Doing Your Laundry While Still Doing Your Part.


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Many years ago, I dated a girl who only wore an item once before throwing it in the hamper. Even her bath towels were only used once before being washed! There was a constant stream of laundry being done in her house, using thousands and thousands of gallons of water per year, along with the energy needed to run the machines and heat the water up. All because she didn’t want to wear an item or use a towel more than once. Unfortunately, there are probably many people like this in the world, wasting valuable resources to clean everything they own too often. Thinking of this the other day made me really think about how often I do laundry, and I wanted to get your take on it as well.

First, let me get this out of the way – I wash everything in cold water, no exceptions. I cannot remember the last time I had to use warm or hot water on something, but I imagine if you had a baby in the house it might be necessary. Lucky for me, I am not as messy as a baby. 😉 We have an Energy Star rated front-loading washer that automatically adds the right amount of water based on how big the load is, and it spins for quite some time to get all the water out of the clothes before ending the wash cycle. And most of the time, I hang everything out to dry on the clothesline I hung in the yard. No sense in using the dryer when I have that huge ball of fire and heat shining down on me every day! Now, about how often I wash things…

I do, unlike the woman I mentioned above, wash myself more often than I wash my clothes. For example, I only wash my jeans after I wear them at least 5 times, if not more. Jeans are pretty tough, they get more comfortable the longer you wear them, and they can last a very long time if you take care of them. Part of taking care of them is not washing them too often, washing them in cold water, and letting them hang dry. The washing of clothes really beats on the fabric, and I don’t really enjoy finding new jeans that fit right – so I take care of the ones I have. The 3 pairs of jeans I own I have had for a few years now, and only one of them is showing any signs of fraying around the edges. T-shirts are normally worn twice, as long as I didn’t get too sweaty or didn’t get them too dirty working out in the yard. Long sleeve shirts and jackets are washed even less frequently than jeans, as normally they don’t even touch the skin. Socks and underwear are pretty much the only items I wash after each use. And as for towels, well, mine last about 5 days before needing to be washed. You have to make sure they dry out after each use, but there is absolutely no need to wash a towel after using it just once. After all, you just got out of the shower – you should be clean!

Along the cold water, I use either soapnuts or Seventh Generation laundry detergent, which comes in a recyclable cardboard box with a recycled plastic scoop. These natural cleaners are less harsh on our clothes and are better for the earth, as the waste water from the laundry finds its way outside to the leeching field and the desert scrub. I don’t really want chemicals out there watering the plants!

So…this leads me to you. How do you do your laundry? I wrote this post to encourage others to watch how often they do laundry, taking into account how much electricity, water, fossil fuels, machine wear and tear, and clothing wear and tear happens every time you do. Washing your clothes less often in cold water, with natural detergents, followed by line-drying, saves you money on your utility bills and in needing to purchase new clothes more often.

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  1. It is strange that so many people think you cannot wear clothes a few times before washing them; I have never understood it myself! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Fern – As for wrinkles, well – I live in a mountain town, work for myself at home, and rarely (read: ever) wear anything other than jeans, a t-shirt, and maybe a fleece sweatshirt. Even a nice dinner out doesnt require much more around here. Maybe you could just use the dryer for those items that would need ironing? Continue to line dry everything else and only dry those items inside, which would still use less energy as there wouldn’t be that much in the dryer?

  3. Great topic!
    I usually don’t tell people that I wear my jeans and most pants many times before washing, because for some that means your’e dirty. It’s ridiculous because I bathe twice per day.
    Like you, my towels get used for a week and then goes in. Other clothes, it just depends on where I wore them and what I was doing. My work clothes get worn a couple of times because I sit in a freezing cold office most of the day.
    Underwear and gym clothes are my only for sure one timers.
    I wait to do laundry until I have a full load. No washing 1 item at a time because I want to wear it again.
    Soapnuts are on my list of things to try, but right now we use baking soda, liquid castille, essential oils, tsp or Ecover. Sometimes a mix of the above.
    We have a energy start stackable wash and dry. I live in a condo and don’t think people in the courtyard would enjoy seeing our clothes hanging out there, but when we get a house, I will be doing the majority of drying outdoors. I used to love hanging the clothes out to dry as a kid!

  4. I also wear my clothes multiple times before washing and try to stretch my 8 month old baby’s clothes out for as many wearings as possible…not always the easiest! I appreciate the post! I use Sun & Earth laundry products and love them.

  5. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Especially when it comes to towels, it’s ludicrous to wash them even weekly because you are, after all, CLEAN when you get out of the shower. I wash mine maybe once a month, except more often in summer if they start getting that sour smell from not having dried out.

    I wear my clothes many times and also wash as needed. For too many people, washing laundry is a knee-jerk response done without really thinking about it.

    HOWEVER, i’d love to know what you do about wrinkles. I, too, line dry my clothes all summer, but i end up having to iron DAILY (using energy otherwise saved by not using the dryer) because i work in a professional office and can’t go in looking like a raga muffin. So it would appear i’m defeating the purpose by linedryng my clothes.

    Any suggestions? this has been a quandry for me for a while.

    For the record, I shower only every other day, unless i’m doing yardwork or something.

  6. I have a baby boy and use cloth diapers, so I do wash those in hot. However, I do a short pre-wash in hot water and then fill the washer and wash on cold. I as raised to wash in cold, and we line-dry. I live in rural VA where most people have clotheslines. Let me say that when we got a dryer over the winter, I noticed an IMMEDIATE spike in our electric bill, so I hound everyone in the house to get me their laundry on clear days. 😉
    For detergent, I either use castile soap or some other non-irritating for my clothes (like Meyer’s). My husband is a contractor (who actually does a lot of the work), and there’s no way his clothes would survive without “regular” detergent. (We’ve tried.)
    Good post! This is good for everyone to think about.

  7. I wear things three or so times before washing. Towels last forever! I wash everything in cold too, and hang items to dry in my basement on the clothesline I hung up down there. 🙂 I also make my own laundry detergent!

  8. Pretty much as you say. I don’t own a dryer anyhow and never have. Things get washed when they get stinky and thats that. I sometimes use hot but we have solar heated water so no extra costs there. I don’t have access to fancy eco powder so we use the least obnoxious normal stuff which I buy in bulk about once a year.

    viv in nz

    1. I do wish I had solar-heated water – maybe someday. Combine that with my well and it would certainly save money and energy! 🙂

  9. Fern,

    If you don’t have too many things to iron, hang them in the bathroom when you shower. The steam will take much of the wrinkles out. Then you have less ironing to do.

    Personally, I just tend to wear clothes that don’t need a lot of ironing. Not a lot of natural materials, I’m afraid, but at least it saves energy ironing!

  10. Laundry… a topic I love to write about.

    We are a family of 5 living in Maine and we hang all our laundry:

    and I make our own laundry soap:

    And we wear our clothes until they are dirty! Kids seem to naturally do this anyway, my son at least.

    Hum… I hadn’t considered stretching the towels longer than a week but I think I might need to try that. I thought a week was a long time!

    1. Thanks Renee for your tips. For some reason I cannot make my towels last longer than 4-5 days unless I take them outside every day to dry!

  11. David,

    Great post!

    I do about one or two loads per week. But, it’s just me and my husband: no kids.

    As for our jeans, we let them go a LOOOONG time before tossing them in the wash. We judge on the smell factor; if we start to detect funk, in they go. But not before.

    And you’re right…jeans are tough. They definitely don’t need to be washed after each wearing.

    We always do cold too. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever used the hot water function on our washer…

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