Thursday, September 03, 2009

Mail Bag: Laundry Day

Dear Kasmira,

My question is that how you wash the clothing you wear differently everyday. My mother wanted to have all the things clean everyday. So she washed almost all the clothes, I mean shirts, dress, and, for my brother's case, dark denim jeans. I am feeling guilty when I do not wash shirts and pants after one time wearing. My mother even did not allow once worn clothes back to closet before they freshly washed.

I wash things for my six year old daughter everyday. It is understandable for younger kids [who] mess their clothes several times a day, and I know some of the stains go off just after they get in to the fabrics.

When you change everyday, how do you wash them?

Me? I am a little bit of my mother-kind of person so it was not a big deal for me to wash the clothes washable in washing machine, and hand wash is OK with me. What about the dry clean only materials? My big concern is about the dry clean only summer clothing. How do you cope with that? Or am I too particular?

Grace from South Korea

I’ve actually been asked this question a few times, and I’ve answered it via comments. I have always been a bit hesitant to publish my answer as an actual blog entry because *gasp* I think I have some things I’ve never, ever washed.

I think you’ll agree that modern society is a bit obsessed with cleanliness. We’re terrified of germs, grease, and odor. I certainly don’t advocate a return to the days of monthly baths and pomanders, but we could probably chill out a little on the use of detergents.

When I was a child, I tossed my clothes into the dirty hamper every night and they probably needed the washing. Kids are messy. They spill food, play in the dirt, and have assorted accidents. But when was the last time you came home from the office with grass-stained knees and ketchup down your front?

Not only is daily laundering usually unnecessary, but it’s hard on your clothes. Detergents and heat stress fibers and fade dye. Dry-cleaning chemicals are notoriously harsh (and toxic). After multiple washings, even following care directions on the label, I’ve found that most items fade, pill, shrink or lose shape.

Finally, the process of cleaning clothes consumes a huge amount of resources. Traditional washing machines use gallons of water (the average is 55!) If you use warm or hot water, your water heater gets in on the action. I once (foolishly) watched the electric meter spin round and round while the dryer was running. One must also consider the contents, packaging, and transportation of laundry detergent and additives.

Call me green or call me gross, these are my guidelines on cleaning clothes:

Wash after every wearing: socks, tights, underwear, workout clothes, and anything stinky, sweaty, or soiled.

Wash after every few wearings: jeans, shorts, tees, tanks, and casual dresses. Many of these items are made from fibers that stretch from wearing, so I find that a wash and then finish in a hot dryer are necessary to restore them to their original shape.

Sniff test the rest: suit separates, dress pants, skirts, non-casual dresses, sweaters, blazers, blouses, and vests (i.e. most of the things one wears to an office). Since we’re all so hygiene obsessed, we’re usually clean when we put our clothes on and they don’t get soiled over the course of the day. Unless you had a stressful, pitted-out kind of day at work, the deodorant you applied in the morning prevented any body odor from stinking up your clothing. Give your duds a quick sniff when you change out of them. If they don’t smell bad, hang them in a location with good air circulation for a day or two before returning to the closet. I drape my things over a carved wooden screen.



And I never ever leave them in a big pile where my cats can sleep on them.


Items worn as second layers, away from the body, can usually go the longest without cleaning. Eventually, even the cleanest body soils garments worn next to the skin, but it doesn’t usually happen in one wearing. In my wardrobe, things that are truly dirty are washed at home or sent to the cleaners.

Limiting the cleaning of clothes to the soiled and the stinky is budget and earth friendly. Your items will look newer, longer. If you're sure to give your items an airing between wearings, you will not smell bad. (I smell quite nice, actually.)

What’s your laundry philosophy?

41 comments:

eednic said...

i must say i concur with your laundry day assessments. it was my mother, actually, who had to point out to me during college that I no longer needed to wash every single thing every time I wore it, particularly if it wasn't dirty!

Sheila Marie said...
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Sheila Marie said...

Same here, I don't usually wash clothes unless it's really smelly...

Normally, when I change to my "house clothes" (ratty college shirts and shorts are so comfy :P), I hang up my office clothes where it can be aired out. By bedtime, it smells fine and I can wear them again next week or the week after minus ironing too...(most of my clothes are wash and wear)

This way you use less detergent, water and electricity... and precious time you can devote to other productive activities.

Kiki said...

I completely agree with you! I only wash clothes after one wearing when I taught preschool - kid smutch on me everyday. Now it's every 2 or 3 wearings.

Jessica said...

I follow pretty much the same methodology. There are things hanging in my closet that I've worn 5 or 6 times that have yet to be washed. A pair of wool pants that I've had for over a year that have never been washed.

What do you do with things that have lost their shape? Particularly something that has stretched out? I have some lace-trim tanks that have seemed to have stretched and it bothers me a great deal.

Penny said...

Great advice and I completely agree. Could you imagine how hard and expensive it would be to clean - let's say a blazer every day? Yikes!

Jennie said...

Hi Kasmira!

I agree with your washing method.
Detergents and dryers are so harsh on clothes -- for some items, it's best to hold off of washing them everyday.

Regarding drycleaning: I just found an organic "dry-cleaner" (their process is actually wet) in the bay area that is so awesome! They use environmentally friendly cleaning compounds and methods. Plus, since they're cleaning method is actually wet, my clothes always come back smelling SO GOOD. Typical dry cleaners I've been to return my clothes smelling worse than when I brought them in... If you can find a dry cleaner like this in your area, I highly recommend it!

nurmisur said...

That's pretty much what I do to my clothes. I don't consider myself particularly earth friendly but I agree that in this society we tend to overclean and sometimes there is no need for it, we're only spoiling things.

Meli22 said...

totally agree. and I am careful WITH washing too! Nothing is washed in hot, Jeans and fade-prone clothes are washed inside out, etc! I will wear jeans until they are noticebly dirty or smelly or just need the wash for the shape. Trousers are washed every 3 wearings (approx.) unless they get dirty or look bad. certain blouses are only washed when ABSOLUTELY nessesary- and cardigans generally can get 5 wearings. with blazers and expensive clothes I am careful in them so they last longer between washings. When I am done wearing an item, I don't throw it in a pile and let it crumple, I hang it up or fold it.

Kelly said...

I follow a lot of this, except I do wash my shirts every time, even if it's a sweater (which I know freaks some people out because I know plenty of people don't wash sweaters ever). I don't know - I'm not an insane sweat factory, but I feel like the combination of deodorant and sweat makes me want to wash it after every time. If I wear something once and think I won't wear it again for a couple months (a party dress I wore to an all-day wedding, for example) I usually wash it before putting back in my closet.

I am trying to work on not washing some things as much - I am good about wearing jeans plenty between washings, but for some reason I have a hard time doing the same with skirts.

Sal said...

Yes. Yes to ALL. Washing everything every wearing is time consuming and wasteful of resources. I follow this philosophy TO THE LETTER. It's actually a little spooky ...

Megan said...

Yep, thats pretty much exactly how I take care of my clothes too. Except I have a dog that likes to use them as a bed instead of a cat! Glad you had the balls to admit it on the internet!

Marieke said...

OMG - how cute is your bedroom?? Have you ever submitted to Apartment Therapy? You totally should.

April said...

I agree with everything you said. I probably still wash my clothes too often.

I do recommend, though, if you are worried about body odor, trying some of the "prescription strength" deodorants that you can buy now (Secret Clinical, etc.). My job is at a lab, and I spend a lot of time covered up by a lab coat (good for preventing stains and dirt) but running around doing experiments (can get a bit sweaty). I found this made a big difference for me.

The Magpie's Daughter said...

I have nothing sensible to add other than 'awwww look at the little kitty!'

Rosie Unknown said...

I agree with pretty much everything you have said. I used to be obsessed with washing everything, every time I wore it, then I realized how much water and electricity I was using, and that I was damaging my clothing, so now, I do pretty much the same thing as you.

gina said...

My laundry practices are almost exactly the same. I put dirty items in the laundry bag and hang the rest to air before putting them away. I machine wash in cold, and rarely use the dryer (just for sheets, towels and jeans). I air dry everything else.

Some more delicate items (sweaters, tights, bras, some blouses) I hand wash in cold water instead of using the washing machine. Before I do laundry, I take a quick survey of my closet to see if there's anything that's been put away but which I've worn several times and could use a wash since I'm running a load anyway.

Lorena said...

I was thinking about this last week when a friend told me that she had NEVER washed a pair of jeans that she had owned for over a year... I thought she pushed it a little far but then again it´s a personal choice.
I usually HAVE to wash all collar shirts as for some reason half of my make up is there by the end of the day.
The rest of my outer garments, unless they are white, can go on for at least 2 to 3 more outings...

Polik said...

My washing philosophy is similar. I also often steam my clothes before putting them back into the closet. Hot steam disinfects, removes small particles and irons at the same time making clothes look and smell fresher.

Grace said...

Mom, do you read this?(She has been dead for sixteen and half years. She died of cancer in her middle of fifties.)

Thanks to you, Kasmira and thanks to all the commenters.

Actually what I do with the dry clean only things is the same way, because I cannot afford every summer dry clean only things to get cleaned every time I wear them. The thing is that I WAS guilty because I am a bit different from my mother.

One of the my memories of my mother is that when I wanted to do something with her, I should have waited for her washing to be finished and hung on the clothline all around the garden, literally every day of warm and sunny days and very often even during the winter. I even could play hide and seek around the sheets, dresses, and dad's trousers.

By the way came to your blog while I serched around how to wear full length skirt fashinablly and turned up into amazingly inspiring pictures. My work place dress code and the social atmosphere in Korea are basically more conservative and give me very little room for colorfulness and accessories. I, however, can try some of your great tips in other occaasions.

Astra said...

I live alone so I only have my own clothes to wash and since I don't wear anything around the house, that amounts to very little washing.

My guidelines are:
1. Is it stained?
If the answer is yes, I handwash the item straight away to prevent the stain setting in. I'm especially careful to check under the arms because I have hyperhidrosis and certain fabrics/dyes are affected by the deoderant that gets sweated onto the wet patches. Sorry if that's TMI but really, it's the easiest way to ruin a top.

2. Does it smell funny?
Fairly self explanatory. If I've been to the stables in it or been near a smoker, it'll stink so it goes straight in the washing basket. Everything else I sniff to decide.

3. Has it lost its shape?
You hit the nail on the head here, Kasmira. Some clothes seem to need a wash to get them back into shape after you've worn them a couple of times.

I always handwash bras, tights and leggings to avoid damaging them. Everything else (unless it's stained and needs immediate attention) goes in the washing machine. Although I'm careful to separate the different colours, I don't take any notice of the label because I always wash things cold and on the "delicates" setting. I don't have anything that requires ironing or dry cleaning so it's pretty easy really :)

Lisa said...

I'm pretty similar in my laundry habits. It's interesting to see that so many people commenting here have the same laundry philosophy.

I also tend to wash most of my clothes on the "delicate" washer setting and hang-dry the majority of of my clothes- not only does this prevent them from shrinking in the wash, it also keeps the dryer heat from blasting all the color and softness out of the fabrics. I think it's the dryer that really makes clothes look older the fastest.

Vanessa said...

I agree with this 110%. I would also say that we'd save a lot of energy/water if people didn't shower EVERY day. There are some days where I just don't think I've gotten dirty enough to merit scrubbing.

Bonnie said...

I'm so glad to know that I'm not the only one to not wash every thing everyday. Another great tip for keeping clothes really fresh and your closet smelling great are these little Tide air freshener things that hang on your hangers. I found them in Walmart near the hangers and laundry baskets. They come in a six pack and are about the size of a silver dollar with a ribbon hooked through that you just put around the neck of your hanger. It says to put on every 5-6 hangers but every 10 or so works just as well.

Sheila said...

I'm also exactly the same - how reassuring that there are so many of us who do the same thing.

I won't buy anything that I wear close to the body that has to be dry-cleaned, but a lot of clothing that says "dry clean only" CAN actually be handwashed (but be careful!).

I save up my clothes and then do a load every 2 weeks in cold water, on delicate (we have a water-saving, energy-conserving washer/dryer), and I tumble dry on low heat/delicate setting. I hang dry all bras, tights and anything with sequins or embellishment on it.

Brande said...

I just started loving your blog 100x more because you have green principles. Stylish AND ecologically aware? Best. Blog. Ever!

Dimonds said...

For the most part I do the same things, but I might be a bit more cavalier with some of my clothing...

I run some delicate items on a very low dryer setting for about 5 to 10 minutes to get the wrinkles out. It doesn't dry the items, but it releases the wrinkles.

Also, another idea for saving clothing from the dryer: if the dryer has the option on how dry you want your clothing. Go for damp-dry and promptly pull out your clothing and hang them. This does not dry out the fibers as much plus you save energy =)

Kari said...

My laundry philosophy is pretty similar. Sometimes if a piece of clothing is only soiled in a certain spot - like I've dripped something in a small area on a shirt - I apply an enzyme cleaner to it and then hand-wash just that section of the item. Or if something looks wrinkled, I might steam it (or even hang it in the bathroom while showering for a "lazy man's steaming") in between washes.

Missa.Vogue said...

OMG I'm so glad you posted this!!! My boyfriend gets SO upset with me when I don't put my clothes in the dirty clothes. One day I wanted to wear a cardigan to work that I had put in with my "dirty" clothes, so I picked it up, sniffed it, and it was totally fine, so I put it on. He couldn't get over it! He kept saying "that is so disgusting!" I was like "uhh no it's not. It's still clean. I just wore it once and I didn't even sweat!" ... He just didn't get it!

So thank you so much for posting this!!!

Lesa said...

I hate to disagree, but even though I totally agree with the environmental issues, my family and I live in Ft. Lauderdale. A cold, albeit cool day is very rare. We wash or dry clean every single thing we wear because the humidity is FIERCE. This is my excuse to buy mass quantities of clothes so I do not have to wash them as often--just wear something else...lol.

Thais said...

I'm with Lesa. I live in Texas. It is flipping hot! Anything that got sweated on gets washed. We get a better winter than Florida does, and I wash my sweaters after wearing it twice. Even if I didn't get sweaty, stinky, or soiled shirts, tank tops and tees get washed after one time. Jeans about 2-3 times of wearing them and then washed. Except for husband... husband's clothes get washed after any wear time. Boys are so much more stinky that girls! SHEESH!

Jael Paris said...

I do the same thing. My brother once informed me that was gross, but he's a contractor. If he doesn't launder what he's worn, he reeks to high heaven!

Jess said...

My laundry philosophy is pretty much the same as yours. I see no need to wash my day clothes after each wear- usually that one wear is for a 9 hour period of time during which I sit at my desk, so really there just isn't the need. I have no desire to spend all my free time doing laundry anyway!

I've ruined clothing in the past from too much reckless washing, so not only do I try to wash only when needed (it can vary, so I always evaluate each garment before/after wearing), but also I try to baby them in the washing process. Most of my nice clothing gets washed in cold on the gentle cycle, and sweaters don't see the indie of a dryer ever!

Reedie said...

I guess I'm a rarity. I can only think of one piece of clothing that I have never washed--a denim jacket, and that's because I'm so afraid it will lose its shape.

I'm uber-sensitive to smells, which is why I think I wash everything every time. When I travel with a friend of mine, she thinks I'm insane because I must have clean pjs for each night--she wears one set all week/end. I just can't do it. I think perfume smells different when it has faded and it makes me crazy. I can smell it in my clothes when I've been to Subway--I feel like a loaf of bread! When my husband comes out of the gas station, I can still smell the coffee on him hours later. I cook a lot and I know that stays in the fibers too.

Kelly said...

@ Reedie - Subway kills me! I go there almost every day for lunch, and I'm in there maybe 5 minutes total (because I just bring it back to my office) and the whole rest of the day I smell like Subway bread. I don't get it. And I do not have a sensitive nose at all.

Lauren said...

I fully agree with your philosphy. I've even switched to Tom's Natural Deodorant and my clothes do not smell after two or three wearings. I think if we surveyed women we'd find that one of the least washed items of clothing (which maybe you included in underwear or maybe not?) is our bra! In college my roommate and I fabreezed them and hung them over a box fan. I've switched to comfy fabric and sports bras as I have a preteen sized chest, so they're easy to wash, but since the stretch wears out with more washing I still wear them 3 times at least before washing (though not if I've been active, of course).

Janni said...

I totally agree and do the same thing!! Glad I'm not alone. My husband on the other hand wears things once and they end up in a huge pile on the floor of our closet. Then he gets upset when I don't do his laundry right away. Maybe, try hanging things up!! Okay vent over, lol!! :o)

Regina said...

Great entry! I have one more trick that I personally employ. I have one or two pairs of pants that seem to be a mess of wrinkles after every wear but I don't feel that they need to be cleaned so often. So when I do laundry, I throw these items in the dryer only when I move laundry from the washer to the dryer. Wrinkles are gone and they smell freshly laundered, but don't go through the harsh washing cycle.

Forever Amber said...

I'm so glad to know it's not just me! I follow more or less the same "rules" as you - I find that a lot of clothes are just never the same again after they've been washed (even on the lowest temperature or a delicates cycle) so I try to only do it when it's needed. I totally agree that, as a society, we're too obsessed with washing things these days: sure, back in the days when many people worked in manual jobs, things would've needed washed more often, but most of us just don't get that dirty!

Gigi said...
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Gigi said...

I completely agree with you although I live in hot, sticky Florida so washing after each wearing is mostly unavoidable with any garments worn next to the body. I do rewear things that I've only worn for a few hours at night. I air them for a few days and then give them a once-over with my trusty Jiffy steamer. Even restaurant odors disappear when a garment is aired and steamed. It would be silly to dry clean a dress that was only worn out to dinner. It's bad for the environment, not to mention expensive and unnecessary!