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The Health Risks of Wearing Dirty Clothes

health risks of wearing dirty clothing
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The Health Risks of Wearing Dirty Clothes

Like the five-second rule for dropped food, some folks abide by the five-second smell test for when it’s time to do laundry. Others, particularly when it comes to jeans, often have very strict rules for how many times they wear before wash – one, two, or even never if you feel like Levi’s CEO Chip Burgh does about your jeans. Yeah, never. Chip feels it sacrifices the integrity of the jeans, but how does it impact men’s health?

Before doing the’ that’s just gross’ facepalm, do realize never is the extreme. Almost everyone has found themselves in a bind at some point in life where it’s a must to grab a dirty pair of clothes for reuse, right? Is there a perfect number for wears before wash everyday, though? If so, what is it and why?

How Often Do You Wash Before Wearing?

According to a Men’s Health Twitter poll, it’s a mixed bag on that perfect number of times to wear your clothes.

Over 60 percent of the poll’s respondents wear their denim at least four times before washing. Meanwhile, almost 40 percent say they never wear their denim over three times before washing. Then, there’s the 23 percent who said they’re getting at least 10 wears out of their jeans before washing.

The reasoning behind the wearable timetables? Some cited that frequent laundering restored an ideal fit and shape of the jeans. On the other side, a responded pointed out that one wear is the only answer; period, and particularly when someone uses public transit. Solid points, but what’s the health risk of wear and reuse verses wear and wash? Could that hold the key to the perfect amount of times to wear your clothes before laundering them?

Wear And Reuse Health Risks

So, your body sheds up to 500 million skin cells per day. It’s also constantly oozing oils and secreting sweat. In other words, a lot lurks in and underneath your clothes in just one wear, much less 10 and up wears. Disturbing? Maybe. Gross? Perhaps. Unhealthy? Depends on who you ask.

According to Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine’s department of dermatology instructor Dr. Steve Xu, M.D., wearing jeans ten plus times without a wash sounds gross, but it doesn’t particularly raise your odds of developing a bacterial skin infection if you’re healthy to start with. This is assuming your skin is in good shape to offer a barrier against infection.

On the other hand, director of clinical and cosmetic dermatology at Stony Brook Medicine Dr. Adrienne Haughton says that wearing clothes repeatedly can lead to oil buildup that sets you up for follicular issues and acne. Jock itch is also a possibility, especially for guys with athlete’s foot who don their underwear and/or jeans before their socks. She also points out that any open wounds, eczema, or even dry skin can increase your chances of bacteria from clothing entering the skin to set up infections.

Speaking of bacteria, an ABC News report outlined a study on bacteria found on new clothes. Dr. Philip Tierno, director of microbiology and immunology at New York University, tested fourteen clothing items from both high-end and low-end stores, and he found everything from fecal flora to respiratory flora on them.

Now, if new clothes are that dirty on the shelf with “flora” from others, imagine how dirty your clothes get wearing them for days in public. Dr. Tierno says that such contamination can lead to everything from stomach viruses to MRSA infections.

How Often Should You Really Wash Your Clothes?

The American Cleaning Institute (ACI) says to wash unstained and unsoiled jeans after three normal wears, suits after three to five wears, and T-shirt’s after each wear.

There’s no universally or scientifically backed guidelines on washing your clothes because all bodies are different, and we do different activities, different ways, in different weather conditions, and in different clothing materials. So, the bottom line is that how often you wash your clothes is a personal preference that you should judge accordingly.

If you want to wash regularly without sacrifice to the longevity and aesthetics of your jeans and other clothes or risking potential health issues, then turn them inside out when washing or hand-wash. Dry with air or on low heat to prevent damage and shrinking. You can also use less washing powder or natural options to prevent chemical deterioration of fabrics.


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