Tips For Looking After Organic Cotton Clothes
It actually starts with the organic cotton farmers, who work differently to conventional cotton farmers. Organic cotton farms are free of harsh chemicals and pesticides used in conventional farming methods, so farmers spend more time on the ground caring for the cotton to make sure crops are healthy and sustainable.
It’s a more hands-on approach that industry body Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) says will “consistently produce better quality yarns than conventional cotton.”
The high level of care shown throughout the production of organic clothes can, however, mean a higher retail price than conventional cotton options. GOTS says it’s important to understand why prices might be higher and that it can actually reduce the cost of clothing in a larger way.
“The price of organic includes investments made by farmers who are protecting the environment, maintaining soil fertility, preserving biodiversity and conserving water,” GOTS says.
“This means organic cotton sometimes (but not always) is more expensive because the costs aren’t hidden.”
The organisation says to “buy less and buy organic” to get the full benefits of this ethical clothing option. But to make sure you really get the most out of the organic cotton clothes you buy, it is important to know how to look after them.
This guide offers general tips designed to make it easier to care for organic cotton clothing when you are washing, drying, storing or wearing it. While every piece of clothing has variations, keeping these things in mind means you can make sure your organic cotton has both an ethical and economic value for you.
On This Page
- Caring for new organic cotton clothes
- Washing and drying organic cotton
- Removing stains from organic cotton clothes
- Ironing organic cotton clothes
- Storing and packing organic cotton clothes
Caring for new organic cotton clothes
There is a whole range of factors that can affect how clothing needs to be cared for, including dyes, prints, embellishments and even the cut of the garment. So reading the individual care labels is one of the first things you should do when you get new clothing of any description because it gives you advice unique to whatever you have bought.
After the care instruction, the next most important thing is to wash clothes before you wear them. While organic cotton may not have the residual nasty chemicals that make this step essential for other clothes, it could still have passed through many hands before reaching you.
According to a report from Good Morning America, new clothes could have anything from dead skin cells to faecal germs on it.
“A lot of people just come home and if it has a tag attached, they think it’s brand new and they wear it,” former retail salesperson Tori Patrick explains on the show. “You really never know where it’s been.”
So even if you have the highest quality organic cotton clothes, it’s better to be safe than sorry and put it in the wash before you wear it.
When it comes to organic cotton clothes, there are also a few things to keep in mind before washing them for the first time. If the clothes haven’t been pre-shrunk, for example, you could find that the sizing changes if you wash them in warmer water or use a dryer. Meanwhile, the type of dye used (if any) could leak their first couple of times you wash your clothes.
While some care instructions will give advice on the first wash, others may not. The American Cleaning Institute says you can test whether or not clothes are colourfast by putting a little water or detergent on part of the garment to see if it runs, or by washing separately and checking the wash water.
“If there is [colour] left in the wash water, continue washing it separately the second time, the third time and so forth, until the [colour] no longer bleeds into the water.”
Once your clothes are washed for the first time, they should be clean, ready to wear and take care of by following the instructions on the label.
Washing and drying organic cotton
While the care instructions should outline the basics of washing – such as “hand wash”, “wash in cold water” or “line dry” – there could be a few things it misses. The fact that organic cotton is free of harsh chemicals, for example, could mean everyday detergent affects colour more than it would with conventional cotton.
“Tide and other powerful detergents are full of abrasive chemicals that are hard on delicate inks and dyes, not to mention the environment and you,” StayHealthymag explains, adding that even residue for strong detergents could affect clothes. It recommends rinsing out the washing machine if you regularly use strong detergents, and opting for a mild detergent when washing organic cotton.
Depending on the care instructions for the garment, there could be a few things to keep in mind when drying your clothes as well:
- Line drying – Check whether the clothes should be in the sun or the shade (if it matters). Drying organic cotton in the shade could help keep colours from fading.
- Drip drying or drying flat – Some clothing will lose its shape if it’s hung on the line, so opt for a clotheshorse instead if you see either of the terms above on the care instructions.
- Using a dryer – Most cotton can be put in a clothes dryer, but keep in mind that high temperatures could affect the fit. “In high heat it is possible for the cotton to shrink more than 10%,” StayHealthymag says. “If using dryer, use Air cycle, no heat.”
It’s also a good idea to consider the actual designs of your organic cotton clothes. If there are prints – such as the ones on Bondiwear t-shirts – turning clothes inside out before washing and drying could help protect them from fading. While Bondiwear t-shirts are printed using water-based inks, many others use Plastisol inks that sit on top of fabric and can come away during washing, so turning clothes inside out can help keep prints in tact.
In general, following the specific care instructions and using common sense when it comes to washing and drying organic cotton clothes will help you keep them in great condition for as long as possible.
Removing stains from organic cotton clothing
Stains can be incredibly temperamental and dealing with stains on organic cotton really depends on what’s caused it. The Green Earth Cleaning website recommends reading the care instructions straight away.
“For machine-washable items, try treating the stain yourself, but always use caution,” it says. In general, it’s a good idea to spot clean the stain before putting it in the wash, just by running water over it and a little bit of laundry detergent (or dissolved laundry powder).
Using cold water instead of warm or hot water will also reduce the chance of a stain setting, especially if it is wine, pasta sauce or blood. So even if the care instructions say to normally wash organic cotton in warm water, you may want to treat stains as an exception to the rule.
Another option is to soak the clothing for a few hours or overnight, then put it through the wash as normal. Keep in mind that stain removal products like NapiSan or Tide can help remove stains on organic cotton clothes, but soaking could lead to colour loss if you leave it too long. Basically, it’s a good idea to err on the side of caution when it comes to stain removal and, as Green Earth Cleaning says, “ if a stain is severe or you are afraid of ruining the item, take it to a cleaner.”
Ironing organic cotton clothes
Ironing can make a huge difference to the look and feel of clothes, as long as it’s done well. When it comes to ironing cotton, a lot rides on the weave of the fabric. Thicker cotton, for instance, takes more heat to iron flat – which is why the “cotton” setting on some irons is often one of the hottest options.
But the settings on an iron are not a one-size-fits-all thing: thinner cotton clothes could actually be burned on a high iron setting. Similarly, the lack of harsh chemicals used on conventional cotton mean that organic cotton is often less resistant to heat, so a lower setting might be required.
Just as with using a dryer, it’s also important to be aware of how ironing could affect prints. While water-based dyes should be unaffected by ironing, Plastisol prints and other screen-printing could come off or melt if the iron setting is too high.
You can check how well an iron setting will work by testing it on an inconspicuous part of the garment. Another option is to just start with a lower heat setting and adjust it as needed so that you get the results you actually want.
Storing and packing organic cotton clothes
Whether you like to hang your clothes in a cupboard or fold them in a chest of drawers, storing and packing organic cotton clothes is often just a matter of personal preferences.
But you can help keep organic cotton clothes fresh at home by lining drawers with sheets, or using odour and moisture absorbers that you buy or make yourself. Martha Stewart – the queen of domesticity – says a simple solution is to hang a bag of chalk in the closet to “keep clothing fresh and dry”.
When it comes to packing organic cotton clothes for a trip away, it’s basically up to you. Some people swear by rolling up clothes to avoid creases and create more room, while others say that folding is the way to go. We say choose what you think works best for the clothes your packing.
Organic cotton is treated differently to conventional cotton throughout the manufacturing process, which means care instructions can vary significantly between these two types of cotton. The weave, colour and cut of organic cotton fabrics also affects how it needs to be cared for, so it’s important to carefully read the labels on your clothes.
In general, organic cotton is more sensitive to heat and more likely to shrink as a result of being washed or dried at higher temperatures, when compared to conventional cotton.
While it’s easy to just throw all your clothes into the washing at once, taking the time to consider the best approach for different items will help you keep your clothes looking fresh and new for longer. That way you can get the most out of every single piece of organic cotton clothing that you buy, making it an even better investment for the environment and for you.