If it’s not dirty, don’t wash it

Ship Full O’ Pirates is hosting the 2nd week of Help for Growing Families today, and here is my tip.  This may be shocking for those of you who grew up in families with just 1 or 2 children, so sit down before you read this.  Oh, you were already sitting.  Good.

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My tip: If it’s not dirty, don’t wash it.  Shocking, I know.  Here are some of the ways this principle appears in our household:

  • Children do not necessarily bathe daily.  It’s just not necessary.  Little ones don’t get body odor like big people, and the ones in diapers tend to get the important parts washed several times/day anyway.  So the smaller people in our house – the ones who need constant supervision in the tub – get bathed on an as-needed basis.
  • Clothes don’t get washed with every wearing.  Again, it’s often just not necessary, and it can even be poor stewardship since laundering wears clothes out more quickly.  We usually do a quick visual inspection and maybe a sniff test.  Obviously certain items are excluded from this policy.  Please tell me you assumed that without me having to say it.
  • Towels don’t get washed every time. With a few exceptions, we think a towel can be used many times before it needs washing.  Maybe I should have mentioned that we each have our own personal keep-your-hands-off-it bath towel.
  • It’s ok for kids to sleep in their clothes. Really, if they spent all day playing indoors and their clothes are clean, they don’t need to change into PJs.  If they don’t care, I don’t care.  It’s one less thing to do in the evening and one less piece of laundry to wash.

I’m sure there’s more to tell, but these are a few examples of ways that we avoid unnecessary work.  In a family with many little ones, there are so many things that must be done; why stress yourself and waste your valuable time on things that really don’t require your time?

What time consuming customs or jobs do you consider optional?


  1. 3 of my 7 kids attend a catholic school therefor they wear uniforms .those get hung up at the end of the day and worn over and over again and washed at the end of the week unless they are stained .my younger 3 ages 5 3 and2 get bathes maybe twice aweek same for my 10yr old my 15yr old girl more often due to hormone issues.1towel could be used 2 or 3 times before hitting the hamper your only drying a clean body anyways sheets are only done more if someone is sick or bedwetting accident

  2. Oh yeah…using someone’s towel is the ultimate throw down! We all have our own towel, with a back-up for when the other is in the wash.

  3. Dawn,
    Maybe I should make the post more clear on the towel issue: we each have our own towel. Using somebody else’s towel is a capital offense.

  4. 10 kids here, and we do things the same way with one exception. We only use a towel once, except for the youngest 2. I just can’t dry off with a towel that has dried somebody else’s “pri*ates”!
    My boys all started sleeping in either clothes or boxers around age 4. Boxers and a t-shirt are every comfy!
    We also do color coded cups.
    The kids bathe once or twice a week in winter, unless they are actually dirty.
    Changing sheets is an infrequent task, except in summer when we tend to get more sand in the beds, from outside play and beach trips. I do change my sheets about once a week, just cause hubby and I both love clean sheets off the clothes line. Yummy smell!!
    I do sometimes feel guilty for some of this stuff…then I get over it. OL!

  5. Thank you! I’ve been saying this for years to those “polite” faces who are trying to decide if they still want to be friends with me 😉

    I’m very practical…our rule–“If it doesn’t look dirty and it doesn’t smell dirty, it ain’t dirty.”

  6. <i’ve been reading your posts for a while now and thoroughly enjoy that there is a mum out there who isn’t afraid of doing things how it suits your family,and saying things how they are.Living near the Arctic Circle the bath topic certainly hit home,as here the Winters are bitterly cold and we have no inside bath/shower.So you can bank on us not bathing daily: )
    With our 6th baby on the way ,herding the kiddies in sub zero temps across the yard to the sauna building anymore than necessary sounds a nightmare.
    Keep up the good work,blessings!

  7. I am so glad to hear all of these “confessions”! We always bathed AT LEAST once a day growing up. . Now that I’m a mom, I’m more of the opposite. I make sure all of the important parts get washed every day (faces, hands, feet and private parts), and I “dunk” them as needed. This horrifies some, but I have read that it not only saves money on soap and warm water, it also is better for their skin AND helps prevent greasy hair later in life. There are times where they get extra dirty and fully bathe three days in a row, but generally speaking they get a full “dunk bath” (as they call it) about once to twice a week. Towels and clothes get washed as needed, but we do wash sheets once a week due to allergies. Life is too short to spend it folding loads of unneccessary laundry!! 🙂

  8. Lisa Beth W. says:

    We adhere to all these tips except for the jammies–we do put those on every night. Like other moms have said, it helps with the transition to bedtime. I am flabbergasted that anyone would possibly think that children need a bath every day, particularly in the winter time! Mine bathe two times a week in the winter, except for the older ones whose hair gets greasy faster–they do three times.

  9. We only currently have 1 child, and I totally agree and do most of these things! A quick wipe of hands and face does just as well as a bath (during which she stands up most of the time anyway!). At nearly 2, her clothes are nearly always grotty by the end of the day, but just a t-shirt is fine for sleeping in, and kept for several nights in a row.

    I have been a bit more vigilant on washing sheets lately, because N had the dreaded **worms**, but towels are usually washed weekly.

  10. We have the “dirty rule” around here (idea taken from our friends)- if it ain’t dirty, then don’t put in the wash! (Except for those certain unmentionables. LOL) The kids hold each other accountable! I also try to not buy a lot of clothes so I cut down on what we have to clean. Of course, TRY is the important word! 🙂

  11. Ditto here!

  12. Lisa in ND says:

    Yay for saying (typing) these out loud!!

    The grass should get cut more than it does. The garden should get weeded more than it does. The windows and mini blinds should be cleaned more thoroughly than they are.

    We have never washed towels after only one usage. I actually saw a big fight about this on another forum, it was pretty funny. The sheets get washed when they get washed.

    We do the “sniff test” on clothes too! I’m glad I’m not the only one who does that! (except for the certain items of course)

    I only have 3 kids but they sure can generate a lot of laundry. Especially in the winter when we are wearing sweatshirts, sweaters, etc. Oh, and it’s been in the 20s here so I’d say it’s “winter” here.

    Great post!

  13. Ditto what Sofia said. Everyone is so paranoid over the ever-existing but invisible Germ. All through my 20’s I could easily get away with only showering once every 3 days. Not kidding. I am slender and did not have oily hair and (believe what you will) but I hardly ever sweat and I’m not sure that I’ve EVER experienced body odor. Now that I’m 35 yrs I have caved to the acceptable Every-Other-Day shower, but only because my once thick, luxerious hair thinned out (due to Lupus) and therefore dirties quicker.

    I hardly ever mop because the hardwood floors don’t “look” dirty, and sheets will get washed on a whim, dusting? – what is that? Unless a guest is coming over I definitely don’t sweat the small stuff. Now excuse me while I go clean something because this baby is eventually going to come, and then there will be PEOPLE in my house…

  14. We are the same way with the cleanliness.

    One custom that I avoid out of preferance and saving time and money is make-up and hair. I gave up make-up in college (much to my mother’s horror). I wash and brush my hair and leave it at that. This probably gives me back at least an hour of my life every day.

  15. I’ve never understood the hysteria about cleanliness, I think it’s one big cause of eczema and dry skin(and possibly allergies). I remember a discussion I had with two of my aunts several years ago, about showering. They both showered at least once a day as well as their kids, and I remember how surprised I was about that. My mother was never bothered with other people’s opinions and her 9 kids showered or bathed when necessary, which usually meant 2-3 times a week, more often in the summer and as we got older and smellier;) Our clothes were not washed after every use(unless they were worn for exercise or other dirty tasks), and I must admit I have followed my mom’s example. I shower every other day(unless I’ve exercised) and wash my hair even more seldom. I’m not ashamed of this as I know it’s better for my skin and hair not to be washed so often, especially in the winter when the air is both dry and cold, but I don’t tell people about it because I know many will think it’s gross. I don’t have kids myself but I’m sure if I do one day, I’ll probably do as my mom did, why waste time and energy and money (for water, schampoo, showergel, detergent and clothes that are worn out early because of frequent washings, skin creams for dry skin and excema…) when all those can be used for much better things!

  16. I know it is going to kill my mom (ok step mom) to ever hear this. I don’t see the point in making our beds. We only have three kids. But I am not going to fight them everyday to make their beds.

    While I am on beds. We only wash our sheets when needed… You wear clean pjs when you go to bed, so about once a month. I wash the pillows more.

  17. My mother uses those exact time savers!! The last one (sleeping in your clothes) is something I and the other “older” kids never did – though the fashions worn by the children in our house also changed pretty distinctively between the two. My younger sisters are much more likely to wear knit pants and T-shirts, or otherwise more comfortable to sleep in clothes, during the day than the older ones were – we weren’t allowed to wear pants, and most of our dresses/skirts wouldn’t have been very comfy to sleep in…

  18. Lisa in ME says:

    Oh it’s so nice to see I’m not the only one! My boys rarely wear PJ’s to bed. They certainly don’t bath every day. I usually plop them in the tub when I notice they are REALLY dirty. 😉

  19. Christie Heywood says:

    And rest assured, as a derm physician assistant (trained, but never worked), I have read extensively that over bathing is not good for kids. It exacerbates eczema and dries out skin in general.

    And, about the towels- I never knew that some people actually clean the towels everyday. I’m not even going to mention how infrequently our towels get washed.

  20. Only having two we do have a no excuse policy for washing clothes and bathing. It would be a different scenario if I more children though. God did not give us the big family we had hoped for but I love to read the blogs of all you ladies with lots of kiddos. I love that you are honest about the way you do things are not trying to live up to the imagined lives of others as so many do. Leticia

  21. I only have 2 kids and we do all of this stuff, I have never felt guilty about it either.

  22. I, too, put back measuring spoons/cups that just need a quick swipe to dust them off and back in the drawer they go. I also have picked up extra measuring cups at thrift stores that stay in the sugar/flour/oats bins so there’s no need to wash them. I also put the water measuring cup immediately back on the shelf water droplets and all!

    As for pj’s, I like my lambs to change for bed because I think it helps, mentally, to switch gears and ready them for bedtime.

  23. Same goes for hair. I have a TON of hair, but it doesn’t get dirty frequently. So, I wash it when it’s dirty, which doesn’t always align with when my body’s dirty. I’m surprised how much quicker my showers are when I don’t have to wash my hair as well!

  24. Pans where you just boiled water!!!! My husband has the most irritating habit of putting things in the sink that have only held water. Pots that cooked pasta can just be rinsed quickly and put back. If you used a cup to measure water for a recipe, but it right back in the cabinet when you are done. Measured flour, wipe out the measuring cup with a towel quickly and put it back!

  25. Oh, yes! 🙂 I do all of these as well.

    We do footed sleepers in the winter-time, and usually that is all our bed-time routine consists of – ‘let’s put on pajamas and get you a clean diaper. okay, say good-night to mommy!’

    I, too, have felt much guilt for doing these things. Then I remind myself of the 1800’s and tub baths with everyone sharing the same water and ya know? My kids sound a lot cleaner than that! 🙂

  26. I thought I was the only mom. Ours wear pj’s IF they get a bath. They get a bath IF they are dirty. My kids are remarkably clean, except the boy, who wears his food. I like the tip about cups. We have so many cups turning up with different children in different rooms I was about to go crazy! I think I will try that. The children already do the dishes, but it is a chore shared by the eldest 2 (12yr, 8yr) I think they would love that policy as they will have less dishes.

  27. Julia in OK says:

    I’m 16 and home-schooled daughter with 5 siblings. I don’t remember how I found your blog, probably through Vision Forum.
    I don’t wash things if they aren’t dirty either! Why bother?
    One time I was baking when some friends were over and I only used the measuring cups, rolling pin etc. for flour or other dry ingredients, and I just put them back in the drawer w/out washing and they thought that was just gross! :o)
    I like your blog so keep it up!

  28. Yep, we do all of these things as well.

  29. My mother never ironned our tableclothes or underwear and she felt guilty, but I have always told her taht she was sparing time for more important things, like teaching me how to draw or the beauty of reading aloud together, to make just an example 🙂
    Kim, I think you and the other moms who don’t get obsessed with useless tasks are just GREAT and I’m learning a lo t from your blog.
    Have a nice day you all!

  30. hahaha
    I’ve figured this out now that I’ve started doing laundry for two people (double the work for me, but I’m sure it sounds like heaven for you!).
    In college and before, I’d throw anything that was worn for any amount of time into the laundry. Now, if a shirt looks clean, and smells relatively clean… it’s clean!
    I do have a thing about showering, washing my hair, and shaving every day. I just don’t feel clean unless I do.

  31. Thank you so much. How much unnecessary things do we do, just because we think we’re “supposed” to and would be bad mommies if we didn’t?

    I do some of the things you suggested, but the bad thing is that I feel guilty about it. I love what you wrote, because I feel as though I now have permission!

  32. We started with the same time savers when we had a 4yo, 2yo, 14 mo and newborn…yes yes yes!

    We do put on pjs every night, but only because it’s a good transition to bedtime, in the morning, pjs are folded and put under the pillow for the next time. The evening before a busy day (or early departure) we bath and dress in the clothes for the next day (or the guys wear just their boxers if jeans are the wardrobe)

    It’s kind of a time saver, money saver and health saver, but we don’t use a bunch of different cleansers to clean the bathroom/kitchen. We use baking soda to scrub the sink, toilet and tub, the spray everything with a vinegar water mix. The vinegar does the job of a window cleaner, so as we’re wiping the mirrors and shiny stuff, the chemical reaction is helping to clean the toilet and tub, then just rinse it all off. Dan is five and LOVES to clean the bathroom, and does a really great job of it too!

  33. Oh!! Cups with lids, of course!!

  34. Cups do not need to be washed every time you have a drink! Colored coded cups, one for each of my seven, are allowed to be kept in the refrigerator if they still have milk in them. Each child is responsible for keeping his or her own cup clean by age 4 or 5.

  35. Clothes…bodies…towels…yup, sounds like our house! Why do unnecessary work?!

  36. amen to all of those- my 1 year old actually slept in her clothes last night in fact.

  37. Im glad that Im not the only one that thinks this way. I only have three but they are all little right now and stay inside most of the time so clothes and bodies dont get so dirty as to need a wash that often.

  38. Oh, I’m totally with you on this! I always felt bad and that I was a bad mom because I DIDN’T do baths every day. I MIGHT make them take a bath every other day!

    Also with the last one, sleeping in PJs. With my boys, I find it’s perfectly acceptable to just sleep in their skivvies. I mean, daddy does it, why shouldn’t they?

  39. THANK YOU for admiting you do this for the whole world to see!-You brave, brave mommy. I do ALL of those things, I just don’t tell anyone.

  40. Hi there,
    I’m a homeschooled 17 year old from Japan, and I came across your blog through Nathaniel Darnell’s. It’s very interesting to read about homeschooling “in action” in the States.
    Because of the humid weather here, we usually take daily showers, but I often wear the same set of clothes for nearly a week if they don’t get too dirty. By the way, I voted for your blog in the 2008 Homeschool Blogger award.
    Ray Suzuki


  1. […] Am I working to please God or to please others?  Am I creating more work for myself by holding to the arbitrary standards of others?  (for example, If it’s not dirty don’t clean it) […]

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