Laundry – Are we doing too much of it?

basket of laundry waiting to be folded Two stacks of neatly folded laundry

I’ve been thinking a lot about laundry lately, and it’s not entirely because I always seem to be faced with piles that need to be washed, folded, or put away (although yes, that is my reality!)….no, laundry has been on my mind because I think I am slowly coming to the realization that I’m doing too much of it. Let me explain. While pregnant with my daughter, I became aware of the world of ethical, environmentally-responsible children’s clothing made from natural materials, in large part due to this very blog. I started to make careful and thoughtful purchases, and to look into the companies behind the clothes themselves. I prioritized natural fibers, small and ethical production, and companies who were transparent about their practices and environmentally-minded. Eventually these same priorities started taking hold in my wardrobe as well.

Once in our home, I treated these garments with what seemed to be utmost care: eco-friendly detergent, cold water wash, hanging to dry (with the exception of large items, like sheets and towels, which we don’t have a great way to hang in our city apartment)…the whole bit. But it turns out I’ve been missing one big thing: I’m simply going through the motions of this carefully-considered washing routine too often! In doing some reading I’ve come across varying statistics, but they all seem to point in the same direction, which is that well more than half of the carbon footprint of the clothes we buy and wear comes after purchase as we wash, dry, and iron our garments. Our culture has become a bit obsessed with cleanliness, and this preoccupation consumes enormous amounts of energy, water, and chemicals to satisfy. And not only is there environmental impact from the wash cycle itself, but there’s impact to the clothing as well – more washing means that it breaks down more quickly.

Without thinking too much about it, I instructed my kids to place their pajamas into the hamper after wearing them for a single night. Second and third layers almost always ended up in the hamper as well, even though they hadn’t really become dirty at all (my kids wear undershirts six so months of the year as a first layer). So many pairs of pants, so many tops, untold numbers of pinafores and dresses, all accumulating and then going through the wash cycle without really needing to. And all this was happening as my husband and I often wore clothes, especially pajamas, jeans, and sweaters, multiple times before washing. Does this ring true for anyone else?

All this to say that I’ve started to pay more careful attention to what’s in our hampers, especially the two in my kids’ rooms. Socks, underwear, and undershirts still are washed after every wearing. But pajamas have moved to every few days (assuming my kids don’t wear them for breakfast) and anything that’s a second or third layer gets a careful look for visible dirt/food/remnants of art projects…if it still looks and smells clean, we’ll give it another wear before washing. I’m find I’m doing less laundry, which is wonderful on so many fronts.

What about you? Does wearing, or having your children wear, something more than once make you cringe? Was the environmental impact of doing laundry already on your radar? I’d love to hear how other families are thinking about this laundry issue!

Shannon x

PS: Photos of actual laundry piles from the other morning for added emphasis. I know I can’t be alone in this, but there is always so much laundry!




Comments (9)

March 5, 2020

We actually wash our daughters clothes in the spring and fall after 1 wear. They have outdoor allergies and where we live, the pollen sticks to everything. We also wash in hot water. However, for my husbands and my clothes we wear our clothes mulitply times (especially jeans) before we wash in cold water. Then dry on low heat or line dry. We do wash our sheets every 2 weeks. When they are sick we wash the sheets in hot water.

Esther in Amsterdam
March 5, 2020

I think you have a very valid point! I remember my mum, she would spot clean my second and third layers (she had a very efficient ‘scratch with her nail’ way). I rarely wash our woollens, just air them, and like you, second layers and pjs are washed after three (or so) wears unless, obviously, they are dirty. I think not so long ago, most people had only two sets of clothes — one for the Sunday, one for the rest of the week! xx

Tina Salibello
March 5, 2020

I agree! I just had a talk with my little boys about wearing their pajamas all week, putting jeans and jackets back in the closet if they’re not badly soiled, and have done the same analysis to my worn clothing!!

I’m with you- I want to be more eco conscious and we wash way too much! My hurdle right now is eliminating paper towels and napkins, which means using cloth. But then we have to wash more which uses lots of energy and resources as well. It’s a lot to navigate but if we are conscious then we will ultimately be doing so much for our earth! Thanks for such a great article!

Shannon in NYC
March 6, 2020

So glad you enjoyed the article! We use only cloth napkins, and are comfortable using those until they really need a wash (unless we have company over, of course!). We also moved to cloth towels instead of paper towels a few years ago for all but the most unpleasant messes. These two switches did add to the laundry load, but honestly not as much as I would have guessed. I’m still not sure if in the end they’re actually more earth-friendly or not, but it feels like a good step…

But you’re right…in so many of these matters the very first step is awareness and acknowledgment of areas that might be changed!

March 6, 2020

YES! same here- undies get washed after one wear. however all else, unless they are dirty they can be worn a few days. plus-a nice side benefit;
the clothes last longer and look nicer if not “over” washed.. which is great having a few kids, the clothes last to be passed down..

Shannon in NYC
March 6, 2020

Yes! Cutting down on the wash wear of clothes is definitely a big benefit, not only for keeping clothes looking good but for any unnatural fibers (like fleece, for instance) that might release micro fibers into the water stream.

March 6, 2020

I think nowadays we do too much landry due to the simplicity of the act, if we would have to wash our clothes as our grandparents did (my mother washed clothes in the river with her mother when she was little, my grandma had a big pot in a “washkitchen” where she boiled white clothes). Would we wash every day, me not!:).
My kids, 11 and 6, throw their clothes everyday to the laundry box, as they do not fold or put the washed clothes into their closet, I got on strike… now they have to wash the closes, put it into the dryer (we have no possibility to hang) fold it and put it into their closet…
Takes some time but it works. Curiously I have less clothes in the laundry box! 🙂

March 6, 2020

Do you put the dirty clothes back in the closet? I hate doing that part. But also feel weird sending my kids to school in the same outfit two days in a row.

Georgina Owen
March 9, 2020

Absolutely agree!
I have 2 boys who seem to get very mucky and go through a lot of clothing. Pants and socks will be changed daily, but everything else I aim to get more than 1 wear out of unless it’s filthy!
I’m trying to encourage my husband to wear his jeans more than once as he habitually throws them in the laundry after 1 wear!
We are all guilty of over washing things, spot cleaning is really a good idea for small marks. We each have a small pile of clothing for clothes which are ‘in use’. I rarely wash wool items as they don’t really get dirty. Hurrah for less washing and ironing!!

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