How Often Should You Wash Your Clothes?   

How Often Should You Wash Your Clothes?

How often should you wash your clothes?
Clinical Contributors to this story:
Andrew S Habib, M.D.

How clean is the outfit that you’re wearing today?

Some people wash certain items of clothing too frequently, because they’ve gotten into the habit of labeling everything as “dirty” once they peel it off. Others wait too long to wash some items. (You may be guilty of this if you’ve ever re-worn your favorite comfy jeans for weeks on end before throwing them into the laundry.)

Why do we need to wash clothing? 

Dead skin cells, body oils, bacteria that live on our skin, and perspiration transfer from our bodies to our clothing as we wear them. Underwear, which directly touches the groin, may also contain fecal matter and yeast. 

Periodically washing clothes helps to eliminate this invisible (yet sometimes odoriferous) dirt layer. This helps you avoid ingesting harmful bacteria or other pathogens, if you touch your nose or mouth after touching your unwashed clothing.

How often should you wash different garments? 

Andrew Habib, M.D., a family medicine specialist with Hackensack Meridian Medical Group, shares some helpful advice on when to wash your clothes.

Wash new clothing before wearing

When you cut the tags off of anything new, toss it into the wash instead of wearing it right away. You may avoid getting a rash known as allergic contact dermatitis, especially if you have sensitive skin.

Clothing may leave the manufacturer with extra chemicals on its surface, which may cause irritation, redness and itching. Sometimes, extra dyes that haven’t been washed away cause these problems. Other times, the culprit may be formaldehyde resins, which help minimize wrinkling.

Wash these garments after every use

Some items should never be re-worn, because they’re typically soiled with too much sweat, bacteria or other microbes by the time you’ve worn them for a set period of time. Most of these items are worn directly against your skin, where they accumulate more microscopic debris than items worn as a second layer.

Always wash these items after one wearing:

  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • Bathing suits
  • T-shirts, especially if you’ve worn them underneath something else
  • Shirts that fit snugly which are worn directly against the skin
  • Workout clothing that you’ve sweated in, especially if it has an unpleasant odor

Wash these items after 2 or 3 wears

There’s no reason to toss these items in the hamper after you’ve worn them once, unless you sweat while wearing them. Hang them up to air out between wearings.

Consider wearing these items 2 or 3 times before washing them:

  • Bras
  • Pajamas
  • Loungewear that you relax in around the house, after you come home from work

Wash these wardrobe staples after 4 to 5 uses

It’s fine to wear certain items of clothing several times before throwing them in the laundry. This is best for garments that are worn as a second layer, including pants. (In this case, underwear counts as a first layer.) Hang up your clothing to air it out before wearing it again.

Feel free to wear these items 4 or 5 times before washing:

  • Jeans
  • Pants
  • Sweaters
  • Sweatshirts
  • Dress clothing

When and why to wash things more often

Sometimes, it’s more appropriate to wash clothing after one wearing, even if it can sometimes be worn more than that.

Wash specific items:

  • When they’re stained
  • When you sweat in them
  • If you wear the items while you’re ill

“These guidelines may help you avoid using the ‘sniff test’ to figure out when it’s time to wash your clothing,” says Dr. Habib. “As a general rule, tighter-fitting clothing that’s worn close to the body should be washed more regularly, to help you avoid spreading germs or getting sick from accumulated dirt on your clothing.”

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.


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