Laundry. It is the task that seems to be a never ending struggle. But, as we all endeavour to get to the end of the laundry pile, it may be worth sparing a thought for the environment. To shine a little more light on the impact our laundry has on the environment, we’re taking a deep dive into just how often you should do your laundry.
The impact of clothing production and our overconsumption mindset is becoming well-known. However, what is considered less is the environmental impact of frequently washing clothing.
So, for the modern environmental fashionista, it can be a bit of a balancing act between keeping clothing clean and fresh, and fostering a sustainable attitude.
Depending on how you fill your washing machine, the sort of clothes you wear and how fresh you like your clothes, the average person does laundry anywhere between one to three times a week. While this may not seem like a lot, it adds up to between 50 and 150 laundry loads every year.
When looking at average household laundry rates, laundry load numbers get even higher. A two-person household is washing on average three to five loads a week. If you have four people under your roof, this increases to eight to ten loads of laundry every single week.
Part of the frequency of these washes is likely, in part, due to the idea that clothes must be washed after every wear. Now, in some cases this is true, but in many cases, clothing can safely go a few wears without being washed.
Washing clothes too often can be bad for your clothes as well as the environment. It can make them fade and wear out faster. This means that clothing must be replaced more frequently. Not only is this expensive but it also feeds into our appetite for over-consumption.
This means more clothes are made, sold and thrown away, compounding the environmental impact at every stage of the fashion industry.
When it can take over 2,000 litres of water to make just one cotton t-shirt, we need every t-shirt made to last as long as possible.
As well as often being unnecessary and potentially bad for our clothing, frequently washing clothing is also not great for the environment. From water and energy use to microplastic and clothing overconsumption, cleaning our clothing can leave a dirty impact.
Knowing how often you should do your laundry can help you to embrace a more environmentally friendly outlook.
Most modern washing machines use around 50 litres of water every wash. For washing machines that are more efficient, this number may drop to closer to 30 litres. Poor performing machines can use more that 70 litres per wash. To put these numbers into perspective, this means that the average performing machine uses about a third of the water an average person uses in a day.
In a world that is already struggling with water overconsumption, frequent laundry loads can drastically increase our water usage levels.
Frequent laundry cycles don’t fare great when it comes to energy use either. In fact, in the UK, household laundry is estimated to contribute 240kg of carbon emissions each year.
The energy each cycle uses can, of course, depend on how efficient your machine is. Most range from 300 to 1500 watts per hour. If you opt to use a tumble dryer, this adds roughly 4.5kWh every cycle.
As well as contributing to your overall carbon footprint, in the energy crisis currently gripping the UK, the energy used for unnecessary laundry cycles can also make a dent in your wallet.
From the slopes of Mt Everest to the bottom of the sea, microplastics, it seems are now everywhere. Unfortunately, your weekly laundry cycle could be a source of these pesky plastic particles.
The more clothing you have made from synthetic fabrics, the higher the microplastic content in your laundry will likely be.
These microplastics are bad news for the environment. They can block the gastrointestinal tracts of organisms, causing them to starve. They can also leach toxins and chemicals into the environment and food sources, posing a risk for both animals and, potentially, humans.
So how often should you wash your clothes? Probably less than you currently are.
The simple answer is yes. We don’t need to wash our clothes as often as we do. Reducing the number of times we wash our laundry can be good for both the planet and our clothes.
Eco-minded fashion organisations like BAM have been promoting this message. The ‘Dare to Wear Longer’ campaign from BAM is promoting a more sustainable way to do laundry.
As the brand is committed to getting its carbon footprint to zero, it is urging its customers to wash their BAM clothes a little less. This helps to save water and energy. And as the brand primarily uses bamboo for its products, its clothing is even better equipped to go longer between washes.
When it comes to our skin health, most dermatologists agree that new clothing should always be washed before wear. Washing less is, of course, the environmentally friendly option for clothing you already own. When it comes to skin health though, it is more about your detergent than washing frequency.
It is often best to choose gentle, unscented detergents. Studies have found that substances in some harsh, scented laundry detergents can contribute to skin irritation, rashes and even some cancers. See our article The clean clothes conundrum: is scented laundry detergent toxic for more information.
Clothing worn close to the skin should be thrown into the washer after each wear. This includes the recommendation to wash underwear after each wear. It’s a good idea for workout clothes or anything likely to get sweaty to also be washed after every wear.
The wash every wear rule doesn’t hold true for all clothing.
Some clothing can go even more wears, or in some cases, several months without needing to be laundered.
It’s recommended that bed sheets are washed once every week. This is because they come in direct contact with the skin. As such, they can get clogged with body oils and dead skin cells. Sheets should be washed a little more frequently in the summer months when you are more likely to sweat.
Not all fabrics are created equal when it comes to how well they stand up to missing a few trips to the washing machine.
Fabrics that are more breathable often need fewer washes. This includes natural fabrics such as bamboo, hemp and organic cotton. Bamboo also has some antibacterial properties, helping to keep bamboo clothing feeling fresh for longer.
Wool, silk and linen can also go longer between washes, and have anti-odour properties that can help them to stay smelling sweet.
By purchasing clothing that is made from materials that require less frequent washing, we can reduce our laundry regime. As many of these fabrics are natural rather than synthetic, there is also less risk of microplastic shedding when they do need to be washed.
When your clothes are starting to get a bit smelly and a laundry cycle is needed, there are some things you can do to have more eco-friendly laundry habits.
Washing on a cold water cycle can help to stop clothes shrinking and fading and can even help stop clothes wrinkle. It also uses less energy, potentially reducing the energy used for a wash cycle by 70%. Washing a full load is also a good way to reduce the amount of laundry loads you need to do.
Using products such as a Guppy bag or washing machine filter are good ways to reduce microplastic pollution. Such devices are designed to catch microplastics before they can reach the environment and cause hazardous pollution. It’s also best to use an eco-friendly laundry detergent.
Line drying your clothes is another good way to reduce the environmental impact of your laundry. Line drying instead of a machine dry cycle helps to reduce the energy consumption of a laundry load.
How many times you should do your laundry each week depends on the sort of clothes you wear and what you do when wearing them.
If you are doing lots of physical activity then you should frequently wash, if you are just heading into the office and are wearing loose-fitting, breathable clothing then you should be able to get away with doing your laundry once a week.
The more people in your house, the more likely it is that you will be doing frequent washes every week. In the UK, the average family of four is washing eight to ten times a week. However, this number can go up or down depending on factors such as family activities and washing machine size. It goes without saying that those with smaller machines are often doing more laundry loads than those with larger washing machines.
So, how often should you do your laundry? The good news is that it is probably less than you currently do. By breaking down misconceptions about the frequency with which we wash our clothes, we can help to reduce our environmental impact.
By scheduling our laundry days a little less frequently, we are releasing less microplastics, using less energy and wasting less water. Skipping the laundry cycle also helps to keep our clothes looking good for longer, and moves us away from an overconsumption mindset.
So there you have it, the perfect excuse to skip your next load of laundry, and it’s all for the environment.
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