Are You Doing the Laundry Too Often?
The average family does 300 loads of laundry per year. How much time are you spending on this task? It's probably too much.
Do you toss those freshly-laundered jeans in the hamper after one day’s wear? You don’t need to. Jeans, like most clothing, don’t need to be washed after every wearing.
“Washing our clothes too often is the number one reason they lose color and shape,” says Frej Lewenhaupt, co-founder and CEO of Steamery.
It’s also wasteful. The average washing machine runs through 23 gallons of water per load, and older models even more. (An Energy Star rating brings that down to 13 gallons.) Energy Star says 90% of the energy used per cycle heats the water. So if you’re doing a bunch of extra loads of laundry, the costs add up, for your wallet and the environment.
Doing extra laundry doesn’t just waste water. Laundering synthetic fabrics adds hundreds of thousands of microfibers to wastewater with every load. That makes laundry the largest source of primary microplastic pollution in the oceans, according to researchers.
What can you do to help? Start by not washing clothes unnecessarily. Many clothes can be aired instead of washed. “Steaming is another gentle way to quickly freshen up your clothes,” Lewenhaupt says. Steam’s heat kills bacteria and removes bad odors.
How Often To Wash Clothes
So how often should you wash your clothes? “The first rule is to check how close to the body you wear the item,” Lewenhaupt says, That means you’ll likely wash socks and undershirts after every use, but outerwear may go weeks or even months between laundry days.
If anything smells funky or has dirt all over it, toss it in the laundry. Otherwise, be deliberate. That will extend the life of your clothes, help the environment and reduce your energy bill.
Here are some basic guidelines:
“Denim garments should be washed as little as possible,” Lewenhaupt says. Once a month is plenty, and you can even go longer. Between washings, air them outside and spot treat stains. Steaming and fabric sprays can take care of odors if they need a refresher.
When it’s time to launder them, turn them inside out and wash on a gentle, cold cycle. Hang or dry flat and avoid the dryer, Lewenhaupt says.
Lewenhaupt generally recommends washing dress shirts after a couple of uses, but rely on your senses to know for sure. “If it has a stain, or it smells, it’s time to wash it,” Lewenhaupt says. Natural materials don’t hold on to odors like synthetics, so airing cotton shirts in particular will extend their use between washes.
Skirts and slacks
Depending on what they’re made of and how often you wear them, skirts and slacks can be washed once or twice a month, Lewenhaupt says. “A good start is to air them outside and steam them between washes,” Lewenhaupt says. Polyester and nylon may need to be washed more often than cotton.
Workout clothes get smelly fast. For one thing, they’re usually made from odor-absorbing polyester or nylon. Second, they’re worn next to the body while you engage in physical activity.
You’ll likely wash this gear after every use, but Lewenhaupt says to give it a sniff and a once-over. If it wasn’t worn next to the skin, it might not need to be washed every time.
Sweaters, particularly those made from natural fibers, don’t need to be washed often, Lewenhaupt says. Just like many other fabrics, cashmere, wool and silk can be aired as an alternative to washing. Washing your synthetic sweaters less frequently will extend their life and reduce the microfibers released into the environment.
Once a week is a good starting point, Lewenhaupt says. We wear PJs close to the body, and the fabric collects bacteria, sweat and dead skin cells while we sleep. Modify as needed if your sleep habits dictate.
Coats and jackets can be washed infrequently. Air them out instead, and brush off dirt and hair. Allow to dry thoroughly if you get caught in rain or snow.
How Often to Wash Bedding
Lewenhaupt says this depends on use, but one to two weeks for bed linens is standard. The American Cleaning Institute (ACI) recommends every two weeks for bedsheets, and once a month for comforters and blankets.
How Often to Wash Towels
Washing towels, like bedding, depends on how much you use them, Lewenhaupt says. They’ll last three to five uses per wash if allowed to dry completely after your shower or bath, according to the ACI. So hang up those towels.