By now, it's a pretty widely known fact that we need to tone down our consumption of fashion—and tone it down, stat. But, we understand that that's easier said than done. In order for us to curb the amount we shop, we also need to make sure that the clothing we already have lasts more than a couple of wears so that there isn't a "need" for us to continuously shop for more.
Sure, ditching fast fashion for higher quality pieces is a good place to start, but the life expectancy of a garment also has a lot to do with how we care for it. Properly caring for the clothing already in our closets (and making sure we do so in an eco-conscious manner) will not only extend the life of a piece but can save our dear planet from tons of environmental damage. And while this applies to all kinds of clothing—from our everyday T-shirts down to our party heels—considering that summer officially kicks off tomorrow, let's take a moment to focus on our swimwear.
Swimsuits are easily some of the most thoughtlessly disposed of pieces in our wardrobes—and subject to the harshest conditions and the most wear and tear; it's pretty common for us to kick off each summer with a brand-new bikini, throwing away whatever we wore to the beach and into the pool the previous summer. But in addition to crowding landfills every time we decide toss last year's faded suit for a new one, not caring for our swimwear properly can also pose a threat to our environment.
As Araks Yeramyan, founder of sustainable label ARAKS, points out, 15 percent of clothing's carbon footprint comes from the way in which it's cared for. That's why we chatted with four swimwear experts about how we should take care of ours, not only to promote longevity but also to be kinder to Mother Earth.
How to wash and dry your swimwear
As with all clothes, the way you wash and dry your swimsuit will determine its life expectancy. All experts agree that you should never wash your suit in a washing machine, and for a slew of reasons. "Your swimsuit should never see the inside of a washing machine, and should only be hand-washed in cold water," says Blakely Wickstrom, designer and founder of sustainable swim brand Galamaar. "Soaking first with natural soap for your body or delicates for five to 10 minutes will help break down oils and creams without agitation. Every time you wear your swimsuit, regardless if you took a dip or not, you should be rinsing. Even body oil can break down the stretch of fibers over time."
Just like you shouldn't use a washing machine, you also shouldn't be throwing into the dryer. Rather, let it air dry after you wash—being mindful of placement. "Always dry in the shade, rather than direct sunlight, to stop the swimwear from fading," says Bianca Bennetts, founder of sustainable swim label FAE.
While hanging up a suit to air dry might seem like the obvious solution to speed up the process, Yeramyan stresses to make sure the suit is drying while laying flat to avoid stretching its shape. She also mentions to make sure the suit is completely dry before storing it away; otherwise, it can mildew.
Ensuring that you're washing and drying your suit properly isn't just crucial to the life of the piece, but it also helps prevent the spread of microplastics into our waterways, as Amahlia Stevens, designer and founder of swimwear label Vitamin A, explains:
Unfortunately, when you wash anything made from synthetics, even if it's recycled, it sheds microfibers that can be pollutants if they wind up in the ocean. These microplastics are introduced into our environment mostly by washing machines that are too harsh on the clothing, causing the fibers to break down into microplastics. On top of that, the extremely high heat and abrasion of machine dryers can further accelerate the breakdown of your garment's fibers and actually blow microfibers directly outside into the air.
When that degraded garment is then worn in our oceans, those destroyed fibers are released into waterways directly. So by using the hand-washing and air-drying method, you can avoid the premature degradation of the fibers.
While throwing your swimwear in the wash is not recommended, there are some situations that warrant a good cleaning, such as a heavy stain. Bennetts stresses that if you are going to use the machine, use a laundry ball that catches microfibers to prevent the spread of any microplastics shed during the washing process. "The Cora Ball is a great one, and it's inspired by the way coral filters the ocean and collects microfibers," she says. "This is also great to use in your washing machine for all clothing; it captures microfibers in fuzz from your machine, making it easy to dispose of them right away."
But keep in mind, microplastics are shed even through hand-washing. "Microplastics are shed when a suit starts to break down from harsh wear and care, so wash only wash in cold water and by hand and never use hot water or the washing machine," says Wickstrom. "You can even go one step further and hand-wash your suit while using a Guppyfriend bag [which captures and reduces fiber shedding]."
Give it a break
Did you know your bathing suit actually needs time to rest in between uses in order to keep its shape? "Something that is not so obvious is that the stretch fibers need time to relax in-between uses," says Wickstrom. "For example, if you're on a beach vacation, bring multiple suits with you and wear them alternating days so that your quality suits will hold their shape for longer." If we ever needed an excuse to over-pack, it's this.
How to dispose of your old swimwear
No matter how much we cherish and care for our swim, it's just not going to last forever. It's a swimsuit, and there's going to be some unavoidable wear and tear over time—so what do you do when it's time to finally retire it? Well, first things first, do not just throw it away where it will end up in a landfill for all of eternity. Instead, consider the below options.
Organize a swap with friends
If your swimsuit isn't in rough shape, but you've simply moved on from it, Bennetts suggests organizing a clothing swap with friends. That red polka dot bikini might not suit your style anymore, but it could be your bestie's new favorite, thus giving it a second life.
Donate it to charity or recycle it
Again, if the suit is wearable, its life cycle doesn't need to end here. You can donate your suit to charity, but it might take a bit of research. "Not all recycling points accept swimwear, so plan ahead and do some minimal research when donating—most information on what is and isn't accepted as a donation can be found online," says Wickstrom. "There is also a great organization called Donate Your Bra For A Cause that accepts lingerie and swimwear to help support breast cancer and domestic abuse survivors."
It can be hard to determine whether or not a bathing suit can be reused or even recycled, so Yeramyan suggests sending your old suit to an organization like Helpsy. "They are textile experts and will be able to determine if the swimsuit can be reused, recycled, or down-cycled. If it must be disposed of, they'll do so in the best possible way."
Just because you don't want to wear your swimsuit anymore doesn't mean it can't become something else. Bennetts suggests repurposing it. "Try Pinterest for ideas," she says. "There are so many ways you can get creative and alter the style to make something fun and fresh with the fabric."
Caring properly for your swimwear, or your underwear, your clothing, or any other garment, is about more than just making sure it lasts. It's about toning down future consumption and protecting our planet from further environmental damage. Know that taking the time to care for your clothes in a way that extends its life or prevents pollution is equally as important as shopping sustainably—and even the tiniest steps count, as Wickstrom explains below:
Voting with your dollar drives the change, but I think it's important to note that being a conscious consumer doesn't stop at buying from ethical companies. Equally vital is how these products are cared for after they leave the shop. Know that sustainability is something to work toward, and the path in our modern world is not perfect or clear-cut, but you can start by being informed and doing better. Small things, like purchasing a microfiber filter for your washing machine—like the $45 one Girlfriend Collective just launched—can make a difference on a large scale.
So the next time you get back from a day at the pool or a trip to the beach, think twice before tossing your suit in the washing machine and give it the TLC it deserves.