The main way clothes get dirty isn’t from spills or contact with the outside world – unless you’re incredibly clumsy. Clothes get dirty from being in close proximity with your skin. Humans are pretty gross.
Your body is also constantly shedding dead skin cells. Fun fact – 99% of household ‘dust’ is actually human skin. Combine that with sweat and oil secreted from your skin, and that’s a lot of grime that your clothes collect and keep close to your body.
It’s not even the sweat that makes you and your clothes smell. Sweat on its own doesn’t actually smell. It’s the bacteria that everyone has living on their skin, which eat up all of that delicious sweat and sloughed-off dead skin cells and excrete it as stinky acids. The particular fatty type of sweat produced by glands in the genitals, breasts, armpits and (weirdly) eyelids become especially stinky when broken down by hungry bacteria.
Now that you’re sufficiently disgusted, let’s discuss how often you need to attack those stains and stenches. Washing your clothes too infrequently means you’re wandering around in stinky clothes – yuck! But there’s no need to waste your time, money, and electricity in washing your clothes far more often than necessary. Clothes are slightly damaged with each wash, as colours fade, fibres deteriorate, and the fabric is shrunk or stretched.
Generally, the clothes that lie closest to the stinky glands and sources of grime build-up should be washed most frequently. Consequently, clothes that rarely touch your skin don’t usually need to be washed very often at all.
Here’s our guide to how long you can wear different types of clothing before they really need to go in the wash.
- Underwear – Surely this one doesn’t need any explaining. Undies and boxers get gross. You want to keep any bacteria well away from here, so change your undies regularly. And don’t try to get a second wear out of them by turning them inside out. The bacteria are still hanging around inside the fabric.
- Socks & stockings – The dark, moist environment inside shoes is ideal for bacteria to thrive. Feet tend to sweat and shed dead skin cells quite a bit, as they work hard to keep you grounded all day. Keep those feet funky fresh by always starting your day or evening with a fresh pair of socks or hosiery.
- Athletic clothes – When you’re doing activities that leave you producing far more sweat than you usually do, you’re offering your skin’s bacteria a mighty feast. Wash that sports uniform or gym outfit after every wear – even after just a one-hour workout – to avoid that gym smell and keep your skin as healthy along with the rest of your body.
- Swimwear – Chlorine and salt are both very good at deteriorating fabric. To keep your togs lasting the whole summer without breaking or losing its elasticity at a very inconvenient moment, it’s imperative that you wash them after every single swim. If you can’t properly wash your swimmers straight away, rinsing or soaking them in fresh water ASAP can help prolong the life of your favourite summer gear.
- Tops & dresses – As these are the clothing items that (if worn correctly) are all up in your armpits’ business, they need to be washed regularly. If you manage to make it through the day without getting sweaty, or wear sleeveless tops, you may be able to get another wear out of your top or dress. This is where a night hanging out to air and then the good old sniff test come into play.
- Leggings – While they’re not touching your feet, leggings do sit skin-tight and can easily soak up quite a lot of sweat and dead skin.
- Sleepwear/pyjamas – Depending on how long you sleep (or how many hours of the morning you spend lounging around in your PJs), it’s easy to forget how much time our sleepwear stays on our body because we’re generally unconscious for most of that time.
- Bras – Frequent washing can wear out that all-important structure and elastic support, but you obviously don’t want a stinky, sweat-stained bra hugging your skin. When you finally get to take off your bra at the end of the day, it’s a good idea to hang it up to air out overnight. Some also suggest rotating your bras to allow the fabric and elastic to rest in between wears to reduce stretching out. However, if you have a really sweaty day, you may want to chuck your bra into the laundry hamper sooner rather than later.
- Jackets & blazers – As you have at least one other piece of clothing in between your skin and the inside of your jacket, stink and grime takes a little longer to accumulate. That being said, your shirt isn’t impermeable and your sweat, dead skin, oil and the bacteria eating away at it all does reach your jacket and your blazer. You don’t want to turn up to a night out or an important work meeting smelling like you haven’t done the laundry. After about 5 or 6 wears, you should wash your jacket or blazer to keep your outfit smelling crisp.
- Coats – It’s advised to wash your coat after every two months of wear, depending on how often you wear it. As long as you look after it and spot treat any spills, you could get away with waiting until the end of Australia’s relatively short winter season to give it a proper wash. During the coat season, you should regularly air it out to prevent musty, sweaty smells from developing.
- Jeans – Washing jeans is a controversial subject. Some advise washing after every 5 or 6 wears, while some claim it’s best to wash jeans as infrequently as possible. If you wear skinny jeans, though, you may want to wash them more frequently as they’re very close to the skin to collect more sweat, dead skin, and bacteria. It’s advised to hand wash denim, using cold water and vinegar instead of soap which washes away the indigo dye. Don’t worry – the vinegar smell disappears by the time the denim dries. In between washes, use a damp cloth to get rid of spills and grime, and pop them in the freezer (in a sealed bag of course) to kill any bacteria build-up. For raw, untreated denim you should wait as long as possible before washing. This is because optimal care keeps denim fabric stiff, and retains your own personal unique fade marks and shape which develop around the wearer’s body.
Of course, the shorter answer is you can always just follow your instinct and wash your clothes when they get a little smelly!