Overwhelming laundry and when to wash
January 18, 2016 9:34 PM   Subscribe

How many times can/should/do you wear your clothes before you wash them?

I personally, own a ton of clothes. When you add in my four year old son's and SO's clothes, our dirty laundry pile is huge! Things pile up rather quickly, since I am in the habit of wearing things once and then putting them in a laundry basket to be washed. I feel that things are dirty even if they don't necessarily look or smell dirty. I was curious about how other people do laundry and how many times you would wear something before washing it? Obviously things like underwear shouldn't be worn for more than a day, and I know many people say they wear jeans multiple times before washing. What is acceptable in terms of work clothes, jeans, dress shirts, towels, and kids clothes with wearing and washing? I know that constant washing and drying wears clothes out and they just don't feel or look the same as new. Any tips would be appreciated!
posted by littlebuddhagirl3 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (37 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I feel the same way you do. Basically change your underwear every day. Jeans can basically go indefinitely without being washed provided they don't get specifically dirty. I would say maybe twice for a shirt, again as long as it doesn't get specifically dirty. Towels I would wash every couple uses or more often.
posted by jitterbug perfume at 9:43 PM on January 18, 2016

I live in New Orleans, so all bets are off during the summer. At any point in that season clothing could become unreasonably sweaty and need to be washed. During the two cool months of the year, though, I apply pretty much the same general rules as I had when I used to live up north in Tennessee:

- socks and underwear are single-use. No exceptions.
- any t-shirt put on in the evening after escaping from work clothes can probably be worn the next evening as well, but has to pass a sniff test just to be sure
- white v-neck tees worn under dress shirts are single-use
- dress shirts can be worn twice if not wrinkly
- dress slacks get 2-3 uses before washing
- blue jeans get washed when I can't remember if I washed them last week or not

Bath towels, dish towels, and things of that nature are tricky down here in the Land of Humidity and the frequency with which they get changed depends on the season. Short answer: if it feels remotely damp the next day then it's probably not a good idea to use it again. Get a fresh one.
posted by komara at 9:44 PM on January 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

Work tops: once and wash. Other tops: 1-2 times. Pants and jeans: multiple wears. Towels: use, hang stretched out in a spot to dry, and reuse until it seems grody (well, right before it seems grody).
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:45 PM on January 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Underthings, new ones every day and washed after one wear. My clothes, depending on how long I wear them/what I'm doing. Most jeans can go 2-4 wearings, shirts that are against my skin, 1-2. Sweaters and sweatshirts (I always have a t shirt or camisole under) can go longer unless they get something on them. For my kids, at age four, new underthings everyday even though I bathed them both every other day (crazy sensitive skin). School / daycare clothes that weren't obviously dirty, usually just the pants, can be put aside and worn again during the week. If any paint, food, dirt, etc....in the wash. New pajamas with every bath. My daughter is a teen now and everything is in a crumpled mess on her floor. I'm sure that she always has clean underthings and socks.... She has to figure out the rest.

Use your best judgement.... Things usually don't need to be washed with every wear if your body is clean going in them and you don't sweat or get them nasty. YMMV but no one ever died wearing a pair of pants without them being washed first.
posted by pearlybob at 9:45 PM on January 18, 2016

But what about a system for wear again clothes? Where do you put them?
posted by k8t at 9:46 PM on January 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

Pants and sweaters I will wear 2-3 times before washing or more. This includes work pants and work sweaters. Basically if it's not stained and doesn't smell, I will rewear it before washing.

Wool suits (if that's someones thing?) should be rotated and dry-cleaned as rarely as possible given temperatures and proclivities for sweating.

If towels are hung after use in a properly-ventilated space, they should last nearly a full week of showers (per person). But I admit I don't have kids.

I am a sweaty person, but if you're not, I don't see why you couldn't hang up any shirt to air out and rewear it again if you want to.

I read a lot of housecleaning tips, and some several-person households do one load of laundry every day instead of a million once a week to keep the laundry pile down.
posted by muddgirl at 9:46 PM on January 18, 2016

Oh, and sheets every two weeks like clockwork, towels left to dry and used 2-3 times max.
posted by pearlybob at 9:47 PM on January 18, 2016

But what about a system for wear again clothes? Where do you put them?

Hung clothes get hung back up. Jeans and sweaters I admit I will fish out a basket or pile. Some people have a special chair for draping not-clean, not-dirty clothes, or a hook on their bedroom wall, or a clothes rack.
posted by muddgirl at 9:49 PM on January 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Underwear/undershirts/socks one wear.

Towels I use for a week or so before changing out.

Flannel shirts/pants/jeans I almost never wash.
posted by Automocar at 9:49 PM on January 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

For re-wearing... You leave it on the floor or chair or bedpost while you sleep then when you wake up put them back on. If you need to put something different or formal on, you come back to wherever you put them next time you need casual clothes.
posted by jitterbug perfume at 9:50 PM on January 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

Anything that has direct contact with a part of my body that sweats gets washed any time I wear it. So, underwear, socks, any shirt I wear without something underneath it, all are single use. Gym clothes, also, washed every time. But since my shins and forearms don't sweat during a normal day, pants or skirts or sweaters I wear over a t-shirt don't need to be washed every time. They get washed when they get visibly dirty or stop smelling fresh, which tends to be about every 3-4 wears.

Towels I swap out about twice a week, and sheets once a week, kitchen towels a couple of times a week or whenever they get dirty. I have enough sheets and towels that I can wait until I have enough to do a load or two that is just those items (on hot water with bleach (because I buy all white precisely so I can bleach them) and without fabric softener, because that's what's best for towels in terms of making them more absorbent). So I save those up and do a load of just them when I have enough to fill a machine.

I have a laundry basket in my closet whose specific purpose is to hold not-clean-not-dirty jeans and sweatshirts and sweaters and such. Pants and skirts for work, I just hang back up on hangers in the closet after wearing them once.
posted by decathecting at 9:50 PM on January 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am fortunate and have a couch in my room. Anything "wear again" ( me and my son's clothes) gets shaken out and laid on that couch. It isn't pretty but it works for us. I usually use all the things again.... If I don't, I scoop them up and they get thrown in with the weekly wash.
posted by pearlybob at 9:50 PM on January 18, 2016

For me, it really varies and it's basically entirely up to whether something looks or smells dirty. I don't wash jeans until they smell, if they ever do, which is not even a given, but they probably get washed at some point after a bonfire/smoky bar/pet situation. Undershirts usually get washed after one use, except tank tops, which for some reason seem to last longer. T-shirts for relaxing in the evening are a 2-3 day thing (I'm not that stinky!). T-shirts I wear during the day are wash after one wear. Sweaters are usually multiple wears, until they smell like they've been worn (or if they're worn without an undershirt). Leggings and tights I wash after 2-3 wears (ideally, it would be more, but I'm not made of time!). Underwear and socks are a one-wear thing. Skirts I absolutely never wash, ever, unless they get horribly messy or stained or something, but then I'm more likely to just discard tbh.

I SHOULD wash gym clothes every time but I just plain don't, because that's a lot of work and idc. Everything I plan to wear again goes back on the shelf or rack where I keep my clothes of the season, in its usual place.
posted by easter queen at 9:54 PM on January 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

To me, this is less a function of usage than a function of available time to do laundry.
posted by AugustWest at 10:00 PM on January 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

But what about a system for wear again clothes? Where do you put them?

Back of chair or garment rack.

Sweaters/cardis, work pants = wear twice. Jeans = wear 2-4x, depending on success managing beverages while wearing them. Everything else (anything worn close to the body - tees, camis, blouses, etc.) = 1 x only.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:04 PM on January 18, 2016

If it's still fine I just literally hang it back up in the closet! (Unless it gets tossed somewhere on the dresser or floor in hopes of hanging it. Usually my floor clothes other than jeans and PJs end up in the laundry anyway.) I'm an adult and I can tell if something shouldn't be worn again. If it can, I seriously hang it back up. It's not going to contaminate the surrounding clothing. It doesn't need to be separated for me to tell when it needs to be washed. For me, it's based on the most recent wear - not how many times I may have worn it.

Undies are once. Obvs. Bras you should wash regularly but I won't judge if you don't.

Shirts for me go a few times, especially if I only wear it for a few hours. If it starts to get wrinkly, stretched out, sweated in, stained, or deoderant-ed it goes into the hamper.

Dress pants/skirts until they get wrinkly, or gross, or sweaty.

Jeans for me go until they stretch out - which is a good rule of when they've been worn a few times. Of course I wash them if I spill something or get mud on the cuffs, etc.

Sweaters go for less time because they tend to stretch between washes.
posted by Crystalinne at 10:30 PM on January 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

I wash things when they smell like I've worn them, or when I've forgotten to fold them and they've gotten all wrinkled.

Except underwear and socks. Those always get washed under one wear.

By smelling like I've worn them, I mean any smell of sweat, crotch, or assorted food/drink items I may have tried painting myself with. Practically, this means that tight pants get one or two wears, looser pants and shirts can get several...

Except in the summer, when I actually experience sweating, and things lose their freshness a lot faster.

If they don't need to be washed, they can go back where they belong in the dresser or closet. If they can't go in the dresser or closet, they need to be washed!
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:36 PM on January 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Uhh I'm gonna out myself as a slob but I just smell my clothes/towels. If they are stinky at all (mild sweat smell, grease smell--thanks a lot, Korean BBQ, etc), they go in the laundry basket. Underwear is the exception of course, no more than one wear. I figure as long as it's not obviously dirty--like stains and such--and it smells nice, who cares? No one knows but meeee (and now, all of Metafilter!)
posted by sprezzy at 10:38 PM on January 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

Aw, I should have previewed! Kutsuwamushi is my laundry twin!

I totally second their last line, if worn clothing can't hang out with unworn clothing, it should probably be washed. I, too, also toss something in sometimes because of the wrinkling thing...because I hate ironing....
posted by sprezzy at 10:41 PM on January 18, 2016

I bet your clothes fade and pill really quickly. One wearing and you wash? Yeesh.

Underwear and socks are obviously single-use, but everything else, unless I get something on it, I just give it the smell test. If it smells dirty, I wash it. That smell can be sweat, food, smoke, whatever, but clothes very rarely smell after the first few uses. Tops take a long time to smell or look dirty unless you cooked something smelly or went to a bar with smoking or something. I can wear a top like five times before I notice anything that says "wash me." Pants, not to be gross, you have to do the crotch smell test for. For pants you wear a long time, sleep in, etc, they will get smellier faster and you need to wash them more frequently.

But for nice clothes that do not smell and still look clean, I fold the item so it doesn't get wrinkled and wear it again. Previously worn shirts I usually fold and leave on my dresser or on a chair in my bedroom. With clothes like jeans or dresses, I'll re-hang them in my closet and I will usually toss them in the dryer for a few minutes before I re-wear them to smooth or any wrinkles and make them look (and smell) fresh. My favorite dryer sheet is original Gain -- such a clean smell to me. For things like sweatpants and pajama pants, I hang them on a hook in the bathroom so I know they have been used before and I don't put them with clean clothes, because like I said, sweatpants and pajamas pants have fewer uses than your other clothes before they get dirty.

I definitely agree that you need to wash your clothes less. It's not necessary, and you're making your clothes look older (and dirtier) faster by doing it.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:59 PM on January 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Underwear gets used once (except bras, which are worn for half a week to a week unless exercised in)
My work uniform gets worn for half a week (2-3 days)
Clothes I wear after work (a sadly small amount of time) get worn all week, but I wear different clothes at the weekend
Pyjamas get washed once a week
Bedsheets once a week
Towels once a week
Exercise clothes get washed after every wear unless it's something like an outer fleece and I know I'll wear it again in the next couple of days
Slippers and dressing gowns and scarves and big fluffy jumpers and things like that probably get thrown in the wash once a month or so.

Obviously if it's hot or I cook something that makes my clothes smell the above rules are ignored and stuff gets washed sooner.
posted by kadia_a at 11:21 PM on January 18, 2016

Oh, and bras I wash like once every few months, max. They are expensive and washing wears them out fast. I know that sounds pretty gross, but I have always lived among very straightforward people, and no one has ever noticed or cared. If I start breaking out in that area I will wash sooner.
posted by easter queen at 11:30 PM on January 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

I wash most clothes after one use and the lifespan is much extended by washing on the delicate cycle and at a low temperature, turning them inside out, and by never using the dryer for anything other than towels. I don't have a laundry day but do a small daily loads. Underwear, socks and exercise clothes are saved up for a weekly or biweekly warm/hot wash. Bras get handwashed after every use, regardless of the fact that they can be astoundingly expensive, otherwise I get eczema along the straps.

I followed this routine in London where all line drying took place over a couple of days on a drying rack in the bathroom, and in Malaysia where it takes about 30 seconds for clothes to dry out on my balcony. Putting clothes to dry on hangers is a good way to minimise wrinkling and get good airflow.

Anything that does get reworn (eg jeans and skirts) gets thoroughly aired between wears. These items don't have a set number of wears: I wash them when they don't feel/ smell/ look clean, whether after one or multiple wears. A good airing is critical to keep them feeling fresh, and to avoid/ reduce the smell of accumulated repeat wears you sometimes get in the cleanest closets.

However I don't have children; they presumably add on many more hot washes.
posted by tavegyl at 11:34 PM on January 18, 2016

I've had T-shirts pass the Smell Test but then get their fragrance 're-activated' half an hour later by my body temperature. Warning.
posted by colie at 12:29 AM on January 19, 2016 [6 favorites]

I wear once and then wash, except when I am in situations where washing clothes is difficult and it is necessary to stretch out the supply of clean clothes. (Traveling, staying at a place where laundry is a big hassle, etc.) I am not the world's most sensitive smeller, but I can easily smell the difference in a shirt or pants that has been worn even once.

I do laundry whenever the basket is getting full, which means a load or two every two or three days. Towels are done weekly or more often if there is a hint of mustiness, sheets are weekly. Once in a while if I am busy or traveling laundry will be done weekly, but I don't have enough clothes to stretch more than just over a week without doing laundry. (When I use laundromats I always see people coming in with huge mountains of clothes, and when you own that many clothes the frequency of washing becomes a choice, not a necessity.)

I've had to live without running water and where keeping things clean took tremendous effort, so having a washing machine in the house feels like a huge luxury and there is something particularly nice about the feeling of clean clothes and sheets that I enjoy, so I don't rewear anything except out of necessity.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:36 AM on January 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

I used to work as a costumer in theatre. We don't have time to wash every actors' clothes after a show and only launder as necessary. I've adopted these habits into my everyday life at home. Small clothes (underwear, socks, pantyhose, under shirts) get washed after every use. Dress shirts get washed if they are sweaty. Stains on larger garments are spot treated. I keep a spray bottle of vodka and water in my room. Around 1:4 ratio vodka to water. I spray my bras, the waistbands of nice skirts and pants, and the armpits of suit jackets. I spray the inside of the garment and spot test if I'm worried it will affect the dye. Then I hang the garments up to air out and dry. The vodka kills sweat bacteria and keeps clothes fresher for longer. Even if you don't spray your clothes after wearing, if they are even a little damp you need to HANG THEM UP either on a hanger or over a chair back to dry them out and prevent mould growth and wrinkling. Wet fabric in a pile will look and smell awful.
posted by Stonkle at 4:45 AM on January 19, 2016 [14 favorites]

Regarding not-clean, not-dirty, I got a bedside table with space for a basket underneath, about 14x14 I'd guess. Repeatable clothes are neatly folded and put in the basket (including PJs and preferred afterpants sweats). They're right to hand, off the floor, and easy to grab all at once to wash when its laundry day.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:49 AM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I was single I washed almost everything almost every time I wore it (except bras and dress trousers). But even though my household now is only me and my boyfriend, I find the laundry more overwhelming and I've become more selective about laundry. (I also use a laundromat now when I've had in-building laundry in the past.)

Part of it for me is that I've gotten more careful about stinking up clothes. Like today, instead of wearing the dress I'm going to wear at work on my bike commute, I wore just my tights and my under-t-shirt under my coats, because I didn't want to stink the dress up. This way, I can probably get two wears out of the dress instead of only one. I will leave it out tonight and then put it back in the drawer tomorrow. In the summer, I will often keep a few outfits at work and wear a different outfit when I'm outside, then I can wear the same stinky clothes on the bike every day and the work clothes don't get gross because I just sit at a computer in them all day. And I choose clothes based on my expected sweat level - if I think I'm going to be sweaty, I'll avoid wearing something that is hard to wash.

I feel like most of my trousers need to be washed after every wear, which is why I wear a lot of skirts.
posted by mskyle at 6:33 AM on January 19, 2016

By smelling like I've worn them, I mean any smell of sweat, crotch, or assorted food/drink items I may have tried painting myself with. Practically, this means that tight pants get one or two wears, looser pants and shirts can get several...

This is me. I do my laundry in a laundromat during the "school year" so I am pretty sparing with when something needs to be washed. I also live in Vermont where this is basically normal. I'll hand wash underwear and socks if I am running out. Bras I barely wash (similar to easter queen). Most top stuff (jeans, sweaters) I only wash if it has visible stains. I own a lot of clothes so I swap out undershirts and t-shirts pretty regularly. My new year's resolution last year was to do laundry every month and I hit that mark, but only just. I am a sort of low-scent human also (low apocrine), so unless I'm really working out or being really sweaty, my clothes don't get too stinky.
posted by jessamyn at 7:11 AM on January 19, 2016

I keep clothes to be re-worn on a row of pegs in my hallway (not my bedroom because I have allergies and don't want them near where I sleep). This gives them a chance to air and dry out. I sometimes find that shirts that don't smell when I take them off DO smell the next day, so this also keeps them from contaminating the clean ones in my closet.
posted by metasarah at 7:14 AM on January 19, 2016

Not exactly answering your question, but Flylady's advice to process one load of clothes a day works really well. Usually I have a dried load still sitting in the dryer. So I turn on the dryer for a minute and go gather a load of laundry. After getting the washer started, I fold the dryer stuff and put it away. Later when the wash load finishes, I transfer to dryer and start the process over again tomorrow. It only takes about five or ten minutes a day and usually that's all it takes to keep up. One load a day, every day.
posted by raisingsand at 8:58 AM on January 19, 2016

So, first I should say that I am the primary laundry-doer in my household of three (me, wife, teen daughter). Now maybe I am just a sweaty pigman, but I can't imagine wearing pants or shirts I've worn to my relatively sedentary job a second time. They'd be all wrinkly and stinky for sure. I wash nearly everything after one wash, and that goes for my wife and daughter as well.

The key is to do laundry before you are out of clean clothes. I try to do a load every couple of days, and then do everything in the hampers (which isn't more than a few loads, if I'm keeping up with it) on the weekend.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:23 AM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine stores dirty laundry in the washing machine.

When I had my own closet, semi-clean laundry got re-hung in its own section in the closet.
posted by aniola at 11:46 AM on January 19, 2016

So... I guess I'm grosser than most people around here (also, I don't have my own washer/dryer in my apartment so I try to only do laundry once a month or so, when the boyfriend and I have about 6-8 loads to do at once; just this past weekend, we did 7 loads in one go). Underwear only gets worn once, but I consistently wear socks 4-5 times between washings; I leave these out, unrolled, hanging over the edge of my sock drawer, and wear them a few times before throwing them in the hamper. This isn't for lack of socks, I just don't notice them getting sweaty or gross. Bras, I wash when I think of it, but I probably go a few months between washings. Work pants I probably wear 3-4 times, jeans 8-10 times, unless there is a spill or some noticeable funk present. Like other people, if they're clean enough to re-wear, I just fold them and put them back with my other pants; I generally can only tell that items have been worn before because, in the case of jeans or other stretchy things, they're a bit looser than when they're fresh out of the dryer. Shirts and sweaters I probably wear 2-3 times, unless I sweat in them, and tank tops I usually wear 1-3 times each under most shirts and sweaters. T-shirts probably 1-5 times, depending on the season (less in summer, more in winter).

I wear my pajamas for a week or two between washing them, try to do the sheets every 2 weeks (but sometimes slack on that), and can probably go a month or more between towels before I notice it, but I live in a dry climate and towels tend to dry completely within a few hours of use, and I use a separate towel for my hair and one for my body. I change out hand towels and kitchen towels when they start getting grimy, maybe every week or two, or if I accidentally drop them on the floor.

I would certainly do laundry more often if I had a washer and dryer all to myself, but not as often as you're doing it. I'd probably just be on more of a consistent weekly schedule for sheets and towels but washing jeans every time you wear them?! I didn't even do that as a crazy teenager with a washing machine in the house.
posted by jabes at 12:24 PM on January 19, 2016

Yeah, I'm also in the grosser camp. I just wear until things are smelly or obviously dirty (stuff spill on them,etc). Except for socks and undies. Otherwise, yeah, til things get stinky oh or too stretched out? I, too, just put things back in my closet for future 'rewear'. Ain't nobody got time to do that much laundry.
posted by theRussian at 5:09 PM on January 19, 2016

theRussian: "Yeah, I'm also in the grosser camp."

I think it's maybe important to mention that any given human can find themselves anywhere along a pretty wide continuum from "sweaty/smelly" to "dry/non-smelly" based on a million factors, from activity level to climate to diet to genetics, so what seems excessive for one person may well not be sufficient for another.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:45 AM on January 20, 2016

I am impressed by people who have a 4 year old and don't feel the need to wash those clothes every time they're worn! (In other words, I wash my kids' laundry after a single wearing. My one kid, despite a million redirects STILL at age 6 uses her clothes as a napkin.)
posted by freezer cake at 1:32 PM on January 21, 2016

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