those towels so warm when I remove them. I have to admit, even though I know it would be better for the clothing to skip this step, often I don’t. I guess we all have our limits, don’t we? 🙂
Learn basic clothing repair.
25. Re-dye faded clothing.
I use this for black clothing, but it would work for other colors as well. Grab a box of black Rit dye and give everything a dye bath. It’s easy and makes everything look new again. It also helps all your blacks look the same shade of black – a bonus if you want tops and bottoms to match.
26. Learn the basics of sewing.
Even if you don’t have a sewing machine, there are many repairs you can make by hand. If you don’t know how, learn. The Internet is a wonderful place, and Google is your friend. 🙂 I’ll get you started. Here are a few YouTube videos which teach some of the basics of using a needle and thread:
- Sew on a button.
- Darn a hole in a sock.
- Hem a skirt by hand.
- Mend a torn coat lining.
- Replace a drawstring.
How do you save money by taking care of the clothing you have? Leave me a comment below.