We appear to live in a world of almost maniacal cleanliness. There are many people who insist on washing all of their clothes after just a single wear and most of us will not wear anything more than a handful of times before it is consigned unceremoniously to the laundry bin. One wonders how we would have coped in times gone by when clothes and even nappies were cleaned infrequently. Are we all admirable models of cleanliness or have we taken things a bit too far?
Why do we clean our clothes so regularly? Naturally we do not want to smell and after all unpleasant odours are nature’s signal that something is wrong. Smells can mean bacterial growth and that is not good but the truth is most of us do wash our garments long before they smell and certainly long before the causes of any niffs are actually potentially damaging. We also wash our clothes when they are stained. Fair enough nobody wants to look dirty but the odd mark on clothes we lounge around in at home or cover up with a jacket are not really going to be seen and could stand a little time before the next wash.
The primary reason for clothing to become smelly is contact with the skin. Underwear and gym clothes should certainly be washed after every use but much of our clothing is protected from the skin by undergarments and hosiery and could therefore be safely worn a few times before being effected by body odour. If it is dark in colour any minor marks and stains will not show either. Obviously if you sweat a lot or work in a very smelly or dirty environment your clothes will need cleaning more often.
The Benefits of Delay
Washing your clothes less often may sound lazy or unclean but many garments do not really need washing that often and there are great benefits to reducing the amount of cleaning we do. Firstly there is the undeniable fact that washing damages your clothes. Water exposure and detergents shrink and fade our treasured pieces and can alter the structure of the fibres increasing the effects of wear and tear. Washing also costs us money in the use of detergents, energy and water and then there is the detrimental effect on the environment of using these same resources. We should certainly at the very least delay washing anything until we have a full load even if it means clothes languishing in the laundry basket for a few days.
How long Can We Hold Out?
In 2012 a PhD student in Australia conducted an experiment in an attempt to prove that people wash their clothes way too often. Volunteers were asked to wear the same pair of jeans five days a week for three months without washing them! The participants struggled with the concept after three to 6 weeks but got past their issues and started wanting to wear their jeans again. The research indicated that participants were not socially shunned and that the jeans did not smell unpleasant but merely of people and the day to day odours around them. One pair smelt of caramel for instance. Stains often seemed to wear off and the jeans looked acceptable for the most part. Interestingly men’s jeans smelt better than the ladies’ garments!
Three months without washing is probably a little extreme but there is no doubt that we really do not need to wash our clothes quite so often as we do for health or social reasons. We can all save time, effort, money and the environment by wearing at least our top layers a little more before we put them in the wash.
- License: Creative Commons image source