Clothes washing is one of my least liked chores. Our clothesline with a view makes hanging the washing out to dry almost bearable – but the washing, folding and putting away feels tedious. At the risk of making you cringe, I strive to wash my clothes as little as possible. By doing so, not only do I save time, but I also reduce the environmental impact of my clothing.
Considering the entire life cycle of a garment, everyday washing and drying typically damages our natural environment more than any other phase, including farming, manufacture and transport.
A few years ago, I participated in a 'six items or less' challenge, where I wore only six items of clothing for a month. I rediscovered the lost art of spot cleaning. Until that challenge, I’d tossed my clothes into the dirty clothes basket at the end of the day without scrutinising whether they actually needed washing. During the challenge, I got into the habit of machine-washing something only if it was beyond spot-cleaning. I also discovered that ironing is a great way to freshen already worn clothes.
It appears my old tendency to wash clothes that did not actually need washing is the norm. Or, in the words of Tullia Jack, a consumer culture researcher, my unnecessary washing was a “habitual, inconspicuous consumption ingrained in daily practices”.
Tullia explored what happens when people wash less. She recruited 30 people to wear the same pair of jeans for at least five days a week for three months without washing them. She was hoping to explore how society reacts to dirty and smelly clothes. However, unexpectedly, participants found their jeans weren’t visibly dirty and didn’t smell. It seems we can get away with washing our clothes a whole lot less than we think.
Perhaps the idea of washing less doesn’t appeal to you? At the very least, washing in cold water using an environmentally friendly washing powder and line drying will reduce the environmental impact of your clothing. While line drying takes more time than tossing clothes in the dryer, it’s a few moments of quiet outdoor time, so it isn’t too bad a chore in the scheme of things.