According to Rachel McQueen, a textile scientist and associate professor in the University of Alberta’s Department of Human Ecology, most people wash their clothes way too often. “I think what’s happening in this hygiene-focused world now is that it’s just become a habit,” she says. “People wear a pair of jeans or a sweater once and think it’s loaded with bacteria.”
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It isn’t so much that bacteria don’t populate your clothing—they most certainly do. But that doesn’t mean you have to wash your clothes. “It’s a bit overkill because it’s their bacteria,” McQueen says. “It’s supposed to be on your skin. And so if it’s on your clothing, and your clothing puts it back in contact with your skin, that’s just where that bacteria is supposed to be.”
McQueen should know. She’s one of the only researchers in the world whose studies focus on examining how skin microflora grows in textiles, and how odorous molecules interact with the fibers. In other words, she studies stinky clothing.
And unless you work in a hospital or with immune-compromised individuals, McQueen adds, bacteria of this sort isn’t a huge problem. Of course, she’s not advocating that you dump your washer altogether. But, she says, there are numerous reasons to resist the urge to wash your clothes so often.