How often you should wash your clothes? Not that often.
Why I don’t wash my clothes
Words— Jennifer Braun
I was a second-year fashion student when my sustainability teacher first made me think about the process behind washing my clothes. She caught me off guard when she blatantly told the class not to do it. Don’t wash your clothes, she said.
The thought made me cringe for obvious reasons (maybe like this headline did), but I was also suddenly intrigued by the mundane task I did weekly without much reflection.
The CEO of Levis Strauss, Chip Bergh, had previously gone on record with some advice — don't wash your jeans. Instead, Bergh started preaching a new formula of placing your jeans in the freezer. How often? Just once a month next to your frozen vegetables to kill any worrisome bacteria.
The freezing jeans craze was a technique suggested conserving your jeans durability. We’re all aware of the perils of washing our favourite pair of jeans and how there’s no guarantee that the laundry cycle won’t fade or deform our true blues, so if I could spare any heartbreak and not wash them, I would. I have a fairly minimal wardrobe comprised of what I consider all the basics: denim, suede and leather mini skirts, several variations of black turtlenecks, jeans in 3 different washes, and a few trendy tights options. Naturally, I care for all the pieces I own and I would hate to ruin any of it.
Back to my sustainability class, what was also being suggested was a thoughtful consumer solution. As wild as it first sounded, not washing your clothes was actually starting to make a lot of sense.
Turns out, washing my clothes excessively was not only wearing them out quicker (which in the long run is not economic for the pocketbook) but it was also having a direct impact on the environment in more ways than one.
Like the way laundry is contributing to water stress. Washing clothes consumes on average 23 gallons of water per day, nearly 17% of daily household water usage. In fact, recent studies on American household water consumption show that indoor water use is highest in the bathroom, followed by the laundry room.
Then, there’s the issue of microfibers. Clothes shed tons of these tiny little fibres when they go through the wash — that’s our clothes literally falling apart — and they contribute to water pollution. Microfibers travel through the pipes and eventually end up in the oceans, which can be toxic to wildlife and can accumulate in the food chain.
Microfibres and other microplastics shed from some of the most common modern-day materials— natural and synthetic fibres— including cotton, polyester, and rayon. Estimates vary, but it’s possible that hundreds of thousands of fibres from our clothes are released into the water supply, with each load of laundry.
There’s also the fact that sustainability goes hand-in-hand with durability, so when we’re able to care for the clothes we own and make them last by not washing them excessively, we lengthen their product lifetime and avoid new consumption. When we consume less, resources are saved and waste is reduced.
I was completely the type to not think twice before tossing a garment into the laundry bin. I would throw everything into the hamper even if I wasn’t sure if it was dirty. I just didn’t question it.
Now, if my clothes don’t have a stain or smell bad, I’m hanging them right back up. And if there is a small stain, I’ll try a spot treatment before throwing it to the hamper. It’s not so much that I don’t wash my clothes, but that I wash them less. I wash my jeans less, I was my sweaters less, I do fewer loads of laundry per week, eliminating 2-3 loads weekly.
Of course, there are some items that never fall into this category like my undergarments and my gym clothes. These items still need to be washed after each wear. But I am more thoughtful about how I do those loads of laundry.
When it is time to do laundry — because of course, I still do laundry — I do a full load. I stretch laundry days by maintaining a three-week supply of underwear and the same for socks. This way I’m not running my washing machine unnecessarily, but everything is still getting washed.
As for the freezer trick, well that craze has its skeptics. I don’t freeze my jeans, but I’ll easily only wash them after 4-5 wears.
And just like it’s not necessary to wash our clothes as often as we think, it’s also not necessary to wash them in hot water. According to Consumer Report, turns out hot water is not necessary to get clothes clean and is instead just an energy-waste. New washers are much more efficient at cleaning than top-loaders were 15 years ago. Manufacturers have actually been lowering wash temperatures over the years to meet the Department of Energy’s tough energy standards for hot water use. For new machines, laundry detergents have equally been adapted and are now created to work more efficiently in cooler temperatures.
Bottom line, I was guilty of washing my clothes way too often, but I have since embraced a “wash only when necessary” policy that ensures my laundry machine goes off a lot more thoughtfully.
We all deserve clean clothes, but it’s time to reconsider what “clean” really means.