If you think you need to wash your clothes every time you wear them, you’re wasting water, energy and money, and shortening the life of your clothes.
Here’s the rule: if you sweat in it, go ahead and wash it. If you get something on it that can’t be lifted with a spot cleaning (those detergent pens for quick stain removal/prevention are awesome, by the way, but a dab of laundry detergent on a damp cloth works great, too), wash it. Otherwise, hang it back up in the closet. Depending how long you wear an outfit at a time, many of us can get at least two wearings out of most clothing items before needing to launder them.
Of course, there is a secret to how this works: you need to hang up your clothes. If you toss your clothes in the floor in a heap, they’ll get stinky faster from that than from you wearing them. Hanging them up gives them the opportunity to air out, which gets rid of much of what causes them not to smell or look fresh.
When to wash clothes
The way to tell it’s time to launder something is when it stops passing the sniff test. After a while, clothes get that not-so-fresh scent that comes from body oils and soaps and lotions getting trapped in the fabric. This smell is not filth – it’s not disgusting. If you think of it that way, just keep telling yourself it’s brainwashing from detergent companies. If you really have trouble adjusting to this concept – if you find yourself worrying all day that you stink – get a perfume or air freshener that smells like fresh laundry and spritz your clothes with it. Smelling that all day will help you retrain your brain to think your clothes are perfectly presentable even though you didn’t just launder them.
Most items of clothing do not get stinky after a single wearing. They might smell less like fresh laundry and more like you, but until it gets that stale smell, it really doesn’t need to be laundered.
If you sweat a lot – which is actually not a bad thing, and it’s a pity we think of it that way – there are a few tricks to keeping sweat and antiperspirant from dirtying your clothes. Note: it’s not actually sweat that stains your clothes, it’s anti-perspirant, which is not great for your body anyway. And while stinky sweat will make your clothes stink, a deoderant can prevent stink. Surprising as it sounds, even if you think you’re a terrible sweater, deoderant might be your best solution.
You may also be surprised to learn that even after a very sweaty workout, some people are able to wear the same workout clothes at least once again before washing them. The trick seems to be – drumroll, please – hanging your workout clothes up instead of leaving them in a gym bag overnight. Rather than hanging them in your closet, put them on the back of a door or on a hook on a wall so they can air out to the maximum.
Tips: cutting back on laundry
- When you get home in the evening and change into a t-shirt and sweatpants (or whatever), don’t toss the those comfy clothes out after a few hours’ wear, either. Those should last you several evenings – up to a week, easily, depending how many hours you wear them per day.
- Another way to help preserve your clothes longer and save a bit on your energy bills: wash in cold water. There is nothing warm water can do for your clothes that cold can’t, and my clothes have lasted longer since I’ve been doing this (for many years now).
- Underwear and socks should be washed after a single wearing, but bras can generally go for a few wearings. Even department store employees will tell you this. Use the sniff test on bras the same as you would for outerwear, to determine when it’s time to wash.