You're Washing Your Clothes Too Often! (What to Do Instead)


When I was in middle school, I remember girls being horrified at the thought of wearing the same pair of jeans twice in a single week. Even worse, if your jeans hadn't been washed after just one wear, you obviously didn't have good hygiene habits. There are certainly times when I wish I was still a kid, but with regard to those ways of thinking — I'm so happy to have evolved. (See also: Defensive Laundry to Help Your Clothes Last)

Not only is chronically over-washing clothing wasteful of precious resources, but it's also costly in a number of other ways. There's tons of detergent involved, utilities costs (water and electricity), time and energy, as well as the negative impact frequent washing has on the clothing itself. So, save yourself some money and lighten your load a bit, quite literally.

Here are 10 ways to break out of the wash cycle.

1. Inspect Before Tossing

Before you mindlessly toss your clothes into the laundry basket at the end of the day, consider if they are truly soiled or not. Items like underwear and undershirts or exercise clothing will certainly need more washing than, say, a sweatshirt or jeans that have been layered or otherwise kept out of dirt's way. A lot of the clothes that are currently in our laundry baskets are — for all intents and purposes — clean. So, break the habit and learn the basics of how long certain items last without a full wash.

2. Hang to Dry Breathe

It's OK to do a little sniff test to ensure your clothing is still somewhat fresh after a day of wear. What will keep items that way longer is picking them up off the floor and hanging on an open rack to let air circulate around and through the fibers. Plus, letting them linger on the floor only invites more dirt (or, if you have pets, worse!) and opportunity for wrinkles to develop.

3. Skip Washing Entirely

For those items that don't need immediate washing, push the envelope a bit. Tullia Jack, PhD student at RMIT University, challenged a group of 30 people to wear the same pair of jeans at least five days each week for a three-month period without washing them. They discovered that after all those wears, they "weren’t visibly dirty and they didn't get smelly." Now, you don't need to go the whole three month challenge, but start with a week and work your way up to a month. You might surprise yourself!

4. Spot-Treat

And just because you're skipping the total washing experience doesn't mean you can't treat little stains that might plague your otherwise clean clothing. Martha Stewart has a rather elaborate guide for removing stains from clothing. Also check out our 14 Effective Grease and Oil Stain Removal Tips and 6 Secret Homemade Stain Removers.

5. Freshen and Press

For clothes that might get wrinkly with wear, simply hang as you would the others to air out. When it comes time to wear again, spritz with some DIY linen and ironing spray and iron out those kinks. Alternatively, you could spritz clothing until damp with a little spray (or just plain tap water) and hang to dry, which should loosen and smooth wrinkles.

6. Keep Up With Routine

For duds that require more frequent washing, be sure to keep up with your laundry habits. This method is a simple way to avoid re-washing items forgotten overnight in a machine (musty smell). Worse? I've had clean and dirty clothing get intermixed and not been able to discern between the two categories. Set designated laundry nights or days and try to get the job done in a couple hours versus spreading it over the course of a week. (See also: Where to Find Missing Socks)

7. Change Into Play Clothes

If you have kids (or act like one yourself), you may wish to save your more expensive items by changing into "play" or lounge clothing when you return home from the day's responsibilities. You don't need to wash these at-home clothes as often as you would the nicer items — just wash once or twice each week, depending on the level of soil.

8. Rinse Well

A trick my husband and I use for exercise clothing: If it's just a simple pair of shorts, a sports bra, or a tech t-shirt — take it in the shower with you after your workout. From there, rinse well with cool water. Then wring out and hang to dry. You can wear again for tomorrow's run!

9. Wear Protection

It's clear that keeping clothes cleaner from the start means washing less. You need not live in a bubble to do so, however. As an avid home cook, for example, I have several aprons in my collection to protect my clothing from the various spills, splatters, and stains I encounter on a daily basis. If you garden or do other messy activities on the regular, wear similar protective layers to keep your garments covered. (See also: Keep Your Kitchen Clean While You Cook)

10. Choose Fabrics Wisely

Certain materials lend themselves to fewer washes better than others. If you'd like to do far less laundry, wool clothing might be a good option for you. The natural fibers resist stains, odors, wrinkles, and moisture. Wool even regulates body temperature so you're likely to sweat less and, in turn, not soil clothing as often. (See also: You Don't Need to Clean Wool)

How often do you wash your clothing? Any tips to share for those of us looking to cut back?

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Guest's picture

I have a "semi-dirty" basket in our room, but I might have to try hanging them instead.

Donna Freedman's picture

Amen! I used to babysit for a family that included three little kids who rarely if ever played outside. Their jeans went into the wash after just one wear. Seriously?
Wrote about this myself, in fact:

Ashley Marcin's picture

That's crazy! Thank you for sharing :)

Guest's picture

Another idea - if clothes only have a slight sweaty odor, I often toss them in the dryer with a damp wash cloth or hand towel and a dryer sheet for 10-20 minutes. It "steams" the odors out without a full wash and dry cycle.

I'm a long term traveler and frequently get clothes sweaty on long walks or bus rides. I would love to figure out other ways to prolong time between washing since here in South America self-service laundry is rare and dryers even rarer, so inevitably you can't wash everything at once and something is always out of commission in an already limited wardrobe.

Guest's picture

Ack! This may be a little too hard to follow when: a) you only have enough decent clothes to last you a week and b) you live in a tropical country - such as the Philippines - where you start sweating buckets a few minutes after you just took your third bath for the day. Hahaha.

Guest's picture

You should NEVER be showering 3 times a day. Wastes water - wipe down with damp cloth dipped in lavender water. Only shower once. Moisten your wrists and back of neck with damp cloth. Keep spray bottle handy to help cool down. Wear a hat or linen clothing. Perspiration is nature's way of cooling you down. Showering dries out your skin and helps you age sooner. The soap lotions and potions add to pointing the water. Keep your hair short. Drink tea slightly warmer than ambient heat to keep cool.