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The rise of the ‘no-wash’ revolution

A growing cohort of people have joined the ‘no-wash’ movement, opting to cut back on doing laundry to reduce their environmental impact and help their clothes last longer.

Resale, rental, regeneration – you name it. In 2023, there’s no shortage of ways for the style-obsessed to ensure we’re being as conscious with our consumerism as possible.

However, as planet positive as these options are, the world is still drowning in fabric, and to truly move away from throwaway fashion’s clutches, working to increase the lifespan of what we already have is our best bet.

This is no easy feat in the digital age, where trends come and go at rapid speed.

Disposability is widely accepted. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which endorses waste reduction, we’re currently buying 60% more garments than we did a decade ago, but we’re only keeping each item for half as long. How can we treat the contents of our wardrobes with more care and a heightened sense of circularity?

The answer could be the ‘no-wash’ revolution.

Originating with hair in 2014 (water was still in, but shampoo was out), the exacerbation of the climate crisis in the years since has turned people’s attention to laundry.

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As a result, a growing cohort have newly joined the movement, opting to cut back on how many loads they do due to concerns about the environmental impact of hot washes, water usage, and carbon-intensive detergents, as well as the cost of putting on a quick spin amid soaring energy prices across the globe.

‘I stopped washing my clothes as much during winter 2022,’ a recent convert told the Guardian.

‘The drivers for me were the rising energy costs, the effect on the environment and the inability to dry clothes easily inside. It occurred to me that I didn’t need to wash clothes as often. Most clothes really only needed a freshen up.’

When it comes to what we wear, buying less, second-hand, or from supposedly ‘ethical’ brands is only the start, says Charlotte. She works in fashion sustainability and claims to get 20 to 30 wears out of many of her clothes, such as trousers.

Jumpers are washed perhaps twice a season. Marks and stains get spot-cleaned.

Her motivation? The knowledge that garment manufacturers profit from promoting extreme cleanliness while polluting our oceans and wildlife with incomprehensible levels of microfibres.

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‘Post-purchase washing has a really big impact,’ she asserts. ‘Cold washing, only washing when you need to, wearing things for longer – these are of equal, if not greater, importance from a consumer decision-making point of view than buying a ‘sustainable’ brand or more sustainable fibre.’

Interestingly, the advent of synthetic fibres and cheap manufacturing of materials such as cotton happened at a similar point in time to when we started having washing machines.

If we want a habitable Earth to live on in the future, maybe we ought to take a leaf out of Stella McCartney’s book and regularly ask ourselves: ‘if [we] don’t absolutely have to clean anything, do [we] really need to?’

The answer is most likely not, but within reason, of course.

‘It’s about trying to get the balance right,’ says sustainable fashion lecturer Mark Sumner.

‘Washing clothes is important for medical and hygiene reasons, as well as for people’s self-esteem – to not feel embarrassed about their clothes because they’re dirty or smelly.’