What’s the easiest way to make your laundry routine more sustainable? Simply do less of it. A single load of laundry can take anywhere from 15 to 45 gallons of water. It may not sound like a lot on its own, but when you take into account that the average American family does 300 loads of laundry per year, it sure does add up.
The water use and energy use (not to mention all those microplastics!) has us asking the question: How often should you wash your clothes? Surprisingly, it’s not as often as you think. Here’s a dermatologist’s take.
How Often Should You Wash Your Clothes?
According to Annie Gonzalez, MD, FAAD, a board certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology in Miami, failing to wash our clothes frequently enough can result in a variety of pretty unfavorable skin conditions.
“Our skin reabsorbs all the oil on our clothes, and the oil clogs the pores and causes body acne,” says Dr. Gonzalez. “The dirt from unwashed clothes can also enter the hair follicle, and the hair follicle becomes infected. Because your clothes rub against your back, you may get bacne as well. Or, you may develop an itchy rash from all the bacteria on your clothes rubbing against the skin.”
So, how do we avoid all these issues while still keeping our laundry to a minimum? Ultimately, the answer to the question depends on the type of garment.
The clothes we wear to work or around the house can probably afford to go a few days between laundering—especially if you work from home.
“If you’re wearing something for a few hours, and not sweating, it’s probably okay to wait 2 to 4 wears before washing. Or, after a full day’s use,” says Dr. Gonzalez. “If you’re working from home, it’s probably okay to wait after 3 to 4 wears before washing your clothes.”
In general, Dr. Gonzalez recommends washing anything that has very direct and consistent contact with your skin (think socks or undershirts) more frequently. However, for items like pants, dresses, and shorts, Gonzalez says there’s no need to wash until they’ve been worn 2 to 3 times (unless they’re visibly dirty or you’ve been working up a sweat, of course).
What about sleepwear? Gonzalez says it’s okay to go 2 to 3 wears before washing your pajamas. However it’s important not to go too long. Especially if you’re a sleep sweater (in which case you need to check out these insanely breathable sheets).
“If you don’t wash your pajamas, perspiration, dead skin cells, body care products, and bacteria can build up in your sleepwear,” Dr. Gonzalez says. “When your dirty pajamas rub against your skin, your skin can flare up, and you can develop pimples, cysts, or other types of infections.”
Underwear and Bras
Finally, underwear. As you may have guessed, this category of clothing should be washed after each use. “You should always wash undershirts, underwear, and socks after every use because these pieces of clothing are in very close contact with your skin and sweat,” says Dr. Gonzalez. There’s one exception: bras.
“Bras should be cleaned after 3 to 4 wears, unless you’ve worked out in it or sweated,” Dr. Gonzalez says. “If you wear a bra too many times without washing it, microorganisms, fungi, yeast, and bacteria begin to grow on the bra. This can cause an infection or rash, which can cause the skin to become itchy and red. Oil can also grow on an unwashed bra, which can trigger an acne breakout under your breasts, or along your ribcage.”
There you have it: In most cases, a wash after every use isn’t necessary. But when laundry day does come around, there are still a variety of eco-friendly laundry methods you can use. From hang drying to doing larger loads to using eco-friendly detergents, you can make your laundry room one of the most planet-friendly spaces in your house.