clothes line

Someone had to ask, right? Is it sustainable or just plain gross to re-wear outfits before washing clothes?

The average American household does some 400 loads of laundry per year, using as much as 40 gallons of water per load, according to the Consumer Energy Center. With fresh water becoming a seriously scarce resource, that’s a huge number to take into consideration, especially when clothes are frequently and unnecessarily washed. In the not-so-olden days just a century ago, it was a given that clothes were going to be worn several times, if not dozens before washing. And even then, they were low-impact hand-washed and air-dried.

The home washing machine drastically changed all that in the 1950s. Suddenly, we could have clean clothes with little effort—a necessity that became a luxury—but in our modern efforts to decrease our consumption of resources and our impact on the environment, it’s important that we choose to develop new habits. We didn’t always look at the bottom of containers to determine whether or not they were recyclable, now it’s a habit for many of us. So is shopping at local farmers markets to support our regional economy and decrease the distance between where our food is grown and our mouths. But what about what we wear? Is just using an environmentally friendly detergent enough? Check this list of tips on re-wearing clothes to decrease your impact on the environment and make your clothes last longer:

1. How long did you wear the clothes?

This of course depends on what you did in them—changing a tire versus sitting in a movie theater will drastically alter the dirt and ick level—but in general, if you wore something where little dirt, sweat (or spilling) was involved, you can certainly re-wear those clothes. In fact, you can wear them 5-6 more similar times before washing. Fancy dress clothes worn for just a few hours can go years (really!) without a visit to the washing machine or the dry cleaner.

2. Pants

In particular, jeans or cargo pants, even those that were on the ground changing a tire, were made to hold their shape and hide dirt. You can wear a pair of pants several times before washing—as many as 5-6 times without anyone noticing (or caring–being a fashion victim is no way to live!). Same goes for skirts and shorts, even after a long day at the office.

3. Shirts

Generally much lighter fabric than pants, they pick up underarm and other body odors more quickly, and will need more frequent washing. For you men, it may be after one wear, but ladies, depending on the activity, it could be several wears.

4. Work out clothes

They’re gross, right? Well, not necessarily! Sweat is actually sterile, and if you’re clean before your workout, there’s no grime to come off with your sweat. A quick rinse in the sink of your sports bra or top can easily be worn again without a full visit to the washer.

5. Underwear and bras

This would seem to be a no-brainer—wash them, often, right? Definitely. But that can actually be in your sink, with a fabulously effective soap like Dr. Bronner’s peppermint or tea tree oil and a lot less water than a trip to the machine. Underwear and bras are so light they can typically dry overnight. You can even take them into the shower with you and wash them in there (off your body, of course). Stockings and thin socks can also be easily sink-washed, but thick socks can lock in odor and are more difficult to clean. Try soaking them in baking soda and soapy water overnight before rinsing.

6. Freshen with essential oils

Even if clothes don’t seem dirty, they can lose that fresh smell, which is the main reason many of us toss our clothes into the washer to begin with. Freshen up your day-old outfit with essential oils of lavender, lemon, clary sage, or grapefruit for a fresh and clean scent. Mix a few drops of your favorite oils in with water in a spray bottle and focus on target odor areas.

7. Hang clothes outside

We can all do this instead of using energy-sucking electric dryers, and this is also an especially useful trip when traveling and clothing options are limited. A quick rinse in the sink (or not) and good solid fresh air-drying time can reinvigorate and freshen your clothes.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: Magic Madzik