What Happens When You Don't Wash Your Clothes

Stefan Cristian Cioata/Moment/Getty Images

We're all guilty of smelling our dirty clothes, deeming them acceptable for polite society, and then putting them on day after day after day. It's perfectly fine to do this occasionally, and obviously it's way easier than doing laundry. But be warned — some pretty gross things can happen when you don't wash your clothes.

For that reason, it may be time to pump the brakes on the old sniff test. While your clothes may smell fine (for now), they can get pretty darn germ-y pretty darn quick. And that's because humans are, in a word, gross. According to an article on BBC, "we’re constantly shedding skin cells, oozing skin oils, and secreting sweat onto everything we’re wearing. In fact, a human sheds about 500 million skin cells, and a liter of sweat, every day."

A little oil and sweat never hurt anyone, but that's not really the issue. "The problem starts when the bacteria living on your skin get involved. They live by feasting on your sweat and skin oils, [and] breaking the proteins in those down into smelly by-products," the same BBC article noted. When that happens, you start to offend everyone within a 10-foot radius. But more importantly, you can start to mess up your health.

While it's not necessary to go crazy washing your clothes every day — in fact, doing so might make your clothes wear out faster — you do want to toss them in the wash on a semi-frequent basis. If that sounds like too much work, then check out these gross things that can happen when you stop washing your clothes. Let it serve as a little laundry day inspiration.

1. They Will Start To Smell Way Less Than Great

Clothes that get all up in your business, such as underwear, tight shirts, and leggings, are obviously coming into contact with some less-than-pleasant scents. I'm talking about armpit sweat, period mishaps — you get the idea. These areas are also kinda germ-y, and that bacteria can start to smell if left to fester in your clothes.

That's why it's not really a good idea to wear fitted clothing more than once before washing. When it comes to looser items, however, you can get away with up to six wears before bacteria start to accumulate. And jeans can go even longer. "[For jeans, it's] five to six wears. Although there are some that advocate washing as little as possible. In fact, the director of brand concepts and special projects for Levi Strauss & Co. washes his once every six months," noted Emily Co on POPSUGAR. That's good news for those of us who want to push laundry day off as long as possible.

Try: Seventh Generation Natural Free & Clear Laundry Detergent, $13, Amazon

2. Your Bodily Oils Will Begin To Accumulate

You just slipped on a pair of jeans that have gone a few weeks (or six months?) without washing, and they feel... slimy. It's kind of shocking, and yet you go about your day and just deal with it.

But take a second to think about the slick, almost wet feeling that's now embracing your legs. Your jeans feel that way because they are laden with bodily oil buildup. Lovely, right? Now imagine the buildup in clothes that can't withstand going so long between washes. Your favorite shirt? Your go-to dress? Yep, all covered in oil.

3. Those Oils Can Mess Up Your Skin

If you're walking around all day in clothes that feel like an oil slick, then don't be surprised if you get body acne. According to Chau Stone on, "dirty clothes can transfer dirt and bacteria into the hair follicle, causing it to clog and become infected." When that happens, it's possible to get "bacne," as well as pimples on your chest and shoulders where clothes rub against your skin all day. So if you've been struggling with zits, it may be worth hitting up the laundromat a little more often.

Try: Nature's Cure Body Acne Treatment Spray, $12, Amazon

4. You Are Wrapping Yourself In Other People's Germs

It's one thing to be enveloped in your own oils all day, but it's a whole different thing to be exposed to someone else's. This is especially the case when it expands beyond oils, and into the realm of other bodily fluids.

This may offer the motivation needed to wash clothes you've lent to friends. But even new clothes fresh from the store can be riddled with all sorts of flora and fauna. According to an article on, a recent ABC News report revealed some rather disturbing results from a doctor's test on clothing. He sampled clothes from from three popular clothing chains, including low-end and high-end stores. On one blouse he found respiratory secretions, skin flora, and some fecal flora. Other items had vaginal organisms, yeast, more fecal matter, and obviously a very high count of germs. Horrifying, I know. And definitely a reason to wash new clothes before you wear them.

5. Stains Will Set In, Possibly For Good

Let's say you spill something on your clothes, like coffee, wine, or guacamole. These things stain fast, so the first thing you should do is rinse the area, and start pretreating the stain with spray. This will buy some time before you can pop the item in the wash, at which point the stain will hopefully be resolved.

But if you let the stain sit, unwashed, for days or weeks? Well, it's going to be a lot harder to remove. It might even require an extensive treatment process or trip to the dry cleaners, which may not even be successful. When that's the case, skipping a wash is definitely not worth ruining your clothes.

Try: Puracy 100% Natural Laundry Stain Remover, $16, Amazon

6. You Might Even Get An Itchy Rash

Some clothes can irritate your skin, and may even cause a rash called contact dermatitis, according to Jennifer Soong on Sure, this itchy rash can be caused by certain laundry detergents (although not an excuse to stop washing your clothes, per se). It can also be aggravated by dirty clothes rubbing against the skin, mostly due to the oils and dander that get trapped in the fabric. Definitely not a fun way to spend your day.

And definitely a reason to work out a laundry schedule that keeps your clothes smelling fresh, and feeling oil-free.

Images: Stefan Cristian Cioata/Moment/Getty Images; Giphy (6)