How Often Should You Really Be Washing Your Clothes?

published Jun 10, 2023
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Basket with dirty laundry on floor in bathroom
Credit: Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock

Let’s dish some dirty secrets: How often do you wash your clothes? No, this isn’t a hamper-shaming article. As I write this, I’m staring at an overflowing bin of my own that I’ll get to … eventually. But it does make me wonder whether every garment deserves to be there right now. Of course, if I stunk something up (hi, workout clothes) or got it visibly dirty (hi, pants I wore while gardening), those items are clearly on the way to my laundry room. But what about the rest?

Laurie Fulford, a laundry pro at Poplin, says usage will determine how often your clothes should be laundered. “You should consider washing garments worn very close to your skin after every wear,” she says. Socks and underwear top this list, but so can any form-fitting clothing. Sweaters and jackets, on the other hand, can be worn several times before you even think about adding them to the hamper, she says — but only if that’s where they belong.

It’s also very important to keep an eye on the instructions on tags of your clothes,” Fulford says. “You might be surprised what things are suggested to be dry-cleaned or washed with extreme care.”

Confession: I’ve lived on the edge and added a “hand-wash only” item to the regular wash at times. And yes, I’ve even risked it with a “dry-clean only” item — but only if it’s made from a material that I know has emerged unscathed from the wash before.

Here’s what Fulford had to say about how often to wash two key garments that are probably in your hamper right now.

How Often Should You Wash Jeans?

Tommy Hilfiger famously said he never washes jeans, and neither should you. With all due respect to this fashion icon, ewwww! But it’s true: Durable denim is not meant to be laundered often.

“Washing jeans too frequently can alter the fit and color, so you want to make sure you are only washing your jeans when absolutely necessary,” says Fulford. A good rule of thumb? Toss them in the wash every three to 10 wears, she says.

That said, actual washings depend on your activity level. “Someone who is doing manual labor in jeans should wash them every three wears, while someone who is casually wearing their jeans can wash them every five to 10 wears,” she says. Above all, sweat and odor should dictate when they’re ready for the wash.

How Often Should You Wash Bras?

It all depends on the type of bra, according to Fulford. Sports bras should be washed after every sweat session, for example. But regular bras can wait to be worn two or three times before you launder them.

Some will say hand-washing is the only way to go, while there are those (like me) who swear by those little mesh bags that you can put your bras in and throw them into the wash. As Fulford says, your best bet is to read the labels on your bra. I just did it with one in my regular rotation and saw that it does say machine-wash (whew!) and line-dry. 

I’ll take this advice as a semi-free pass to procrastinate on some of my laundry items, as well as a cost-saving effort now that I’m not running the washing machine as much.