Zero Waste Clothing Hacks

Photo, Paris, by my friend Sara

Water stained leather
Spray with equal parts vinegar and water and rub until the stain is gone. Alternately, carefully dampen the entire shoe, starting from the spot and working outward.

Soiled leather clothing
Handwash gently in cold water with moisturizing soap, such as Aleppo. Rinse with a bit of vinegar. Roll in a towel, gently squeeze, and dry flat. Never put in the dryer.

Stuck zipper
Rub a bar of soap, olive or coconut oil, crayon, graphite pencil, wax, or chapstick up and down both sides of the zipper to grease. Follow by cleaning with vinegar and a soft cloth.

Exposed underwire
Moleskin won't prevent it from popping out again, so sew whip stitches over the hole or patch on a piece of felt or old t-shirt. You may wish to remove the wire entirely.

Escaped drawstring
Attach one end to a safety pin and feed it through. You can also try looping the string through a pen's pocket clip before rethreading, leading with the tip of the pen.

Sagging or color fading
Use a capful of vinegar in the rinse cycle. You can also wash items inside out, but this may affect cleaning. Add 1/2 cup salt in wash cycle to fix dye.

Broken zipper pull
Replace with a key ring, strip of fabric, or beaded pull. You may need to replace the slider entirely or remove it with pliers before sliding it back onto the teeth.

Ring around the collar
I know how to remove it (baking soda) but the only preventive thing I can think of is spot-cleaning. Or sew old t-shirt strips to the inside collar.

Fuzzy lint balls
Carefully use a pumice stone, sweater stone, sweater brush, or razor. Try to use a safety razor instead of a disposable, which can clog and pull up more wool.

Scuffed leather
Buff with the inside of a banana peel or a tiny bit of coconut or olive oil and a soft, lint-free cloth. They won't go rancid if you clean shoes regularly.

Scuffed or dirty suede
Scrub gently with stale bread or baking soda and an old toothbrush. I should ask Daphné how safe my shoe ideas are first, because they might be really terrible.

Tight shoes
Put big socks on, then wear them to bed or around the house. The frozen water or hairdryer tricks never worked for me. Many shoe stores stretch even patent leather pairs for free via machine.

Remove stains
Use an ice cube to remove gum from clothing. To clean patent leather, spray with vinegar and wipe with a lint-free cloth. Click here to remove salt stains and here for a zero waste stain removal chart.

Wear no-show socks and tights or use moleskin on the inside of straps and heels. I sometimes put old strips of fabric along the ankles instead of moleskin.

Shedding sweater
Washing seemed to stop shedding on my furriest sweater. Alternately, place them in the freezer in a cloth bag overnight, then shake them out, or freeze dry outside like the Greenlanders.

Sweater snags
Never cut the snag. Turn the garment inside out and use a crochet hook or blunt needle to push the snag back into the fabric, weaving it between threads.

Stocking runs
Put them in the freezer first- I feel like this makes them last way longer, but maybe it's not a real thing. Wear no-show socks over tights to reduce strain on the seams. Rub a bar of soap over runs as soon as they start. Any sticky substance, like sugar water or jam, apparently helps too. If you eventually develop runs in two pairs of pantyhose, cut off the holey legs for tawashi. Take one of the remaining pantyhose legs and feed it through the hole of the other pair. Scarlett Johansson's stylist once said they save the waists on the shot pantyhose and use them like Spanx.

The easiest way I know to prevent little t-shirt holes is to tuck them in, or reinforce the waist with interfacing. For darning and hand sewing tutorials, click here. For zero-waste ways to extend the life span of other clothes and accessories, click here. My favorite guide on fixing clothes is the aptly-titled and wonderfully illustrated Fix Your Clothes by Raleigh Briggs.

Paris to Go


  1. Ariana,

    Your relentless passion and your conviction is contagious. Thank you for writing this blog. I will look forward to your book.

    Many minimalists make their blogs about shunning possessions. Which is a big chunk of it all. You adore what is yours and really take care of it. That is the attitude I am striving to learn.

    1. You are always so sweet Archana. I need to keep working at the ebook, I only have like three illustrations done :(

      I never thought of it that way but you always put things beautifully. People need possessions. I just think balance is key to everything and yes, taking care of them as long as you can. The way our grandparents did!

  2. For snags in knits:
    I bought two of these tools (one fine-head, one thick-head) for about $3 well over a decade ago, that's three of the best dollars I've ever spent, and the tools show absolutely no wear--I expect to pass them on to surviving relatives! Several companies make these in different configurations, colors, and head-sizes. Here's one example:

    You push the head through the back of any knit (sweaters, shawls, dresses, skirts, socks, etc etc) put the loop of the snag in the "loop" of the tool's head & close the head's loop, pull it back through the knit, and now the snag is in the back of the fabric no longer showing through the front & no longer risking a pull making the snag bigger. I've had no problems at all of the snag becoming larger on the back-side of the knit fabric.

    1. That is a great tip! I never knew those tools existed. I'm sure they've saved many sweaters!

  3. I really enjoy your blog. A great product I use on water stained leather is Obenauf's LP. Works wonders on delicate lambskin and smooth leathers, etc. though definitely too greasy for nubuck or suede (which I don't wear anyways - too high maintenance).

    1. Thank you! Great tip. I never wear suede either, I hate when it gets wet!

  4. I love the 2-pairs-of-tights trick.
    For runs in the tights, I block them with clear nail polish

    1. Hi Chiara, great tip also! I used to do that before I went zero waste... I ran out of clear polish and haven't bought it again though. I haven't found a sustainable polish, any recommendations?

  5. Great tips! Recently I had to help my son get salt stains out of his leather boots from winter slush. Undiluted white vinegar works like a charm.For stuck zippers, using a beeswax candle stub works as well. It also works to wax up your thread for hand sewing. For breaking in new shoes or boots, rub soap on your socks where the pressure points are and wear them around the house. I use an olive oil based soap.

    1. Thank you for the tips! I never knew the soap on socks trick, that's great.