We’re all spending a lot more time in sweats and leggings during the coronavirus pandemic, throwing on the same hoodie and stretchy bottoms day after day. And many of us staying at home aren’t washing them as often as we would back in the pre-lockdown days when we were out and about.
What at first may have felt like a welcome reprieve from zipping into pencil skirts and donning restrictive blazers might now have you questioning: Is it disgusting to wear the same comfy clothes throughout the week without laundering them? And beyond just being gross, are there any health risks?
“Notwithstanding the coronavirus, the biggest contamination that can happen on clothing is bacteria that would come naturally from one’s body,” Lori A. Hoepner, an associate professor at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University School of Public Health, told HuffPost. “We produce a lot of bacteria, especially in the various crevices where the skin folds and touches itself and there is sweat.”
But as long as you’re staying home in those clothes, Hoepner said, rewearing loungewear without washing “not a major concern, as long as you’re OK with your own body odor.”
If you only don leisure clothes in the house — and not for exercise — “then you can go for a week or even two” without washing, said Preeti Aryna, Fashion Institute of Technology assistant professor of textile development and marketing.
If you have sensitive skin or dermatological conditions like eczema or psoriasis, you may want to change more frequently to avoid irritation caused by sweat, Hoepner noted.
Hygiene also plays a role in whether you can get away with rewearing without washing. “It’s less of a concern if you’re showering every day and you’re staying within the house,” Hoepner said. “That’s for the average individual who doesn’t have health concerns.”
The Cleaning Institute recommends washing pajamas after three of four wearings, but “if you shower before bed, you may get a few more wears before washing.”
Katherine Annett-Hitchcock, an associate professor in North Carolina State University’s department of textile and apparel technology and management, acknowledges that how often you do laundry “is a really personal issue” depending on those additional circumstances.
“I can’t say,” she told HuffPost when asked for a washing frequency suggestion. ”I do laundry once a week.”
Keep the coronavirus in mind
Even if you take a secluded walk or bring Fido out for a trip around the block, “I don’t think there’s any reason to be concerned,” Hoepner said. But if you go to the grocery store or on a Target run in your around-the-house sweats, Hoepner advises changing and storing those clothes separately, especially if you share a home with someone susceptible to COVID-19.
“If one has vulnerable individuals or one is vulnerable, it makes good sense to be careful,” Hoepner said. “If you’re going to the store or if you have to take public transportation ― anything where you’re coming into contact with people or surfaces ― it doesn’t hurt to clean the clothes and not wear them around the house.”
Even without the coronavirus, clothes exposed to public places and strangers are “definitely holding onto germs” of some kind, Hoepner said. “There are plenty of virulent bugs out there that exist on these nonporous surfaces that we touch every day and that are transmitted from other humans. It’s a good practice to keep your outerwear separate or wash it more frequently.”
What that means down there ...
So if you’re staying home and don’t have any skin conditions, you only need to worry about developing a signature stench. But what about yeast infections and other issues between women’s legs associated with wearing tight bottoms for prolonged periods of time?
Lauren F. Streicher, medical director of Northwestern Medicine Center for Sexual Medicine and Menopause, said stories about such experiences tend to be anecdotal. And while moist conditions can exacerbate a yeast infection, they’re not likely to be the actual cause. “If you’re wearing anything that’s confining, you might get warm, you might get sweaty, but it’s not going to cause an infection,” she said.
Yeast infections result “from the gastrointestinal tract,” Streicher explained. “It lives there and sometimes if it gets in the vulva or the vagina, it will start to proliferate.”
Hygiene and preexisting health factors contribute, too.
“Some people use scented soaps and scented panty liners and wear lots of synthetic materials and do just fine,” said Holly Cummings, Penn Medicine assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology. “But people who are prone to vulva irritation might notice things like that set them up for yeast infections and then you want to take a look at your clothing and your hygiene habits. It’s the overall sum of all the parts.”
If you usually find yourself on the warmer side and work up some sweat while bingeing “Love Is Blind” or baking banana bread, then you might consider changing and washing more frequently. And you definitely want to avoid hanging around in workout gear.
“If you’re sitting in your home office all day and going to sleep in the same pajama pants, you could probably get away with it,” Cummings said. “But if you’re going for a really vigorous run, that’s also your exercise clothing, and sitting in those for multiple days without washing might be more of a problem.”
Vulva irritation can also be caused by allergies to condoms, lubricants and laundry detergents, according to the Australian medical information website Jean Hailes for Women’s Health.
“It’s not a specific yoga pants thing,” Streicher emphasized, since repeated wearing of constricting pants without washing can be just one of many elements in yeast infections and other vaginal irritability.
To keep things fresh in the vaginal area, Cummings said your normal shower routine should suffice. “For most people, whatever you’re using as your soap or body wash is appropriate to use in the vulva area,” she said. “Just using water is also fine.”
Giving your clothes a break from washing is actually good for them
Health aside, will rewearing go-to clothes without giving them a cycle in the washer and dryer deteriorate them quicker?
“Washing clothes using laundry machines does more damage to the clothes than the wearing of them does,” Arya said. “Wearing the clothes will not cause too much of an impact on the dimension or the durability or the performance of the garment, but clothes are really beaten up inside the laundry machine.”
You can lengthen time between washes by being mindful of how you store clothing.
“If you leave everything in a hot, damp pile, the stuff is not only going to smell bad, it’s going to degrade the fibers quicker as well,” Annett-Hitchcock said. “Hang it up so the air can get to it, leave it there overnight, and you might find that the next day, it’s fine. Open your windows, let the air circulate. Don’t bunch stuff together in the closet.”
Natural fibers or blends of natural fibers, such as cotton, silk and wool, tend not to stink as much, since they absorb less sweat than synthetics. If you opt for synthetic fibers — like if you’re working from home in Lululemon leggings, made mostly from combinations of nylon, polyester and Lycra — seek out moisture-wicking ones.
“You’ll find that a lot of athletic companies are developing their own proprietary fiber and fabric technology,” Annett-Hitchcock said. For example, Lululemon boasts sweat-wicking Luon and Luxtreme fabrics, Under Armour incorporates HeatGear technology, and Accel Lifestyle created Prema, an “anti-stink” fabric that blends “silver-poly fibers woven with Supima” cotton, according to the brand’s website.
“Silver is inherently antimicrobial, so if you’re looking for something that is bacteria resistant, having silver in there is going to be that way,” Annett-Hitchcock said. “Hemp is also that way.”
In general, Hoepner said that good hygiene is key to wearing the same clothes over and over again, and clothing-related health issues are “less of a concern if you’re showering every day.”
So, don’t just wash your hands — wash your whole body.
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Experts are still learning about the novel coronavirus. The information in this story is what was known or available as of press time, but it’s possible that guidance around COVID-19 could change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.