Laura de Barra says we need to take a fresh look at washing our clothes. With a degree in fashion and years of experience in the fashion supply business, Laura understands the science and the business of fashion. She says the quality of our clothes is not as good as it was in the past:

"The main thing is that our clothes are different to the generations before us. Our machines are different, we're washing at different temperatures, we’re washing with different products, we’re washing different fabrics and we are washing too much."

Even our concept of "clean" has changed. For something to feel "clean" to us, we expect it to have a chemical smell, like the smell of fabric conditioner. For clothes to last, we need to wash them less often. You don't need to buy expensive brands to make clothes last: she says you can still be sustainable on a budget:

"A lot of fashion advice can come from a quite privileged point of view. If they say like, 'Reduce your fast fashion.’ But what if that’s your budget? Or they do the size, or it’s your accessibility? Instead, we should learn how to take care of our clothes, and then you’ll buy less."

Rule number one, Laura says is to wash our clothes less often. If you must wash something, do it at low temperatures. This has the double benefit of saving on energy costs and it makes the clothes last longer. Then Laura drops a bombshell:

"Fabric softener is something we just have to start ditching. People go crazy when I say this, but fabric softener is not good for the longevity of your clothes."

But are we not doing our clothes a favour by adding fabric conditioner to every wash, Ray wanted to know. Could it be that we are all being duped by Big Softener? Laura says we should read the small print:

"You know the way in the marketing of fabric softener, it’s like babies and towels? They are like the main things you see when you are looking at softener adverts. Turn your fabric softener around, and most packets will tell you, ‘not to use on children’s sleepwear and not to use on terry cloth’, and terry cloth is towels."

Laura explains that softener became a thing way back when dyes made clothes stiffer. Oil-based conditioners were used to make the fabrics feel smoother. But now people are using it as part of their washing routine to add that outdoor "freshness", even when clothes can’t be dried outside. We take it for granted that it’s a good thing, but it’s not necessarily, Laura says. It can even be a safety issue:

"If they are supposed to be flame resistant, it’s affecting the flame resistant coating; so that’s why they say don’t use it on baby clothes."

Fabric softener also blocks absorption of fluids from the skin – not something we want to think about, but it’s one of the reasons why we wear layers, Laura says:

"Things that sit against the body soak up your juices, basically. We have to have it! You should be wearing these things under your clothes, so you don’t have to wash the outer layer, like knits."

Garment fibres coated in a layer of conditioner don’t get properly clean, Laura says. But if you don’t want to give up on softener entirely, you should choose carefully which clothes you use it on:

"If it really is giving you a buzz … As long as you know, OK, I’m not going to use it on my gym gear because it’s not going to be as effective. I’m not going to use it on my bedlinen. They say delicates mainly and some knitwear, mainly wool."

If you have unwanted clothes in good condition, you can donate some of them to charity. She recommends taking the time to sort the garments into different bags according the condition they are in and what they are made of (cotton, acrylic, wool etc.) This saves the charity from having to do it. Laura says she passes on winter coats to a local women's refuge, but it’s important to find out what people actually want before you give it to them:

"Ring ahead and ask what sizes they are looking for, ask what exact garments they are looking for, and only give them what they ask for, or you are giving a charity a cost: to get rid of your rubbish, basically."

Packing away your less fashionable clothes for a few years until they come back into fashion again is Ray's personal hack, as he told Laura. He hadn’t worn his dress suit in a while, and when he put it on recently, the trousers were a different style to what he remembered. No problem at all, says Laura; flares are back:

"If you want to hang on to that suit, if you’re wearing those flares in 20 years’ time and I see you, I’m not gonna judge you. If you’re loving those flares and you’re kicking around in them, it’s no problem."

For more great washing hacks, including how to get soft towels without softener, listen back to the full interview here.