Adult life is full of difficult decisions. Like which vocation to choose as your profession. Or where to settle down. Or this classic conundrum: what you do when the pile of dirty clothes currently taking up residence in the corner of your room isn't big enough to wash yet?
For many of us, that means tossing the pile into the washing machine to lay in wait until enough clothes accrue to run a cycle — hamper be damned. I mean, it's a perfectly logical step, right? The clothes are going to end up in the washing machine anyway, so why not store them there until it's go time?
Of course, at some point, it has probably crossed your mind that this may not be the best practice. And while you've wondered whether there is any harm to leaving your dirty clothes sitting in the washing machine for hours... days... weeks on end, you've probably still got a small load chilling in there as we speak (you'll get no judgment from me, because my laundry is one step away from getting mail there).
So you don't have to air all of your dirty laundry in public — literally and figuratively — we reached out to a pro to get to the bottom of this household question. As owner of Manhattan cleaning company White Glove Elite for 25 years, 15 of which as a cleaner, Jim Ireland knows a thing or two about keeping clothes clean and sanitary. His take on using your washing machine for between-wash storage? "Get a hamper!"
Why You Really Need a Clothes Hamper
"I do not advise storing clothes in a washing machine between uses," Ireland shared with us. "Clothing in the washer vat would reduce light and air flow, which could prevent your washing machine from drying completely. This could promote the growth of mold or mildew on your clothing — mold growths, or colonies, can start to grow on a damp surface within 24 to 48 hours. They could grow on your clothes and reproduce by spores that travel through the air and cause mild health problems."
There's certainly data to support the idea that laundry loitering in the washing machine is, well, kind of gross. According to research done by the University of Arizona's professor of environmental biology, Chuck Gerba, PhD, 44 percent of home washing machines tested positive for the presence of fecal bacteria.
Because washing machines are inherently warm and damp, they provide an environment conducive to bacteria growth. So even if it isn't necessarily harmful to your clothes since you'll be washing them eventually, this behavior could accelerate bacteria growth in your actual machine.
To keep such problems at bay, Ireland has a suggestion (in addition to not storing your dirty laundry there). "I recommend leaving washing machines empty with the door open, or at least ajar, between uses," he said.
But, hey, old habits die hard. If you just can't help yourself, you should at least consider cleaning your washing machine with somewhat routine frequency. Carolyn Forte, director of the Cleaning Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute, states you should do so monthly. "Many newer models have a special washer cleaning cycle," she noted on Goodhousekeeping.com. "If yours doesn't, add liquid chlorine bleach to the dispenser and run a normal cycle with hot water."