When it comes to doing laundry—the inevitable chore that every single one of us has to deal with in some capacity at some point—there’s typically a method to the madness.
Whether you’ve learned tips and tricks passed down for generations or made your own life hacks, chances are, you do laundry a certain way. But here’s the kicker—experts say your laundry habits are actually disgusting.
And, according to recent research, we may be a little worse off than we thought. In a 2020 poll conducted by RushOrderTees, one in four men shared that they do not wash underwear after a single use. And only 39% of women wash yoga pants after wearing them once.
Whether you think those statistics are gross or not here’s the undeniable truth: We don’t all see eye-to-eye on laundry habits.
And… perhaps there’s a bit more to learn about laundry (and each other) than we thought. Here’s what the experts have to say about how we're doing it wrong—and how to fix it.
1. You're Not Washing Yoga Pants, Undies & Socks After Each Wear
While “off-duty” items or seasonal clothing (jackets, scarfs, etc.) generally require less washing than high-use items, "yoga pants, underwear, socks, undershirts, and other sweat-gathering articles should generally be washed after every wear," said Joe Mercurio, Project Manager at RushOrderTees.
The (Gross) Scientific Reason
Sweat creates a breeding ground for bacteria. Even mixing your soggy socks in the hamper with your other clothes can be a no-no because it creates dampness and ideal conditions for bacteria overgrowth.
Tips for Preventing Bacterial Growth
Melissa Maker, cleaning expert and founder of Clean My Space, shares some alternatives. Rather than tossing damp or sweaty clothes into a hamper, she encourages hanging them in a bathroom, bedroom, or ideally, outside. Air drying can help to reduce the dampness (of course), but it can also prevent bacteria overgrowth.
She also suggests a vinegar pre-soak—“one part vinegar for every five parts water in a bowl or sink”—to help remove both odor and unwanted bacteria, or to simply follow label instructions to make sure you’re cleaning your clothes the paper way.
“You want to launder your workout clothes in the hottest water that the fabrics will allow,” she says, “The care label is your best friend, especially considering how some garments actually require cold water washes. [Also], do NOT use fabric softener for this job—it will leave a residue and you don’t want that when you’re sweating all over these clothes all the time.”
2. You're Not Taking the Time to Dry Items Fully
We’ve all fallen victim to the soggy sheets, rolled-up socks, underwear-caught-in-sweater- pocket, or thick blankets that felt a little damp but probably fine enough to take out of the dryer.
When we’re in a rush or just plain exhausted of the endless loads, we sometimes slack on the full dry—and especially if we’re in a laundromat or shared space where others might be waiting to take over our machines.
When it comes to the dryer, though, anything that isn’t fully dried isn’t actually clean. Which, of course, is the exact opposite of what you want when you clean your clothes.
But instead of repeatedly adding time to the cycle to finish that sheet that just won't dry, a product can help. Cyndi Bray created Wad-Free, a product that keeps sheets and blankets from tangling, twisting, and ultimately not getting washed. It's a small plastic square with opening slots where you can attach the sheet at opposite ends. When connected, the sheet will have resistance and won’t spin together in a wad.
“Sheets often ball-up into a ‘burrito wad,’ or small items get trapped inside the corners of the fitted sheet in a ‘hostage-taker' wad,” Bray says. “So things are still wet inside at the end of the dry cycle.
"There are people who put the load in the dryer, run it, and leave it overnight (or even a couple days.) By the time they open the dryer, the whole thing has started to smell and mold since it was wound up in a wet ball. Then they have to run the whole load again (often adding extra products like bleach or scents) to try to get rid of the smell, which can even linger inside the appliance itself. That whole process is really wasteful, and damaging to your sheets.”
3. You're Still Using Dryer Sheets
Although dryer sheets have been the go-to for years, experts are saying that they may be doing more harm than good.
"Dryer sheets leave a waxy film on your lint screen that can lead to extended drying times and excessive wear and tear on your machine and clothing," says Jason Kapica, President of Dryer Vent Wizard. "Use wool dryer balls instead."
If you enjoy the smell of dryer sheets, Kapica recommends essential oils to give your clothes a nice scent without the reside. "Dryer balls will also allow your clothes to dry faster," he says, "And [they are] great for people with sensitive skin."
4. You're Not Laundry Stripping
According to the latest TikTok trend, laundry stripping is the latest and greatest in laundry musts, and experts agree.
"[It] remove[s] excess minerals from hard water, body oils/odor, [and] detergent/fabric softener residue from seemingly-clean clothes, towels, [or] sheets that have already gone through the washing machine," says Vera Peterson, President of Molly Maid.
"The process of laundry stripping is fairly cheap and easy but time-consuming. Simply fill your bathtub with hot water and add half a cup of borax, baking soda, and the laundry detergent of your choice. Stir to be sure all are dissolved and add the items you wish to soak."
"It is recommended that you soak these items for a few hours," Peterson says, "Or however long it takes for the water to completely cool. You should then run the items through the washing machine on 'rinse only.'"
Although stripping is effective, she recommends only using this process on certain items. Or, if you suspect a problem with your water, Peterson says you should invest in a water softener. This will keep costs low and, of course, help you conserve water.
5. You're Using Too Much Laundry Detergent
The more soap, the cleaner the clothes... right?
Nope. "Adding extra detergent in the hopes of relieving strong odors can actually make matters worse," says Kristiana Laugen, Home Expert at Handy. "If too much soap is added and then not thoroughly washed out, it ends up creating a damp environment that is ideal for the growth of mold and mildew. With this increased amount of bacteria continuing to spread, bad odors will only get stronger."
Although it may be tempting to add more soap for a deeper clean, it's actually counterproductive. And the same goes for fabric softener, too.
"While fabric softener is great for certain materials, you’ll want to avoid it completely with apparel like athleticwear," says Laugen. "When fabric softener gets into the pores of your workout gear, it will trap the dirt and sweat, leaving your clothes with that gross 'gym clothes' odor.
6. You Don't Have a Set a Schedule
When it comes to any household chore, the best results come from the best routines.
Yet, an overwhelming majority of us would probably admit that we have no real structure when it comes to laundry. We don't mean just “Sunday Laundry Days”—we're talking about a regular schedule with specific dates/times for when you’re washing things like sheets, bedding, pillow cases, and other I’ll-clean-them-when-I-remember items.
Maybe you think you’ve been washing on a schedule… but if your bedding only makes it into the washer when you happen to remember (AKA: any less than weekly), that’s less than ideal.
7. You Never Clean Your Washer
Another reason your laundry habits are actually disgusting is because you haven’t cleaned your machine… ever.
Let’s be real for a moment. When was the last time you deep-cleaned the washer? I mean, really got in there and scraped out the gunk, goo, soap residue, hair, fur, or any other unwanted, ahem, materials? And that’s just the inside!
You should, at a minimum, clean your washer twice a year. You can (and should) consider an occasional clean out of your air vents/ducts that lead to the outside, too. Dust gets trapped in there over time, and if you’re not careful, it can potentially start a fire.