What Happens If You Don't Wash Your Jeans for a Month, According to Experts
Not laundering them often enough could be hazardous to your health.
My teenager and I have worked out a good system for sharing a pair of jeans we both love: When they're fresh out of the dryer, she wears them a few times, until they get stretched out. Then she hands them over to me and I wear them until she wants them again, at which point I toss them in the laundry and they shrink back up to fit her perfectly.
This routine means that these jeans go at least a week between washes, and usually more like a month. Sure, we hang them up to air out when they're not being worn, but occasionally I ask myself whether we should be washing them more often. Could we be putting our health at risk by wearing dirty jeans? How often are you supposed to wash your jeans, anyway?
Read on to find out what three doctors told me when I posed the question: What happens if you don't wash your jeans for a month?
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Your jeans become a breeding ground for bacteria.
"If you don't wash your jeans for a month, it can have negative effects on your health," says dermatologist Wendy Long Mitchel, MD, a health advisor for GRYT. "Jeans are often worn for extended periods of time, and during that time, sweat, bacteria, and dead skin cells can accumulate on the fabric. This can lead to the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi," she explains.
"Dirty clothes make a great breeding ground for bacteria and germs," agrees Noor Hanif Said, MBBS, a U.K.-based, board-certified dermatologist and the medical director of Renaissance Dermatology.
Mitchell says this bacteria buildup can have "negative effects on your skin," including irritation and itching. And that's not all…
You'll be more vulnerable to infections and allergic reactions.
Bacteria and fungi living on dirty denim can cause more serious symptoms than itching, says Mitchel, who notes that "skin infections, rashes, and even respiratory problems if inhaled," are all valid concerns.
Wearing dirty clothes puts you at risk for skin infections, which can be painful and embarrassing," Mitchel tells Best Life. "Additionally, if you have pre-existing skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis, wearing dirty clothes can exacerbate them."
Hanif emphasizes that if you have allergies, you need to be even more vigilant about laundering your clothing. "Allergens can also accumulate on unwashed clothes. Such allergens may irritate the skin, cause itching or even allergic reactions, especially for those with sensitive skin."
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Always wash new jeans before wearing them, too.
I'm usually so excited to wear a cute new pair of jeans that I snip the tag off and pull them right on. But Hanif specifically advises against this.
"Allergic reactions may arise not just from dirty reworn clothing, but new unwashed clothing as well," he warns. "Manufacturing processes often contain formaldehyde, which can trigger allergic reactions in some."
Even if you don't have allergies, Hanif says it's a good idea to wash new jeans before taking them out on the town. "As new clothes are not necessarily clean, I would advise washing them before wearing them," he says.
Here's how long experts say to go between laundry loads.
While it's important to wash your jeans often enough to keep bacteria, fungi, and allergens at bay, that doesn't mean laundering them after every wear. In fact, clothing experts urge us wear our jeans as long as possible between washes. "We recommend washing after 10 or so wears—or whenever jeans smell stale or unpleasant," Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd, co-founders of The Laundress, told Real Simple.
Doctors, however, have another take. "As a healthcare provider and a mom, I recommend washing your clothes at least once a week to prevent the buildup of harmful bacteria, mold, and fungus," says board-certified family physician Laura Purdy, MD. "For those with sensitive skin or allergies, it's important to use gentle, fragrance-free detergents and softeners, as well," she tells Best Life.
Hanif adds that how often you need to wash your jeans depends on your level of activity. "If you've been fairly sedentary, wearing them a few times between washes is generally fine. However, if you've been sweating or if the jeans have become visibly dirty or smelly, it's a good idea to wash them."
And regarding the jeans-swapping routine my daughter and I do, Mitchel offers this advice: "For teenagers specifically, it's important to understand the health concerns associated with not washing clothes regularly. As a teenager, your body is going through a lot of changes, and it's important to take care of your skin and overall health to avoid complications."
Excuse me while I go start a load of laundry…
Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. If you have health questions or concerns, always consult your healthcare provider directly.