I Married a Laundry Heretic

My wife and I have a fair distribution of labor in our home. Among other things, I wash and fold the laundry, and my wife puts it all away. Part of the reason that we arrived at this model for the laundry lies in our fundamental disagreement with respect to what needs to be washed. Our debate goes back to the earliest days of our marriage when I would wash everything as soon as it had been touched by human hands and my wife, by comparison, argued that jeans and shirts could be worn for a while and not need to be rewashed.

I was aghast. Could I truly be married to someone who did not share my “you use it, you wash it mentality”? Very quickly, I realized that the differences between my wife and I on the subject of laundry were huge. How had I not learned this while we were dating? She actually believed that a pair of blue jeans could be worn more than once. A shirt worn for only an hour or two could be returned to the closet without a trip to the washing machine. Clearly, I was married to a heretic.

Growing up, I had always been taught to wash clothes that had been worn, towels that had been used and linens at least twice per week. My wife, in contrast, had learned that clothing should be washed when it was dirty, but she did agree with my philosophy on towels and linens. I tried to accept my wife’s “alternative” lifestyle when it came to laundry, but it was not an easy way of life to accept.

Then I finally grew up.

My wife pointed out that washing a pair of blue jeans every time it was worn, even if only for an hour or two sitting around the house, was just foolish. She reminded me that every time I washed a pair of jeans, or a shirt, or anything else, I was giving it more wear and tear than it would ever get from normal use. Accordingly, I was destroying my clothing that much faster. I was also wasting water and electricity and reducing the useful life of both our washer and dryer.

My wife’s second point was the most persuasive, at least for me as a young husband. It was not fair to her to create at least a full extra load of laundry each day just because I thought that as soon as a piece of fabric touched a human body, it had to be washed.

All of my wife’s points were valid. I realized that because I was overwashing my clothing (and later our kids clothing), I was wasting a lot of money because our clothes would not last as long and our washer and dryer used more energy and water than they would under my wife’s model. I was also creating more work for my wife. I had to change.

I thought about washing my clothing less, but I was a confirmed “use it once and wash it” guy. It was far easier to volunteer to do the laundry and that is what I did. That immediately made my wife happy (and she responded by taking over the vacuuming from me). At the same time, it allowed me more of an opportunity to watch our laundry emerge from our dryer a little more worn with each successive wash.

I have been doing the laundry for about 8 years now, and I have changed my washing patterns as a result of it. I will wear my jeans more than once now, if I think they are not really dirty. I will wear a shirt a second time if I wore it for only a short time while relaxing. Of course, I still wash anything that is grimy or that has been worn for a full day, but I try to consider whether an item is truly in need of a wash before I throw it into the laundry hamper.

How do you handle the laundry in your home? Are you from the “you wear it you wash it” school or do you wear your clothes more than once before you wash them? Do you have any tricks for keeping your clothes fresh without repeated washing? How do you save money on your laundry costs?

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16 Responses to I Married a Laundry Heretic

  1. d.a. says:

    I’ll hold off on washing things if they’re not obviously dirty or smelly. I’ll also re-wear jeans a couple of times if I’m doing daily outside chores such as yardwork or taking care of the geese or chicken coops – I just hang the jeans on a hook and change out from whatever clean clothes I’m wearing.

  2. Annie Jones says:

    My husband’s work clothes have to be washed after one wearing. My granddaughter’s clothes usually have a spill on them that requires washing after one wearing, too. Socks and underwear are only worn once before washing. All other clothing has the potential to be worn more than once before being tossed in the laundry basket. It’s up to the wearer to make the determination.

    Kitchen towels are changed out everyday; sometimes sooner. Bath towels are usually used 2-3 times (you’re clean when you use them, so they don’t really get that dirty, mostly just wet). Bed linens are changed weekly.

    I save money on laundry by wearing an apron to catch spills, by using just 1/4 of generic (Sam’s club) detergent (front loaders, use less detergent and water), and by using only cold water. I don’t use fabric softener; I use vinegar instead. I will use an occasional dryer sheet for static reduction. I keep a thick towel in the dryer to help clothes dry faster. I line dry when I can.

    I use Greased Lightning for stains instead of Shout or Spray & Wash. If I live where there is hard water, I also use baking soda or washing soda occasionally to “boost” the detergent, but we have a water softener, so I don’t have to do that here.

  3. Lori says:

    Hubby and I both wear undershirts, and wash those more frequently since they get dirty faster (in general). This means that nice shirts last longer, and the cheap t-shirts are the ones being replaced sooner.

  4. Laurence says:

    Dan, is that you writing this? 🙂

    Dan would be my hubby and he has the exact same philosophy on laundry then you do. And for this reason, he is responsible for the laundry, as you are.

    I can wear pants and sweaters a bunch of times before they go in the wash. I draw the line at underwear, though. 😉
    Hubby has to throw his clothes in the laundry basket just after wearing it once. It drives me crazy.

  5. Merch says:

    I agree with Annie. “It

  6. Ann says:

    Hmmmm. Underwear (obviously) gets put on once and washed! The rest depends.

    If I’m working in the shop, I may actually go through two outfits in a day! One gets covered with sawdust/stone dust and the other is just worn. But the jeans from the “just worn” get held over and used in the shop the next day.

    Towels are once or twice a week — I’m clean when I use them! LOL But washclothes get used once and washed — started that when I got an infection in both my eyes and kept the habit. Sheets are weekly.

    In the winter, the undershirt goes immediately into the laundry, but the outer shirt… well, it depends on what I’ve been doing.

    I’ve got to ask, David. Do you only wear a suit once before it gets sent to the drycleaners?

    I wait until I have a full load of whites or delicates or darks before I do a load. To me, it’s silly to do tiny loads of laundry and a waste. I do the baking soda and vinegar bit, but there are some things that just call for water as hot as it can get for me to feel like it’s really been cleaned!

    I’m glad you do the laundry! If I were your wife, I would have been sorely tempted to whup you upside the head. LOL

  7. David G. Mitchell says:

    Fortunately, I have not worn a suit in over ten years so I do not have a current standard for when a suit needs to go to the dry cleaners. It is one of the perks of working at home!

  8. Diane says:

    I’m with your wife~! Socks, underwear & undershirts are washed after 1 wearing, towels are used 2-3 times, everything else depends on whether it is dirty. Jeans, outer shirts, sweatshirts may be worn several times if still clean… if they’re dirty they get washed after 1 use.

    In the deep south heat, sometimes we take multiple baths and change clothes frequently in 1 day, depending on what we’ve been doing.

    My kids are trained to wear some items multiple times, depending on the circumstances.

    As your wife points out, it saves wear & tear on the clothes and the washer/dryer, plus saves water, detergent & MONEY!

  9. Best Bun says:

    Just the thought of wearing clothing more than once makes me itch! DH has been known to sneak a tee shirt back in the dresser. I will remove and put in washing machine. We have 6-7 loads of laundry a week for 3 adults. My mother always told me that you’re never too poor to be clean!

  10. minny says:

    I’m with the wife here. All that ironing, all that electricity used – too much!

  11. Cindy M says:

    I had a good laugh at your article today, thanks, Dave. I used to be more finicky than I am now. Of course, it’s still one wearing for the undies. Sheets and towels get washed once a week (I live alone and hang up all towels to dry out). I have an old towel I use strictly for drying my hair, that one doesn’t get washed as often. In the winter, I wear wool skirts, jackets and coats that obviously don’t get thrown in the wash; I’ve bought most of them at thrift stores, brush and hang them immediately after taking them off and occasionally use a product Woolite puts out called “Dry Cleaner’s Secret,” great stuff. Then I have my various “outfits” – there’s my yard work/paint outfit (ratty jeans and shirt about to fall apart) that gets washed weekly or semi-weekly in the summertime. There’s my run-the-errands outfit that may get worn several times that week, taken off and hung up as soon as I get home if the exertions weren’t too extreme. There’s my around-the-house/home office outfit that consists of sweats in the winter and a denim jumper and T-shirt in the summer. I can get several “wearins’,” as the ex-husband used to say, out of these before they go in the wash. (I used to give him a bad time about not throwing his stuff in the laundry; that’s why I had to laugh at your article). Even my socks have a kind of hierarchy; I like to keep a nice never-worn pair of white socks and white tennis shoes for “occasions” that seldom occur, Lord knows why.

    This goes beyond laundry, but I do take good care of my old good leather shoes and boots and took a pair of boots to the shoe repair guy recently; I love those boots. I saw a bit on TV the other night about how business is booming for this particular business, so I’m not alone there.

  12. ThiNg says:

    I’m with wear it until it’s dirty crowd. The whole point of washing your clothes to CLEAN them. You can’t clean something that isn’t dirty!!

    Underwear and socks are a one shot deal. I installed some hooks above the hamper in the bedroom. I hang everything I take off on the hooks (one for pyjamas, jeans, shirts, and sweaters). I smell the article in question, check for stains and hang on hook IF clean. If not, drop in hamper.

    For me, the look is important. I can’t throw clean jeans in a crumpled mess on the floor and then put them back on. I also have a phobia of critters on the floor getting into my clothes while on the floor (bed bugs or something). Now everything hangs from the hooks.

    The system works for us: Clean and new in the dresser or on a hangar, Worn once and still good on a hook, dirty and needs to be washed in the hamper.

    I like that hotels are starting to do the same thing. Leave the towels to be washed on the floor, or hang and keep the ones you have.

    I see lots of comment on the money savings, but noone seems to mention the environment!! Phosphorous and hot water from our washes affects plants and fish in our rivers.

    In the old days, our ancestors weren’t out beating clothes on rocks every day!!

  13. Ann says:

    Actually, I have a funny little side story.

    When I was in school the first time and doing a lot of oil painting, I had a very bad habit of using my bluejeans as a paint rag! For about a year and a half, I was living at home and commuting to school. My mom, being the woman she was, insisted that I leave the house dressed to the nines, though it meant that I had to change as soon as I got to school. Those poor jeans would only get washed about once a week… if they were lucky!

    Anyway, I used to get offers for those jeans (people wanted them cut, stretched and hung as a modern painting) but only on the condition that I wouldn’t paint again before I took them off! ROFL

    There can obviously be advantages to having “messy” clothes.

  14. Persephone says:

    This article reminded me of the time I worked in an office. There seemed to be a self-imposed prohibition among the women against wearing the same outfit twice in a week (or even pieces of an outfit, e.g., a sweater or a skirt). I wondered then, as I do now, why this is the case in the United States when in Europe it is perfectly acceptable and quite common to wear outfits more than once in a week.

    Can anyone offer any insight into this wasteful practice?

  15. minny says:

    Ah Persephone, It could all be an illusion. The outfits may get their second wearing the next week and their third a week later – unwashed in the meantime!

  16. Gail says:

    When did Americans get this horrible phobia about germs? You wash dirty clothes as clean clothes don’t need cleaned. If it doesn’t smell, hasn’t had anything drip or spill on it, you haven’t used your shirt to do the dusting, then in most cases it is probably clean enough for another one or two wearings.

    Underwear and socks are the only thing that gets changes here daily. Other clothes get washed when dirty and in regards to hubbies clothes when really dirty. He is self-employeed in a messy job and tends to use his work clothes as handy rags. I gave up and only buy him used T-shirts and jeans at yard sales or thrift stores as I know they are going to end the day with glue, stain, etc. all over them. When I worked as a nurse I changed uniforms daily, but now that I am at home, I’m not digging ditches or getting near infected people, my clothes can usually be worn for 2-3 days. It saves much wear and tear and many of my clothes are 10-15 years old. Even my newer clothes that I have made show little wear as I wash them in the machine, but hang all my clothes to dry.

    Doing laundry constantly is a huge time waster, energy waster and money waster. I also wear pretty homemade aprons to protect against stains while cooking. Makes me feel like June Cleaver.

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