This content was originally posted on WrapsodyBaby.com, a website and babywearing business formerly owned by the author.
Even the best baby wraps wear out. But how long should a wrap last? This is a question that comes up often both for consumers and for manufacturers, and it’s a complex question that’s not easily answered. However, there are some concrete, evidence-based sources of information we can look toward to answer this question.
The first point, which should be obvious, is that wraps are made of only threads. The fabric is woven from threads/yarns and then finished with threads. The durability of the fabric is subject to the same factors as any other garment or household linen. This is true whether it is woven or knitted for or by a particular company only for their baby wraps OR if it is made from fabric manufactured by a third party. Even the best baby wraps are made only of thread.
The everyday clothing that you would compare most baby carriers to, from upholstery fabric to t-shirts, sheets and pillowcases to sport coats, have an average life expectancy of 2-4 years.
The short answer: even the best baby wraps wear out
The short answer is, “it depends.” Below, you’ll find a great deal of information that will help you gain a more nuanced understanding of the subject.
It does seem that any wrap you use regularly — even the best baby wraps money can buy — will have an average useful life of 2-5 years. This is based on research and industry standards about when an item becomes “worn out.”
There is a universally accepted document by those across the textile industry that discusses the average lifespan of textile product. It’s called the “Fair Claims Guide,” published in January 1988 by the American National Standards Institute. It was created to serve as a fair and objective means for customers and dry cleaners, retailers, and manufacturers to have a conversation about durability and also the value of goods lost or damaged in the course of cleaning or tailoring.
I know that when I publish this, I will hear pushback and frustration. And I get it. I love vintage clothes, shop almost exclusively secondhand, and am currently typing this while wearing a sweater that my Nana wore at her nursing home before she passed away 16 years ago. (I love this sweater.) My mother’s prom dress from the 70s hangs in my closet, and until the fifth baby, I wore it sometimes, though it’s much more brittle now than when she gave it to me 20 years ago.
So you see, the idea that textile products, baby wraps, or clothing can be long-lived sentimental heirlooms is very familiar to me.
But to be honest, the jeans and t-shirts I use regularly wear out in line with the guide. It might be related to how well I care for them, how careful I am when I wear them, or any number of things, but they do wear out.
I take particular care of my Nana’s sweater, of the vintage cable knit sweater my Mom-Mom made herself and handed down to me, of my OTHER red sweater, the one my Mom-Mom knitted for me only months before she passed away. My favorite skirt from college is worn with more care than the skirt I grabbed off the Old Navy clearance rack when one of my kids spilled a drink all over me. The Old Navy clearance skirt is definitely showing signs of wear.
Learning from the fair claims guide
The guide showcases average lifespan of types of textile items in number of years before they’re “worn out.” This is not the same as “worn to shreds,” of course. These universally accepted guidelines — describe the AVERAGE useful lifespan of textile products. They include people who work at jobs with a lot more physicality than my life includes. They include people who launder their clothes differently than I do, that live in different climates, that use different personal care products, that have different Ph in their perspiration or more body oil generally.
These numbers are surprising. What I found particularly interesting, though, is that they really do seem to reflect people’s real life experience. In an informal poll of my working-class friends and then also in the comments section of this really fun article about wardrobe planning (really, no sarcasm. I love charts like this!) as well as a variety of articles about how long men’s dress shirts and jeans last — it seems to be pretty accurate.
And it seems that how long baby wraps — even the best baby wraps — should last will absolutely relate to the details in the guide. The guide includes items of all quality, from the most expensive to the least expensive. Baby wraps are something you wear on the outside of your clothing, made of fabric. Like a scarf. Or a neck tie. (1 year.) Or a heavy bathrobe. (3 years.)
In fact, the ONLY items with a life expectancy over 5 years are:
- A HEAVY WOOL BLANKET. (10 years.) A blanket — which you put ON TOP OF your body then sleep under and are not carrying a child in.
- Or a comforter. (6 years.)
- How about a fur coat? (10 years.)
- Or a choir robe? (6 years.)
The everyday clothing that you would compare most baby carriers to, from upholstery fabric to t-shirts, sheets and pillowcases to sport coats, have an average life expectancy of 2-4 years. This number assumes you’re an average Western consumer with a wardrobe of clothing you wear and wash regularly. So, these numbers assume that you wear your wrap about 4-8 hours each week.
OK, so you’re balking a little. You bought your wrap secondhand, and the person before you bought it ten years ago. I’m not telling you you can’t use it any more. What I am saying is, keep an eye on it, and don’t be shocked if it begins developing holes, worn spots, etc.
More on the lifespan of fabrics
Though not many, there are some people who have tried to study the lifespan of fabrics. It’s complex, because the numbers vary wildly …. probably, again, because there are SO MANY FACTORS at play!
Heck, the average Ph of perspiration can vary between 3.5-8.0! Your sweat could be an acid, and my sweat could be a base. That’s a huge difference!
Now, how much do you sweat? In the summer, I sweat a LOT. Do you wear deodorant? What kind? (I wear Secret. Gel. Unscented. I tried the crunchy natural stuff and after spending hundreds on different brands AND trying my own variations, I decided the natural deodorant industry is crafting products that make me smell WORSE than no deodorant at all. I buy from The Man. And I’m ok with it.)
Do you wash with soap? (I use hardly any.) Do you use lotion or oil? (I seldom do.) Sunscreen? Bugspray? Do you fold your clothes or roll them? (I stuff them where they fit in my drawer. It’s a step up from the floor, right?) Do you diffuse essential oils in your house?
Do you wear a wedding ring? Does it have prongs that might catch your wrap in microscopic ways? How about pets? A dog that likes to jump up to greet you when you come home?
You see where this is going.
This is the absolute best discussion I found about average lifespan of clothing, written by by two Norwegian scientists interested in making the textile industry more sustainable. Their research is published on the Plate Conference website. They described the discrepancies between lifespan estimates with these stark contrasts:
“Very little information is available on actual life span and use per item of clothing. For example, two separate studies estimate life span of clothing items as varying from ten up to 104 uses (Birtwistle and Moore 2007; Collins and Aumônier 2002). Beton et al. (2014) have estimated that all garments have a life span of 1-3 years . . . . A large survey based on respondents’ own estimations found that the average active use of clothing is 3.3 years (Langley et al., 2013). A Dutch study estimated that the average lifespan of trousers was 6.2 years, skirts and dresses 15.2 years, sweaters 7.1 years, blouses 7.2 years, t-shirts 6.8 years, blazers 11.5 years and jackets 11.6 years (Uitdenbogerd, Brouwer, & Groot-Marcus, 1998, p. 127). . . . . In her PhD study, Uitdenbogerd also asked survey respondents about how long they used two different garments before they were disposed of, and the result of cotton trousers was 2.45 years, for wool sweaters the average was 6.17 years (Uitdenbogerd, 2007, p. 281). The differences between the results of these studies are quite substantial.“
What I found most interesting about their study was that based on age and gender, they found that adult women of average babywearing age should expect an average lifespan of about 4.5 years from their clothing. This includes items that are hardly worn — balanced by favorites that are worn often.
The ASTM committee has periodically explored adding expiration dates to baby carriers, and they are usually in the 5 year range. Those proposing these expiration dates are experts in materials, often scientists like the ones who published the above study. An expiration date, like the expiration date on your milk or your carseat or your OB’s expiration stamp on your 40 week pregnancy, does not indicate that on the last day of the fifth year you have to burn your carrier. What it means is that it should be used with extra care. Whether you purchased it brand new, made it, or are the fifth owner, there are conditions that will affect its life and durability that you have no control over. Even if you own one of the very best baby wraps on the market.
Fabric durability is influenced even before the fiber has been harvested
Fabric durability is determined by a HUGE variety of factors even before you purchase it. Here’s a partial list, derived in part from this excellent article about cotton fibers:
- Genetics, weather, nutrition, and other factors that affect the animals and plants from which natural fibers are derived
- Variations in weather, machinery, technique, and human influence when the fibers are cleaned, processed, and spun into yarns
- Thickness, length, and quality of the filaments or fibers which comprise a yarn or thread
- Twist and fiber composition of the yarns used for knitting or weaving a fabric
- Weather, human, machine, chemical, factors biological (such as bacterial) factors during the weaving or knitting process
- Conditions, techniques, weather, chemical, biological, and human factors during finishing.
- These conditions yet again during dyeing.
- And yet again during storage
- Length of time components (newly harvested cotton or wool, spun yarns, etc.) are stored before use
- Environmental conditions such as heat, humidity, cold, or dryness during transport
Even if you aim to control the environment, you can’t control the weather.
For this reason, even if fabric is carefully tested to specifications and materially identical at the initial time of purchase, the way it will wear over time may be significantly different. If your wrap was made from cotton harvested during a drought or rainy season, for instance, it may perform differently over time than someone else’s carrier.
Durability of fabrics (and thereby, baby wraps)
The greatest single factor influencing fabric deterioration is the environment it’s kept in. (According to Wikipedia. I know. My children will be appalled if they read this article that I didn’t dig deeper, but I just wanted to link and official source for information I already know.)
Before you buy a baby wrap, its environment is wherever the manufacture has stored it. For Wrapsody, that means our turn-of-century carriage house — we heat it in the winter and cool it in the summer, but temperature may vary from about 50 degrees to 95 degrees depending on the time of year and whether we’re in here working. During the winter, it stays fairly dry. In summer, it’s humid-ish, but in the way that Maine is humid, not the way that Alabama is humid.
After you buy your baby wrap, its environment is wherever you put it. If you live in a city with a high level of air pollution, your wrap is affected by smog. If you live in Manitoba, your wrap is affected by cold. If you live in Miami, your wrap is affected by heat. And so forth.
Furthermore, your water is affected by your environment — the harder your water, the more your fabric will suffer, as hard water deposits microscopic crystals in the pockets between the yarns of your wrap. The simple movement of the fibers against one another while you wear your carrier will begin to wear them down. And again, even the best baby wraps are susceptible to this.
And, according to this article by the AIC, how dusty your environment is, among other things, can contribute to the lifespan of your baby wrap. What this means for the wraps I keep in the house, away from my controlled office environment, is that they’re out of luck. I have five kids and a home business. I’m really not much of a duster.
5 Primary factors influencing the lifespan of baby wraps
Overall, there are 5 main factors that influence the aging of your fabric carriers — including your baby wraps. Generally, if you avoid them, carefully storing your wraps under optimal conditions, you can reduce the aging of your carriers.
“Reducing the aging” is code for “making your wrap last longer.”
Truth is, however, eliminating the following factors to any meaningful degree may reduce your best baby wraps to mere decorations on a climate-controlled shelf. Still, let’s talk about these 5 factors and how to reduce their impact on your baby wraps.
- Exposure to light (especially sunlight)
- Exposure to heat (clothes dryer, car in summer, a hot house, a hot community)
- Exposure to chemicals (perspiration, sunscreen, deodorant, coconut oil)
- Exposure to physical wear and damage (pets, toys, jewelry, friction from wearing a child or leaning against the wall)
- Physical aging (from the ongoing revolution and rotation of the sun through the space-time continuum)
How can you extend the life of your best baby wraps?
Not all things about your carrier’s lifespan are within your control, but plenty of things are. Let’s look at the above 5 factors.
Exposure to light
- Store your carrier out of the sunlight, in a cupboard, cabinet, drawer, or bag.
Exposure to heat
- Keep the room where you store your carriers temperature-regulated with a heater or air conditioner.
- Never store your carrier in the car for prolonged periods.
- Hang your carrier to dry out of direct sunlight or use the low cycle on your machine dryer.
- Do not iron your carrier unless absolutely necessary.
- Wash your carrier in cool water.
Exposure to chemicals
- Wash your carrier regularly, at least once a week, in mild detergent.
- Minimize products you apply to your body or your child’s body. If you use lotions or other products, wash more often.
- Spitup, food spills, drool, and perspiration can degrade your wrap. Protect your wrap from things like this, and spot clean or wash gently when your wrap becomes soiled.
- If you or your baby have particularly oily skin, consider wearing a t-shirt where your wrap contacts your body.
- Use a water softener system if you have hard water.
Exposure to physical wear and damage
- Hand wash your wrap rather than machine washing.
- If you machine wash your wrap, first secure it in a pillowcase or sweater bag and use the delicate cycle
- Do not wear jewelry while you are wearing your baby wrap
- Roll your carriers rather than folding, as creases in the fabric can weaken it.
- Use care with pets, especially rambunctious dogs.
- Be aware of counter edges and other things which can catch your wrap.
- Don’t let older children hang from your wrap while you’re wearing it.
For extra caution
- If you’d like to be particularly careful, wear your carrier only at night or in dimly lit rooms.
- Only wear your carrier on beautiful days in late spring or early autumn when the temperature hovers between 55 and 75 degrees fahrenheit. Walk out of the direct sunlight.
- Never wear it if you or your child have a fever.
- Never wear a child who drools, spits up, or sweats.
- Hand wash your wrap three times a week in the moonlight, blotting away moisture rather than wringing, and dry it in a cool evening breeze.
- Trade in any jewelry and spend what you earn on protective containers for your wraps.
- Only get pets that don’t shed or have sharp nails or teeth. Try a fish. But not a shark or pickerel.
- When your wrap is not being used regularly (say, between children) have it professionally cleaned and preserved.
- Move to the country, where there is no smog. But not the dusty country, because dust can damage your wrap. And clean. More often than I do. But don’t get any cleaning chemicals on your wrap. And don’t put essential oils into your air. In fact, invest in several air purifiers.
- Keep a temperature-controlled cabinet for storing your wraps.
- Only handle your wraps while wearing gloves.
(Yes. This is of course mostly tongue in cheek. But it’s fun! Add your suggestions in the comments below! Particularly clever ones may replace some of the above list.)
Leslie Charlton of Groovy Mama reminded me of something I had lost sight of while I wrote this article. She said, “I read an artist statement once that really stuck with me – one of the beauties of natural fibres is that they do NOT last forever. They degrade, they go back, they wear out.”
The truth is, ALL fibers wear out. Her perspective reminded me that in truth, it would not even be desirable for the best baby wraps — or any baby wraps — to be indestructible. The very fact that they will decay and change over time is part of their beauty when compared with carriers heavy with foam and plastic components.
Some people will use the same baby wraps for 17 years, store them, and then reuse them with their grandchildren. There’s nothing wrong with this. Most of us have stories of clothing items or fabric items we’ve used hard over many years. In fact, some people plan carefully which wraps they’d like to save for their children to use when they become parents. Many call these legacy wraps, and the Baby Carrier Industry Alliance has an article about this practice.
However, assuming that your wrap can, will, or should last more than 2-5 years may be folly. There are too many factors at play for you to predict with any accuracy when it will be worn out. Go ahead and store your legacy wrap with care and caution. Pass on or sell your beloved carriers to friends who know how old they are and will care for them gently and check them for wear. Be aware that not all changes to fabric strength are visible, and take extra care to notice if your carrier has become threadbare or brittle in any spot.
And now when someone asks you how long a wrap should last? You can tell them, “it depends.” And remind them that part of what make baby wraps so beautiful is that they will one day decay and return to the earth.