How to take care of your clothes so they last longer

Extend the life of your old clothes with knitting tips and tricks. Revitalise your wardrobe and help look after the environment by upcycling!

two women stand together on beach in beautiful knitwear, both smiling. The sea is visible in the background and gulls are flying

Whether it’s a hand knit or a gorgeous statement jumper you’ve bought, treating your old clothes with care means you can wear them for a lot longer.

In particular, speciality fibres like cashmere, silk and alpaca feel wonderful against the skin, so reusing the materials in other knitting makes is the perfect way to craft essential knitwear you’ll want to last a lifetime. We’ll cover what to bear in mind when caring for your knitwear and deciding what to do with clothes that can’t be donated.

Treating your knitting when you wash, store and wear

Treating your knits the right way when you wash, store and wear them will make your clothes look better for longer. You can keep them smooth and bobble-free, and still enjoy that super-soft feeling that makes them so sensual to wear.

Follow our suggestions and you’ll be wearing your favourite knits for many years to come. Coupled with Seasalt Cornwall’s new autumn collection, The Minack Chronicles, there’s never been a better time to learn how to care for your knitwear.

Washing carefully to extend the life of your clothing

If you’ve knitted something yourself, check the ball band of the yarn for care instructions. Different fibres will need their own treatment. Luxury fibres like cashmere, alpaca and silks require particular care and gentle washing. It’s easy to throw away the ball band when you start a new project, so make sure to keep that information to hand!

How to find missing yarn care information

If you have lost the ball band from your hand knit, but remember the yarn name, check Ravelry for care information. If you can’t find it, err on the side of caution and wash by hand. If you’ve got your original knitting swatch you can test your planned washing routine on the swatch rather than risking the whole garment. Another good reason to brush up on knitting tension squares!

It’s much easier to keep track of the best way to care for knitwear if you’ve purchased a quality knit, such as those included in Seasalt’s 2022 autumn/winter collection, The Minack Chronicles. Every garment has its own care instructions label, telling you the fibres used and the best way to wash and dry your clothing.

Don’t ruin your knitwear!

Washing knitwear the wrong way can ruin it. The combination of water, heat and agitation can make the scales on natural fibres bunch up and knot together – a process known as felting.

Felting is irreversible. The knitted fabrics shrink and get denser. It’s actually a technique in itself, which can be useful for specific felting projects. But it’s disastrous if it happens by accident in the wash.

Wash your natural fibre clothes less often

Knitwear made of natural fibres is more breathable than synthetic knits. Greater breathability reduces the amount of sweat your skin produces. As a result, natural knits generally don’t get as smelly nearly so quickly, meaning you can afford to wash them less. Hang them out to air between wears to help keep them fresh.

Check you’re using the right machine wash cycle

If your yarn care information says the knit can be machine washed, make sure you use the hand wash cycle on your machine. Never wash your knitwear with heavy items like towels and denim, as the weight can bash your delicate knits during the cycle and cause felting.

Should you use a specialist wool wash?

If a garment needs to be washed by hand, it’s considered delicate. You can gently clean delicate fibres with a specialist wool wash. Products like Soak are designed to avoid rinsing out of woollens. Skipping multiple rinses makes handwashing up to six times quicker.

How to hand wash your knitwear

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Step 1

Soaking your knitwear

 Fill a bucket with tepid water, mix in a teaspoonful of wool wash, and leave your knitwear to soak for at least twenty minutes. This gives time for the fibres in the wool to get properly saturated and soak up the water. 



Step 2

Dislodge the dirt from the garment

 Gently move the garment in the water to dislodge any larger bits of dirt. Keep the motion gentle to make sure you don’t encourage any of the fibres in the garment to lock together and cause felting. 



Step 3

Draining water from the garment 

 Carefully lift the garment out of the water and gently squeeze. Never wring out wet woollen garments, as they’re more delicate when wet.  Wringing or twisting the wet fabric can stretch and snap the fibres, which will wear the garment out more quickly.   



Step 4

Removing water with absorbent towels

 If the garment is still very wet, press it gently between two towels to remove as much of the remaining water as possible. 



Step 5

Shape your knitwear to dry

Remove your knitted garment from between the towels. Gently manipulate it into the shape you want. Leave it to dry flat.  

 

How to shape your knitwear after washing

 

For more advice on getting knits into the right shape, take a look at our how to block knitting projects article. 

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Storing your knitwear so it lasts longer

Storing your knitwear correctly will help keep it safe from dust and potential moth damage. Always make sure it is fresh and clean before you put it away.

Plastic containers and zip-lock bags are great at keeping moths out, but they don’t let any air pass, which is critical for keeping garments fresh. If you do want to use plastic, open up containers regularly to air out your garments.

We recommend trying cotton bags or cotton pillowcases instead of plastic, as both allow natural fibres to breathe. They’ll also still keep moths out, since the larvae can’t eat through cotton.

Buy personalised cotton clothes storage bags from Etsy 

What to do with old clothes that can’t be donated?

Despite your best efforts to look after your clothes, there will be times when they get worn or damaged. Charity shops and thrift stores, whilst great for a bargain, won’t sell clothes that are damaged or worn. So what do you do with old clothes that can’t be donated?

Is repair possible?

First off, can you repair the item? With thinning knitwear, you can reinforce the stitches with Swiss darning. The technique, also known as duplicate stitch, is a great way to hide worn areas, like elbows or heels.

If you want to make a feature of your mend, you can try out visible mending with Gathered, too.

What if I can’t fix it?

If the item is too damaged for repair, turn it into something else! For example, old jumpers make ideal cushion covers. Cut off the worn area, bind the raw edges to stop fraying, then use our how to make a cushion cover project to upcycle your garment.

Alternatively, you can keep wearing your luxury knits by making them into new garments. Our upcycled sweater project lets you combine three garments into one for a stylish upcycling masterpiece.

Where to go when charity shops won’t accept old clothes

Items too worn to be resold will always be appreciated by homeless charities. Warm woollens make brilliant base layers, after all. You can also use soft fibres to stuff toys, cushions, and foot stools.

Natural fibres that rot down fully make good compost heap covers to speed up home composting.

Caring for your clothes to extend their life

Looking after your clothes will give you many more years of wear. It’s better for the environment to invest in quality items you love and make them last, rather than buying fast fashion. You can always upcycle old clothes into new makes to stay stylish every season, provided you invest in quality material and kits to maintain them.

A few simple changes when washing and storing your clothes will keep them in great condition, looking fresh, fluffy and bobble-free for longer. Plus, easy repairs can create invisible mends, or you can transform your fixes into a feature with visible mending.

Invest in luxury yarns with confidence to reduce your cost-per-wear. Remember buying quality knits helps take care of the environment and your pocket for the long term

Explore high-quality yarns with Seasalt Cornwall’s 2022 autumn collection

The soft yet durable yarns used in Seasalt’s latest collection, The Way to Minack, make them a pleasure to wear. For timeless style that’ll last for seasons to come, check out their autumnal collection on sale now.

a woman stands inform of a boat on a beach, wearing swollen hat and stripy bable sweater, staring thoughtfully into the distance