Laundering too much? Your bills and carbon footprint might be high

People are washing some items from the laundry basket just once a year. Is there a method to the madness?

woman with finger on nose
Only 20% of people in the survey said they don’t wash underwear after a single use. Picture Credit: cookie_studio on Freepik

It is about to get gross! The expert advise of laundering underwear and socks after every use and changing bedsheets once a week? Outrageous and wasteful is what John from York calls it. He is quite sure there is no scientific basis for this and he doesn’t wash clothes until they start smelling.

“But, I ensure you I don’t smell horrible in an antisocial way.”

A low-carbon-living advocate with a mission to achieve zero carbon footprint, John believes people need a sensible approach to washing clothes. If there is no sweat or dirt, he keeps his T-shirt off the washing pile: “Energy and money are not infinite.”

man standing with red t-shirt - laundry item
John washes T-shirts when they begin to smell, like after a chain-sawing session, because washing is a high energy (electricity) consumption activity.  Credit: Gill Cossham.

“Every time you wash clothes, it releases microfibres into the environment, which is really harmful,” says John.

“Water uses a lot of energy (electricity) – pumping, filtering and cleaning.  Detergent chemicals also have a manufacturing cost in terms of carbon and resource-use. Even though I use biodegradable ones, they still need air pumping to allow bacteria to do their job.” 

He is not alone in this mission of washing less frequently for the good of the planet. Brands are listening too. In 2017, Fashion Revolution – which calls itself a fashion activism movement – along with Electrolux and AEG washing machine brands started a care label called “Don’t Overwash”. Its mission is to educate people against outdated laundry habits like washing at high temperature, dry clean only and no prizes for guesses – overwashing.

infographic, woman waking up on bed, text

Students have also joined the movement. Maja Tokarczyk from Cardiff University, echoes John’s sentiment. She says: “I try to wash my clothes less often because of the adverse environmental impact. I live on my own and it takes me ages to gather enough clothes to wash. I don’t want to put on half-empty laundry. It’s such a waste of water, detergent and energy.” 

As per a recent survey, a third of people in the UK are washing their bedsheets once a year and not washing their underwear after a single use.

John laughs it off saying, “Sounds like my friend Abby (name changed). He washes every day in a cup of water – that’s a body wash. I’m similar – wash with several ‘cups’ of cold water. But, we do our bedsheets several times a year.”