If you’re a “wear once and wash” laundry doer, no matter the item of clothing, it’s time to re-evaluate your routine. While some clothes (like underwear and socks) really should be cleaned after each wear to prevent bacterial growth, others (hello, comfy jeans!) actually benefit from being worn multiple times. Thinking twice before tossing your outfit into the laundry pile can prolong the lifespan of your favorite clothes and also help you to conserve water and energy, which is good for both the environment and your household expenses.
How often you really need to wash your clothes depends on a lot of factors. The weather, your activity level, how much you sweat, the article of clothing, and the fabric type are some of the biggest considerations. A common-sense example: During hot summer days, you’ll probably have to wash your clothes more frequently than you do in the winter. But even though there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to washing frequency, there are accepted guidelines to follow. Before you do your next laundry load — or fish that goes-with-everything top out of the dirty bin — refer to this cheat sheet:
After Every Wear:
- Swimsuits (here’s how to wash and care for your swimwear)
- Tank tops and camisoles
- Tights and hosiery
- Workout clothes
- All whites and silks
The commonality among the clothing articles in this section is that they’re close-fitting, which means they’re more likely to absorb your perspiration and body oils and thus require frequent cleaning to bust bacteria and continue smelling fresh. The one exception is whites and silks, which need to be laundered often to prevent discoloration. (If you’re looking to whiten and brighten light-colored clothing, try these stain-fighting laundry detergent pods.)
Every 1-3 Wears:
- Leggings and yoga pants
- Dress tops
- Shorts and khakis
Here’s where you need to use your judgment — and maybe your nose. If you’re wearing a camisole beneath your sweater or dress top and are spending most of your day sitting in a temperature-controlled office, you can probably get multiple wears. Same goes for dresses, shorts, and khakis. As for yoga pants and leggings, if you’re just running errands or lounging around the house in them (not exercising), feel free to extend their wear.
Every 3-4 Wears:
- Suits and blazers
Pajamas will last you a few nights simply because you’re inactive while sleeping, but the other items on this list can actually wear out from over-washing. Laundering a bra too often can damage its elasticity, which is crucial for proper support, and jeans will fade or wear thin in too many wash cycles. (Protect your bra from tangling or tearing by using a mesh washing bag.) With suits, consider the material — synthetic fabrics can go more wears than wool.
Every 5-7 Wears:
- Dress pants
- Cardigans and sweatshirts
Long-sleeve staples that you wear over other tops don’t need to be washed as often due to the degrees of separation from your skin and body oils. If you’re donning skirts and pants only during work hours, don’t worry about frequent washing. That said, if you’re continuing to wear them into evening activities, they may last only 3-4 wearings before needing a cleaning.
- Winter coats and outerwear (1-2 times per season)
- Hats, gloves, and scarves (3-4 times per season)
Unless you’ve dropped food on your coat or stained it in some other way, you really don’t need to wash it very often. (You can always give it a quick scent refresh using Dropps odor defense spray.) Same goes for winter accessories, although these items need to be washed a bit more frequently as they’re in closer contact with your skin.