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The Health Risks of Wearing Dirty Clothes

health risks of wearing dirty clothing
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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 don't have very strict rules for how many times they wear them before wash – one, two, or even never if you feel like Levi’s CEO Chip Burgh does about your jeans. 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 that never is the extreme. Almost everyone has found themselves in a bind at some point where it’s a must to grab dirty clothing from the laundry bin, right? Is there a perfect number for wears before washing? If so, what is it, and why?

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How Often Do You Wash Before Wearing?

According to a Men’s Health Twitter poll, it’s a mixed opinion about how many times you can wear an item before needing to wash it. It also differs between clothing items as different items hold different germs and bacteria.

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. This may sound a little high to those who have a weekly laundry routine, and it does expose the wearer to the risk of germs and bacteria.

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 response pointed out that one wear is the only answer, period, and particularly when someone uses public transit. Solid point, but what’s the health risk of wear and reuse verses wear and wash?

The Health Risks of Wear And Reuse

Let's delve into a bit of science before discussing laundry routines. Your body sheds up to 500 million skin cells per day. It’s also constantly oozing oils and secreting sweat from multiple areas. 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 begin with. This is assuming that your skin is in good shape to offer a barrier against infection, as wearing clothes ten plus times does allow for much more exposure to bacteria.

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 can create follicular issues, acne, or infection. 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, which can lead to 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 from only being on the shelf, imagine how dirty your clothes can get from wearing them for days, and in public. Dr. Tierno says that such contamination can lead to everything from stomach viruses to MRSA infections. This means that yes, you may actually get sick from re-wearing your clothes.

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. Workout clothes and undergarments should be washed after just one use to avoid yeast infections or a bacterial infection.

There’s no universally or scientifically backed guidelines on washing your clothes because all bodies are different. We all do different activities, in different ways, in different weather conditions, and in different clothing materials. So, the bottom line remains that it is ultimately up to you.

If you want to wash regularly without sacrificing the longevity and aesthetics of your jeans, you can turn them inside out when washing, or you can hand-wash instead. Dry your clothing with air or on low heat to prevent damage and shrinking, or simply hang your clothes to dry. You can also use less washing powder or natural washing elements to prevent chemical deterioration of fabrics. These options may take a bit more time, but they can definitely expand the lifespan of your favorite items.

Obviously workout clothes and undergarments need to be washed each time, but the rest of your laundry is really up to your discretion— you probably won't get an infection from skipping a laundry cycle. However, if you don't want to be known as someone with dirty clothes, and if you don't want to risk bringing germs and bacteria into your home, perhaps it's best to set a laundry routine that works to minimize the amount of times you wear your items before washing. Don't just wait for the ketchup stain!


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