Am I a monster?
November 28, 2019 5:10 AM   Subscribe

I am trying to figure out how often I need to launder my clothes in order to reduce my impact on the environment and also because I am lazy. I don’t trust the cleaning institute’s advice because it’s the cleaning institute. Google tells me I need to launder a T-shirt after a single use. Traditionally, unless it is smelly, I will wear a T-shirt twice before I toss it into the hamper. I don’t tend to be especially sweaty. Am I monster? Either way, is the single-use rule truly necessary and if so, why?
posted by Bella Donna to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (28 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If it doesn't smell (to other people not just you) and isn't otherwise dirty, why would you wash it? For me, only my gym clothes are single use.
posted by missmagenta at 5:16 AM on November 28, 2019 [10 favorites]

Depending on your climate, activity level, personal hygiene, and body chemistry, it could be necessary to single-wear everything, but for most people I think it is not. You need someone you can trust to give you a sniff on several second (or more) wearings. I will wear shirts more than that.
posted by lakeroon at 5:17 AM on November 28, 2019 [4 favorites]

I think with a cotton t-shirt, that’s fine. With synthetic, tech-y fabric, sometimes a shirt smells OK cold, but the odor comes out with body heat. But you can get to know your particular clothes. I definitely do not launder every article of clothing after every wear. Not even work-out clothes (though I work out alone at home and would be more strict about it if I were working out at a gym or keeping stuff in a duffle or locker.
posted by Kriesa at 5:19 AM on November 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

I don’t wash pants or sweaters after every wear, but I absolutely do wash tshirts, tops, workout clothes that way.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 5:24 AM on November 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

I wear t-shirts and shirts twice by default (unless I get particularly sweaty for some reason).
posted by crocomancer at 5:24 AM on November 28, 2019

I can't wear a T-shirt more than once without it smelling, and I also tend to break out if I reuse clothing that's directly touching my upper body, so that all gets washed after one use. Sweaters, sweatshirts, and most pants get washed when odorous, stained, or befouled in some way that is invisible but unacceptable because I know it's there. If you are a low-sweat, low-smell, non-spilling-things-on-yourself kind of person, I say go for more than one wear.
posted by wakannai at 5:24 AM on November 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

How good is your sense of smell? Check in with others to make sure you have an accurate sense of this - mine is terrible, really weak, and things that are only slightly stinky to me are fantastically smelly to others. A challenge is that a shirt you've worn before may smell okay at the start of day 2 but really not so great by midday.

Also, do you air your clothes between wearings? This can help.
posted by Frowner at 5:26 AM on November 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

If your clothes still look and smell clean, I wouldn't worry.

I live in Florida where it's sticky and sweaty. I have tops I don't wash after every wear -- such as a polyester blouse I wore to dinner when I was clean and showered and it was only a few hours. Polyester does trap odor so keep that in mind.

I try to wash jeans after 5 wears, depending on activity. There is a trend not to wash jeans at all (especially Japanese denim or 100% cotton demin) and I have read that sweat and bacteria can break down fibers.

It's a judgment call. Sweaters and jeans and nice blouses, probably not. T-shirts and work and gym clothes and anything that looks extra crumpled -- I'm washing.

To reduce impact do the things we always hear about -- wash on cold, (use the water saver function on your washer if you have it --many new washers are "water savers") wait until you have a full load, and air dry.
posted by loveandhappiness at 5:28 AM on November 28, 2019

I probably wash my jeans about every 20 wears at most (unless they get actual dirt on them). I have skirts I’ve never washed, especially ones I wear with tights.
posted by Kriesa at 5:31 AM on November 28, 2019 [6 favorites]

We went through the day zero water scarcity thing in Cape Town and learnt a lot about saving water. Air clothing between wearing. Put Tshirts in freezer to kill smell causing bacteria. Spray with dilute vodka to kill smell. Only do laundry when you have a full load of clothes to wash. This way you won't smell, but also, start working on seperating the scent of sweat, from the idea of being unclean in a moral sense.
posted by Zumbador at 6:01 AM on November 28, 2019 [17 favorites]

I generally wear shirts once and trousers multiple times. I don't think you're gross for wearing t-shirts twice, though. My apartment is generally warm in winter and, if I didn't wear a t-shirt to work (hi tech industry and male privilege), I'll often change into whatever t-shirt is at the top of the hamper, which means the same one for several days in a row.

Running shorts (especially those with liners) tend to smell after one use, but can sometimes make it to two. Running shirts do better. (Of course, running a race often means getting another shirt, so I now have more shirts than shorts. But I used to re-wear shirts until I ran out of shorts.)
posted by hoyland at 6:04 AM on November 28, 2019

I have enough underwear and socks for a couple weeks, and bras can be hand-washed. I try to only wash full loads. I have that chair that hold t-shirts that can be worn again (and things I didn't bother to hang up yet) and t-shirts do better with that opportunity to air out. Thin t-shirts on a hot summer day need to be washed. A sturdy polo shirt may be fine. Sniff test.

Dryers use a lot of energy. Anything with elastic - socks, stretch clothes, underwear - only goes on a folding drying rack, and most of the year, I dry clothes outside. On wet days, I hang as much as possible on the rack, or on hangers in the furnace room (conveniently near the washer) or shower bar.

Good question, thanks.
posted by theora55 at 6:09 AM on November 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Number of times worn isn’t the right measurement. It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.

Measuring by smell is much more reasonable.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:36 AM on November 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

To give an extreme example, I got a bunch of fancy merino wool T-shirts on closeout and I wear those every day for a week or two straight. Even then, I wash them more out of guilt and indoctrination than actual odor. My wife, who is not shy about telling me about my morning breath, has sniffed the armpit after two weeks and not detected any odor at all. If you pay sticker price, they do cost like $40, though.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 6:55 AM on November 28, 2019 [4 favorites]

Running shorts (especially those with liners) tend to smell after one use, but can sometimes make it to two.

I find that if I rinse out my running shorts in the shower, or in the sink, immediately after my run, then let them dry, I can wear them several times between laundering, especially if I can hang them up in the sun. A good rinse gets out a lot of the salt, dead skin, and bacteria that are responsible for the odor.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:31 AM on November 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

T-shirts I usually twice unless they are visibly dirty. I use Fabreeze between washes.
posted by Young Kullervo at 7:45 AM on November 28, 2019

I have a spray bottle with vodka and a little itty bit of scented oil and when something needs refreshing but I want to wear it, I spray. I don't know where I got that tip (on here somewhere probably) but it really helps with mild smells. Heavy smells not as much. I think the idea is that the vodka kills scent-causing bacteria but whether or not that's what actually goes on, I don't know. I just know it works for light funk.
posted by wellifyouinsist at 8:00 AM on November 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think it depends entirely on your activity level, how much you sweat (and how much it smells), the climate, etc... I used to wash my shirts every 2 wears until I KonMari'd my closet and now I (ideally) wash my clothes on a biweekly rotating schedule - like one week I'll do whites & towels, next week is darks and sheets. Underwear always goes in the hamper after 1 wear though. Socks too, usually.
posted by zima_lengneui at 8:47 AM on November 28, 2019

Most of the year, I wear twice by default. I hang them on an empty rail expressly for airing purposes (partner does same) and wear again a few days later or following week. Same for jeans and trousers.
posted by lemon_icing at 10:20 AM on November 28, 2019

If you wash your underwear by hand, daily, and hang to dry, then what is in the hamper has a more benign smell. I have a washer, and clotheslines. I share my washer with neighbors. We both line dry, a significant energy savings. I reuse my clothes and do about 2 loads of laundry per month. I am currently retired, buy my neighbors work in education, and have a child. They wash a lot of clothes. I just make sure my machine is full or I use a smaller load setting. I have it down to about as minimal as it can get. For drying, if you turn off the cold water in the wash machine when the whole cycle ends, and then re-spin the clothes, they are drier for however you dry them. You just have to remember to turn the cold back on when you are finished spinning.

I have an old fashioned wash tub. I wanted to experiment with hand washing everything, at one time, when I had to use a huge, loud communal laundry. I never shelled out the $15 for the wringer that would sit on the edge of that tub.
posted by Oyéah at 10:34 AM on November 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

Washing everything after a single wear is a completely post-1950s notion. It's not something my grandmother did. People washed the layers closest to the skin more frequently, and did usually change underwear daily or close to it, by the start of the 20th century. But most other clothes were given a shake and hung up again (this is why clothes trees existed) to air and dry. Sometimes turned inside out. Before wearing again you might steam them or brush them (this is why the likes of Fuller Brush had a much bigger market). It's a little complicated because clothes were also better quality and stood up more to wearing and were easier to clean by brushing.

Working people who wore dungarees or uniforms often changed into and out of them at the shop itself, and replaced them with street clothes. Women at home wore a housedress or aprons that were rougher and could get messier. Saving your best clothes for street wear and occasions meant you could not only wear them more than once (since you weren't wearing them all day long), you could also wear your messy/work/indoor clothes more than once. Our habits did get more informal and casual, but oddly, it made for more work since now we're expected to wear freshly cleaned clothes all the time, even when showing up for rough or outdoor work, instead of just when we're cleaning up for social or formal occasions.

So anyway, it's a modern norm and one you can reject. I change clothes when I get home (to help preserve my more expensive work outfits), and will re-wear the same pair of jeans and shirt/sweater in the evenings for the whole week. In terms of hours of wear it's not even a full day. On weekends I'll also wear the same jeans 2x if they aren't spilled on or otherwise smelly. The things I would pay attention to, that mean the most in social settings, are being sure you don't have an unpleasant smell, and also trying to avoid wearing things that are excessively rumpled and wrinkled. That part you can solve by hanging things up when you take them off instead of dropping them in a hamper or on a floor.
posted by Miko at 10:51 AM on November 28, 2019 [17 favorites]

Co-sign with folks who don't launder shirts (all kinds of tops) after a single wearing.

I make a distinction between "outside" clothes (work clothes such as blouses and buttondown shirts) and home clothes. For work tops, I spritz the armpits of shirts with vodka as mentioned by others (turning them inside out to get the side that was touching my skin). Hang them up on hangers and wear again in a week or however the rotation works out. I probably wash after every third wear?

For home clothes, it's just my partner and the cats, and if I'm not sweating profusely or unexpectedly covered in bacon grease, I think it's perfectly reasonable to wear the same tshirt multiple times. I do generally air the shirt out between wearings, so I probably have 2 "home" shirts I will wear in a week, alternating between them. I will wear the same home cardigan for the week sometimes even two weeks, figuring that it's not actually touching my skin/armpits/pores.
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:00 PM on November 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

If it's a natural fibre shirt like cotton or a cotton/poly mix and I'm just working 9-5 I will re-wear a t-shirt no problem once or twice. I'm not a big sweater and I wear antiperspirant/deodorant, but I do a smell check before the second wear and I hang them in between, stress sweat means I wash it right away even if only I would be able to smell myself (because realistically other people cannot smell something I need my nose in my shirt pit to smell). I generally re-wear my sleep t-shirts and home shirts a few times before I wash them.

I like to wash everything at once over the weekend so I start the week out with a full wardrobe of clean clothes, but I don't wash all my jeans and sweaters that often, I try to go as far as I can between washes to reduce wear.
posted by lafemma at 3:23 PM on November 28, 2019

I think you need a close loved one to tell you whether or not you've hit the level of 'gross' but the only thing I'm 100% single use on is underwear and socks. T-shirts worn one day become t-shirts for the gym the next, sleepy time clothes/indoor pants get worn at least twice, jeans are only laundered when they are visibly....wrong. Bras I wear about three times.

Sweaters don't get laundered much. It just slowly ruins them, which is true of a lot of fabrics.

In short, there's nothing intrinsically gross about doing this unless you're withholding the information that you're a bike messenger or you work in a zoo or as a short order cook.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:44 PM on November 28, 2019 [4 favorites]

The main reason not to re-wear stuff is if you have
eczema or psoriasis [sweat is a skin irritant]
or if you're finding you are getting fungal infections.
posted by Murderbot at 5:48 PM on November 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

There was a thread here once about where to put clothes that have been worn but are not yet so dirty that they would go into the hamper. It was a long thread, but I remember I concluded that this is what stationary bikes or ellipticals are for, or that chair in the bedroom. For comfort and little kids with sticky hands reasons, I usually change into home clothes (ok, often PJs or loungewear I can sleep in if I want to), which also leads to less frequent washing of clothes I wear outside the home.
posted by meijusa at 1:49 AM on November 29, 2019

My partner also has merino t-shirts that he wears for a week straight with no ill effects.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 5:44 AM on November 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm yet another that most assuredly doesn't wash anything after one wear except myself, underwear and socks. Not even my exercising clothes, which I wear 2-3 times (once time a week each) before washing. My regular jeans are hardly ever washed, my work clothes washed about once every 6 months. I do this by not smoking, being a neat eater (if anything gets legit actual dirty, it gets immediately washed), no stinky hobbies, and also by having 'home clothes' and 'work/public clothes'. I live in a hot climate, sweat quite a bit when working out, but my clothes don't smell bad and I've never had any negative comments about my odor, only positive. I also make sure to hang everything up to avoid wrinkles (way more noticeable than smell) and to air dry if it's a particularly hot day. Learn to trust your nose and wash if you see any visible stains. Your clothes will also last much longer.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:50 PM on November 29, 2019

« Older How did I Ms. This is class?   |   Loss of taste Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments