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Thursday, February 5, 2009

How to Do Less Laundry

How can you do less laundry? By lowering your standards.

Some people overdo the "cleanliness is next to godliness" thing and use far more water, energy, and cleaning agents than necessary. You can seriously reduce your laundry burden by relaxing your standards of cleanliness. You'll save money on the utility bills and cleaners. You'll save time spent doing the laundry, whether by machine or by hand. You'll save energy you can spend working on the garden or putting up produce. You'll even save your clothes; less washing means less wear and tear.


Despite what your mother told you, your clothes do not need to be washed after a single day's wearing. Last year, Crunchy Chicken admitted she wore her clothes more than once and surveyed her readers to find out their secret habits. Turns out many people wore portions of their wardrobe a few times, although nobody 'fessed up to donning a dirty pair of underwear when the next day dawned.

Unless you are mucking out a stable, kneeling in the garden mud, or working on an engine, chances are your clothes aren't really all that dirty at the end of the day. They may have acquired some dust from the air and your office, dead skin cells that sloughed off your body, and a little perspiration dampness. Why wash clothes that aren't dirty?

Freshen up

If the idea of wearing that top, sweater, skirt, or pair of pants again makes you squeamish, try these tips.
  • Shake the clothes outside to remove the dust and dead skin cells.

  • Hang them up overnight to air out. I think this works better if they're put outside.

  • Place the clothes outside on a sunny day to let ultraviolet light help disinfect them. (Tip from Cody Lundin's book, When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need to Survive When Disaster Strikes)

  • Spritz the pits with vodka. Let dry.

Obviously, you won't want to wear the same outfit two days in a row to the office, which is perfect. It gives you enough time to hang, sun, and go boozin' with your clothes.

Cover up

Covering up your clothes before you do something dirty is another way to save them from the laundry basket for another day. Find or sew yourself a nice apron for the kitchen and remember to wear it. Don a pair of coveralls when degreasing your bike chain. Throw on a lab coat before painting the hallway.

In Arizona, hikers are always advised to "wear layers." This is due to rapidly changing weather conditions. It's very easy to remove layers when it gets too hot and add layers when the temperature drops. For everyday clothing, keep in mind that the top layer of your clothes is not getting as dirty as the bottom layer. You might only get two days' of wear out of a blouse but a week's worth out of the sweater or vest. An easy way for women to maintain the odor-free condition of slacks and jeans is to use cloth pads for any days of their cycle when bodily smells are naturally a little more, um, potent.


A nice side effect of showering less often has been that our towels don't need laundering as much. Most days, we simply take a sponge bath using a washcloth and some hot water in the sink. With the arid climate here, I'm practically dry when done. We each shower approximately twice a week, mostly to wash hair. The towels can easily go up to three weeks without developing a ripe smell, especially since we always let them dry out completely between uses. The number of washcloths used does not increase laundry substantially.

Some people feel sheets must be washed weekly but, unless one is going to bed completely filthy or sweaty, I'm not sure why such frequent washing would be needed. It's easy enough to sponge off if dirty and keep the sheets in nice shape. Of course, night time activities for couples may have an impact here so use your own judgment. If the sheets are ready to walk to the washer themselves, perhaps you waited just a little too long.

Blankets, on the other hand, should need laundering far less often than the sheets since they are not coming in contact with your body at night. If your animals like to get on the bed, consider laying a sheet over the blankets or bedspread. A lightweight sheet is easier to clean than a heavy blanket or bedspread.

Give it a try

While writing this up today, I tried the vodka spritz method for the first time on three of my sweetie's work shirts (using a 50% vodka/50% water spray). I hung them out in the sunny breeze and they came out just fine. When he got home, I told him, "I'm tired of doing laundry so I'm not going to wash your shirts every time any more." I made him sniff the pits and he agreed they passed the test. To make sure they do get washed within another wearing or two, we're going to keep them separated from the laundered shirts, though.

If you are accustomed to a regular schedule of frequent laundering, try cutting back a little at a time until you reach your limits. Use your eyes and your nose to let you know when something really does need to be washed.

Do you have any tips for cutting back on laundry?


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