A fresh take
TikTok’s laundry guru offers tips to keep your clothes clean
KEVIN JIANG STAFF REPORTER
I’ll admit it, I was a greasy little goblin in university.
Just like the unwashed mass of 18-year-olds that populated my computer science classes, I’d developed an inexplicable fear of the laundry machine. Shirts and underwear would be worn until their spirits screamed for release — and don’t get me started on my bed sheet.
While these memories now make my skin itch, it felt right at the time — my shirts didn’t appear dirty or stained, even after many wears, and only rarely smelled rancid.
What’s the worst that could happen?
I remained genuinely curious of the answer, despite renouncing my stinky ways years ago — so I sat down with TikTok’s beloved laundry guru Melissa Pateras to settle the debate. Turns out there are more consequences for leaving your clothes unwashed than them developing a … unique aroma.
A self-described “laundry lesbian” from Uxbridge, Ont., Pateras works full time in community support service in Toronto when not preaching to her 1.5 million TikTok followers the art of the washing machine or sharing her wisdom in her new book due out later this month.
How often we do our laundry can be different for everyone, depending on our availability, activity level or how many people we’re washing for. As a mom of three, Pateras washes a load every day — you probably don’t need to do that if you live alone, she said.
“Most people would have a minimum of once a week doing laundry,” Pateras continued. “Otherwise, it tells me that you’re just wearing your clothes too many times.”
Some items need to be washed after one wear, she said. These include: Socks, underwear, undershirts, workout clothing, T-shirts, reusable face masks, linen dish cloths, swimsuits and tank tops.
White clothing in general can often fall into this category “because of gravity,” Pateras explained, as dirt, dust and stains appear more visible.
Other items can weather two or three wears before a wash, she said. These include: Bras, dress shirts, blouses, tights and leggings (including yoga pants), pants, dresses, hand towels and dish towels.
Clothing that can be worn four to five times include: Jeans, suits, sleepwear, hoodies and sweaters.
Bed sheets, towels and bath mats should be cleaned every week, Pateras said.
Finally, some items can be cleaned “when the mood strikes,” she continued. These include: Jackets, footwear and ties, as well as linens like curtains, bathrobes, car seat covers, stroller covers, shower curtains, lunch bags, mattress covers and bed skirts.
Despite the prevailing myth that we shouldn’t wash them, jeans are capable of getting dirty just like any other pants and need to be cleaned regularly, Pateras said.
“The problem is that they do fade, and so people like to keep them new,” she continued. “But there’s really no difference between jeans and any other pants. They all pick up the same soil. It’s not like they repel dirt.”
Jeans should ideally be worn four to five times before needing a clean. Pateras advises washing them in cold water to reduce fading — with modern detergents, “you can wash everything in cold,” she said.
The myth arguably began in 2014 when Levi’s CEO and president, Charles “Chip” Bergh, made headlines after admitting he never washed his decade-old pair of jeans. However, his own company recommends washing your jeans after, at maximum, 10 wears.
Levi’s also recommends washing new jeans by themselves, given the dye’s tendency to bleed, and to turn the item inside out, choose a delicate wash cycle, cold water to avoid shrinking, and use a gentle detergent to prevent fading.
As you go about your day, your clothes are constantly picking up particulates from the environment, our skin lotions, layers of dead skin cells and litres of sweat. Research suggests we can sweat up to 10 litres every day (most average one litre per day), most of which is absorbed into our clothing.
“Basically, everything that comes out of your body is going to absorb into your clothes,” according to Pateras. “So 70 per cent of the ‘dirt’ on your clothes is invisible and it comes from you.”
Unfortunately for university me, even though my worn clothes didn’t appear super dirty, the accumulated sweat and body oils were slowly breaking down the delicate fibres, damaging them over time — even when they’re just collecting dust in the hamper, Pateras explained.
“Plus, the longer you let any stains set, the harder they are to get out,” she said. “So you can have an armpit stain that’s really hard to remove … and delicate fibres don’t do well with scrubbing and rubbing.
Then there’s the obvious issue of odour. Synthetic fabrics, like the comfy workout clothes so many of us have come to love while working from home, are especially bad at trapping odours and may need frequent washes and quality detergent to fully remove the smell.
Otherwise, synthetics might smell OK fresh out the wash, but the smell will often return after about an hour of wear, Pateras said.
All that said, take care not to wash your clothes too much — many items don’t need to be washed after every wear, and overwashing can lead to fabrics looking worn or getting damaged, Pateras continued. That’s not to mention the environmental consequences like water consumption and the release of toxic microfibres into our air and water supply.
One of Pateras’s biggest pet peeves is when people don’t sort their laundry by colour.
“The younger generation doesn’t believe that sorting is necessary,” she said. “But dyes in clothing will release and the lighter clothing in a load will 100 per cent pick up the dye from darker clothing.”
The second biggest laundry-related mistake she sees is when people use chlorine-based bleach on white fabrics, mistakenly thinking it would make it lighter in colour.
“(People think) that chlorine bleach whitens whites. It doesn’t — it makes them yellow over time and it breaks down the fibres, and shortens the lifespan of your clothing,” she said. “If you’re looking for white, I would use a quality detergent and oxygenated bleach because that doesn’t deteriorate the fibres.”
Similarly, people often use way more detergent than they need, which often isn’t able to be rinsed out and ends up attracting more dirt after washing. “A quality detergent has everything you need in a few tablespoons,” she said.
As you go about your day, your clothes are constantly picking up particulates from the environment, our skin lotions, layers of dead skin cells and litres of sweat
Toronto Star Newspapers Limited