Do we wash our clothes too much?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

You may be familiar with a nursery rhyme The Mulberry Bush, first recorded as a children's game in the mid nineteenth century, in which the second, third and fourth verse relate to washing, mending, and ironing ....

"This is the way we wash our clothes Wash our clothes, wash our clothes This is the way we wash our clothes So early Monday morning"

"This is the way we iron our clothes
Iron our clothes, iron our clothes This is the way we iron our clothes So early Tuesday morning"

"This is the way we mend our clothes
Mend our clothes, mend our clothes This is the way we mend our clothes So early Wednesday morning"

Image c/o amazinga

Monday is for washing, Tuesday for ironing, and Wednesday for mending clothes. Before the invention of home appliances and the conventional washing machine, cleaning clothes would be a long and tiresome task, heating vats of hot water, using scrub boards, hanging garments over stones, bushes, or around the house to dry out. It is no wonder washing clothes would be dedicated to just one day a week.

American, James King patented the first washing machine to use a drum in 1851, the drum made King's machine resemble a modern machine, however it was still hand powered. It was not until 1951 when production of Europe's first automatic washing machines began. Further information on the brief history of the invention of washing machines found here

With the convenience of washing machines in most of our homes, and in some cases tumble dryers too, is it possible we wash our clothes too much? Throwing our laundry into the machine after minimal wear, because it is easy, and we all like freshly washed clothing?

Canadian College student Josh Le undertook an experiment. He purchased a pair of untreated denim jeans by Nudie brand for $165, and wore them 330 times without washing between September of 2009 and December of 2010.

"My professor mentioned that she researches on textiles and bacteria, so it piqued my curiosity there," Le said. "I half jokingly said we should do a bacterial analysis on them [Le's jeans] and that's where it sort of started."

The 20-year-old student carried around paper towels to dab out stains. If the jeans smelled, he might stick them in the freezer overnight or let them hang for a few hours.

Le's jeans were then swabbed and tested for bacteria, enlisting the help of his professor, Rachel McQueen.. "There did not appear to be differences in the bacterial carriage depending on whether the jeans had been worn for 15 months or only 13 days," McQueen's findings read.

The following youtube video shows Josh's Nudie Jeans 15 Month Time-Lapse, from week 1 to week 67.

Information obtained from

An article found on Master Plumbers Association of Queensland (believe it or not) provides useful water saving laundry tips and facts, indicating if we reduce our clothes washing by one wash per week, this could save approximately 65 litres of water, and if every household did this, we would save 25 million litres of water a week across the city (Brisbane I would assume?). More water saving tips can be found here.


Blue Fruit said...

I think you are absolutely onto something here! With the restricted water usage of the last few drought years, I have taken to washing clothes less, waiting till they really are dirty before washing them. And spot cleaning instead where possible.

In answer to your question about taking a toddler on the Millionaires Walk, yes, I would take a stroller there. If you enter from the Lentell Avenue end, you can go a long way on flat ground. It is only at the Port King end that it becomes steep, but by that time you would have covered the best bits anyway.

Isis said...

interesting post!

Stitchybritt said...

Totally! I grew up in a rural area where we were reliant on tank water, so we were careful about when and how we used water. Underwear went straight in the wash but outer clothes (particularly jumpers and jackets in winter) would get worn many times before washing.

No Guilt Fashion said...

I found this post from your challenge. I completely agree, and that I think I'm doing better at not over-washing this year than I did last year. Trying to green things up a bit. I know even my cheaper clothing lasts longer without frequent washing.

Anonymous said...

I wash my jeans which by the way I only need three pairs, once a month or a little more than that.

Concerning my skirts and dresses, it is barely washed because they do not get dirty.
The blouses aren't washed every week either, actually once a couple of weeks.

One does not need to wash clothes every week. If you are clean and don't sweat in them. However, clothes that are sweat in, they should wash. Otherwise clothes for a normal stroll outside can be washed once a few weeks.

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