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Wear it again, Sam: Delaying laundry day

If it's not stinky or stained, why wash it?

By Donna_Freedman Oct 26, 2009 4:14AM

I've got a dirty little secret: sometimes I wear a shirt twice before washing it.

Before you hold your nose and run screaming from the room, hear me out. I'm not talking about a shirt in which I've done a day's worth of hard manual labor in the hot sun. It's usually a shirt I've worn for half a day or less.

The other day, for example, I didn't dress to leave the house until close to lunchtime. Before that I was the stereotypical freelance writer sitting around in sweatpants and a T-shirt my daughter bought to celebrate entering the eighth grade. (My daughter is now 29. Freelancers really don't care what they look like.)

At 11:30 a.m. I put on a green silk shirt ($3.99, Value Village) and slacks and left for the university. My classes ended at 3:20 p.m. I was home by 3:45 p.m. The shirt went back on a hanger. 

This is an argument for a return to the "school clothes" and "play clothes" of my youth. When my sisters and I got home from school, we changed from the then-obligatory dresses into grubs that allowed us to climb trees, ride bikes, and generally rip and roar. And yes, a dress sometimes got worn again if it wasn't obviously dirty or too wrinkled.

Reduce, reuse, rewear

These day I gladly reshelve shirts whenever I can. It saves money, i.e. the cost of soap and water. Less laundering extends the life of a garment. Best of all, it saves me the time of washing and ironing the item. (No, I don't iron everything. But some of my shirts do need a touch of heat.)

 As with any other time- or money-saving tip, I use common sense to apply the half-day rule. If it's high summer and I've been sweating at an unshaded bus stop, or if I've spilled something on the shirt (I'm a woman who wears her lunch with pride), then naturally I'll wash before rewearing.

And my "play" clothes? Those old things are used off and on for four or five days until I'm disgusted enough with myself to wash them. Look, I don't have a roommate. No one's going to notice that my caulk-stained "Anchorage Daily News Health & Safety Committee" T-shirt has been worn three evenings in a row.

How dirty could it be?

I babysit for families whose young children put everything, even jeans, into the clothes hamper at night.  These are not mud-caked pants or food-stained tops, yet they get washed every time they're worn. How dirty could this stuff have gotten, especially since some of these kids rarely go outside?

So consider relaxing your standards. If anyone notices, frame it as "a green thing": You're saving a load or two of wash (water, sewer, energy) a month, and reducing the wear and tear on your clothes means you'll replace them less often, thereby consuming fewer resources. As noted, I'm still using a T-shirt my daughter discarded years ago. It's almost ready for the rag bag, but there's a dance in the old dame yet.

The comedian Jeff Foxworthy jokes that men's approach to laundry is, "Does this stink too bad to wear one more time?" This is not what I'm advocating here. If something is malodorous or obviously dirty, then for heaven's sake wash it.

But if you've only worn it to a special event, or just for a few hours at church or school? Use your judgment and maybe get one more wear out of it. That is, if it doesn't stink too bad.

Published Oct. 3, 2007

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