Washing your clothes can be a bit of a chore (though it can be made much easier), and it's just another part of a usually busy day, especially if you have a lot to do. Yet if you put a bit more thought into it, you might find there is more you can do to help your clothes stay clean and in good condition. There are debates about how to do it best, what products to use and not use, whether to separate certain items and more.
We want to focus on a more fundamental question: how often should you wash your clothes in the first place? So here's everything you need to know, at least for a basic wardrobe.
Shutterstock/ Rozhnovskaya Tanya
Why Should You Care?
Washing your clothes is necessary. There's no way around it unless you only want to wear clothes once after buying them (and that's not very efficient). Yet, at the same time, each time you wash your clothes, you do wear away at them just a little bit. Your washer does a great job of removing dirt and debris, but it isn’t exactly gentle on clothes, especially delicate things like bras and leggings. Think about where lint comes from for a moment. It’s usually from damaged caused by the washing machine. And when you want quality (or even when you don't), clothes can be expensive. A new pair of pants can easily cost $50-$100. You want them to last, and you want them to look great and not worn down when you are wearing them
On the other side of the equation, some want to go as long as possible without washing their clothes.
While there are many guidelines and soft rules on how often you should wash your clothing, there is ultimately one that trumps all: if an item of clothing is dirty, you should clean it. If your jeans are caked in mud, it doesn't matter that you've only worn them once. As much as doing a load of laundry for s single item might feel like a chore, you should get rid of that stain on your dress shirt sooner rather than later. Your intuition will guide you better than any article when it comes to obvious cases.
However, now that the obvious is out of the way, what about the more unusual cases?
It Depends on the Clothing
As with many things, the ultimate answer to how often you should wash your clothes is "it depends." Each garment has different needs, is made from different fabrics, and has a different amount of contact with your skin. Let’s face it, workout clothes and snug-fitting t-shirts collect more dead skin cells and deodorant than, say, outerwear. And the khakis and sweaters you wear to work probably don’t get as dirty as what you wear when doing yardwork on the weekend. So it stands to reason that some clothing can go longer without a wash than others.
Here's a general guide to long you can go between washes based on the type of clothing:
Undershirts/T-Shirts/Tank Tops/Camisoles: Given how much skin they are in close contact with, you should wash undershirts and t-shirts after every wear. Even if you didn’t have one on for very long, it can still absorb a lot of body oils, sweat, etc.
Bras: In general, wash bras every 3-4 wearings. However, in warmer environments or if you sweat a lot, washing should be more frequent. It’s a good idea ot hand wash bras to prevent damage and ensure the longest possible life.
Underwear: Underwear should be washed after every wear for obvious reasons. There might be a few types that are the exception, but they are precisely that: the exception.
Socks: Socks should be washed after every wear. After use all day, they potentially take in the most sweat and dirt.
Shirts/Blouses: Depending on how long you wore them and in what environment, shirts and blouses should be washed every 1-2 wears.
Skirts/Dresses: Skirts and dresses usually are good for every 3 wears, though this can vary based on the amount of skin contact.
Dress Pants or Slacks: In most cases, you should wash them every 2-3 wearings. If you are more active in them, then you might need to wash them more frequently.
Yoga Pants, Swimsuits, etc.: Generally, you should wash these items after every wear, especially if you wear them during strenuous activity. If you only wear your yoga pants when lounging around the house, you can probably get away with wearing them twice. Always wash your swimwear right away to remove chlorine and prevent mildew.
Jeans: You can usually wear jeans 4-5 times before washing them except when they've got filthy. However, this is often debated, and some say you should effectively never wash your jeans.
Sweatshirts/Sweaters: If you wear a shirt under your sweater or sweatshirt, you can wear it about 4-5 times before it needs a wash. Otherwise, you should wash it every 2 times you wear it. Keep in mind that sweaters made from cashmere require extra care and may need to be dry cleaned.
Suits/Blazers/Most Jackets: This can vary quite a bit depending on the exact article in question, but a good rule is every 6 wears or so. Note we are mostly talking about the jacket portion here. Slacks for a suit should go by the general rule above. Like cashmere sweaters, suits, blazers and suit jackets often require dry cleaning.
Workout Wear: You should wash your workout wear every time you use it. There isn't much of a way around this, and perhaps there shouldn't be. You don’t want to keep wearing something that’s coated in sweat and the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Yuck.
Sleepwear: You can usually wear most sleepwear two to three times before needing to wash it. However, this is a point of personal preference. Most people sweat a lot at night without even realizing it, and some sleepwear is better prepared for this. If you sleep in something like a t-shirt or sweatshirt, follow those items' guidelines instead. And don’t forget to wash your bed sheets on a regular basis, too.
If Also Depends on the Fabric
Some fabrics take in and absorb grime and sweat more than others. In turn, this affects how often you might need to wash something. For example, cotton has different needs than nylon, which has different needs from silk. We encourage you to look into the properties of each fabric to not only satiate your curiosity but to learn how to best treat your clothing. Always check the care label on your clothing (and even household linens) before laundering it for the first time. These often-ignored tags contain a wealth of information that can help you keep things clean and extend their life.
Yet, in a world with an endless variation of fabric blends, it can get more complicated. It's best if the clothing manufacturer has instructions regarding washing frequency (ideally right on the tag). Sometimes, though, you might need to check online for additional information or use your own best judgment. Again, if it looks or smells like it needs washing, then it does. When in doubt, you can always consult with a professional dry cleaner for advice.
However, you should keep in mind that the fabric more commonly affects how you wash something rather than how often you wash it. Delicates and knits need delicate cycles, and so on. You may need to use different laundry detergents for certain items, too. For example, you may want to use a detergent containing color-safe bleach to keep vibrantly colored garments looking their best. Keep all of these things in mind when organizing your laundry room and doing your laundry.
How Should You Organize All of This?
The information in the article is simple enough, but it can get more complicated when you try to implement it in your everyday life. After all, how will you keep track of how many times you've worn your jeans, especially if you like to change up your wardrobe from wearing the same jeans five days in a row? While you could use a tracking system or sticky notes or try to remember off-hand, those options seem either unreliable or take more effort than they are worth.
The good news is that depending on your workflow, general schedule, etc., you're probably going to track fewer items than you think. Think about what you're wearing right now. If you're like most people, your pants, sweater, bra (if you wear one), and special items such as jackets are the only things you need to keep track of. Your socks, underwear, first-layer shirt, and things such as workout wear are one-time use before throwing them in the hamper. That's few enough items to stash in a corner until their next use, with a note if you don't trust your memory.
Some Exceptions, Notes, and Alternatives
When it comes to laundry, there are general trends instead of rigid rules. Here are some extra things you might want to know when you are considering when to do your laundry:
- Some dryers have things such as steam cycles. If you have access to this, you might be able to quickly put some items such as pants in there, allowing you to wear them a bit more before needing to wash them properly.
- As you might have noticed, sweat is the determining factor for the most part. People in colder climates or people that don't sweat a lot probably don't need to wash many of their clothes as frequently.
- Garments made from delicate materials have their own requirements. Suede vests, silk scarves, and angora wool hats are a few items that are best left to cleaning professionals.
- If it's been a while since you've washed something and you have worn it at least once, it's better to wash it than not. You don't want bacteria making it a happy home, and a fresh feeling can boost your confidence.
- If you only wear something for a few hours or are mostly just trying it on to experiment with outfits, you likely don't need to worry and can ignore the need to wash it after that "wearing." Prolonged contact with skin and the outside world is what matters here. There isn’t enough time for debris to build up (unless you’re already filthy or get dirty quickly) when you only have something on for a few moments.
- The debate is ongoing for practically every item mentioned on this list, and with good reason: different writers and experts come from diverse backgrounds. A writer from a hot climate might skew towards more recommended washing, and vice versa for cold environments.
- Best laundry practices still matter when you are handling everything. Overloading the washing machine or not drying things properly will only prematurely damage your clothing or result in a less-than-clean result.