Are You Cleaning Out Your Own Wallet?

Little MM and a friend from the neighborhood engage in healthy dirtplay.

Little MM and a friend from the neighborhood demonstrate better living through dirt.

I’m pretty sure we’re all being scammed.

I have been collecting evidence on this for over 15 years now, and it’s starting to look pretty compelling. If you’re skeptical, see what you think of these stories:

1997: Mr. Money Mustache, Mr. Frugal Toque, and two other friends move into a house together, all of us newly graduated tech workers ready to begin our careers. Between the parties and late nights of work, we notice that one of those other roommates appears to be running an underground laundromat: when he is home, the washer and dryer are always running simultaneously, and he is running up and down the stairs with bags and baskets full of clothes. The rest of us, of similar age, stature, and occupation, find we only need to do laundry every week or two, often sharing a load.

2000: Several homes later and in a new country by now, I rent a room from a woman named Carrie in Boulder, Colorado. She has a “chore wheel” which has all of us devoting every Sunday morning to cleaning the house. I find myself missing hours of precious Rocky Mountain morning sunshine, crouched under the pedestal sink of my personal bathroom, spraying and wiping tiles that I just wiped last week, with no discernible result: Why am I cleaning this bathroom?, I wonder,  I can’t even tell which part I have just re-washed, and which part was “dirty”.

2013: In the comments section of this very blog, I hear from one woman who spends $5200 per year on a housekeeper, because it “Saves me five hours a week of cleaning”, and a man whose family of five does 30 loads of laundry per week (with a corresponding $300 per month electric bill), because, “Five showers a day yields five towels – that’s one load per day right there, isn’t it?”

Happily Oblivious

In my own life, I’ve rarely had much occasion to think about cleaning. Sure, if a surface or an object looks or smells inappropriately dirty, I’ll wash it. But this is a tiny part of life – I dump the laundry basket into the machine when it gets full every week or two, and press “Start”. When it beeps, I enjoy a meditative 2-5 minutes while hanging up those clothes.

I sweep the wood and tile floors when I notice leaves or dust accumulating and maybe run the vacuum cleaner over the rug every month or so. When guests are coming for an extended stay, we might even treat ourselves to some sparkly bathrooms by getting out the sponge and bucket and cleaning everything to like-new condition.

Our family secret to the weekly laundry is “reusable clothing.” Sure, underwear may only be good for a single day on your active buttocks, but T-shirts can often survive two, and my button-up outer shirts can be reused 5-10 times before they look grubby. My jeans are usually good for a similar number of uses, because I wear the fancy ones only around my clean house and city, and always change to the dusty heavy-duty Carhartt pair when heading to the construction site.

And as for those bathroom towels: I don’t even know how often I wash mine. In the cool, dry winters I might need a shower every 2-3 days. With careful re-hanging, my towel will last at least 10 showers before it smells anything less than perfectly fresh. So, once a month would be my own towel-washing schedule, on the high side. In the summer, more frequent showers are offset by the open windows which will dry the bathroom and the towel even more quickly*.

But that is it. Even in a 2600 square foot house with an energetic 7-year-old in residence, this adds to perhaps one workday of cleaning per year. And the bottles of cleaning products get used so slowly that their graphic design becomes noticeably obsolete by the time you’re tossing the empty bottle into the recycling bin.

I’m sure cleaning is not such a small deal to everyone. Every single grocery store has an entire aisle devoted to the collection of brightly-colored hazardous wastes that people use in the interest of maintaining cleanliness. Many of the purported functions are completely alien to me, like “Rinsing Agent”, “Sanitizing Wipes, and “Febreeze”. Worldwide, this is millions of square feet and billions of dollars per month being spent on these bizarre cocktails that did not even exist for well over 99% of our species’ time on this planet. What gives?

Evolutionary Roots

Whenever you notice yourself doing anything ridiculous as a human, it is good to ponder where that behavior might have come from in the first place. Sexual attraction has an obvious benefit to a selfish gene looking to replicate itself. A desire for social status could be boiled down to just a fancier way of making yourself attractive to others. A desire for cleanliness, in the sense of “Don’t Shit Where you Eat”, is perfectly sensible when you look at it as a mechanism for preventing disease. But when you are inhaling Chlorine ions as you spray bleach onto each of your child’s toys after having a few kids over for a birthday party, or idling in a line of SUVs on a fine weekend morning waiting for admittance to the automated car wash, I’d say it is time to go back to the biology textbooks.

A Revolutionary Thought

The answer? Fuck Artificial Cleanliness!

It is time to discard the marketing message that has been programmed into us since the days of the 1950s stay-at-home housewife. Back then, advertising for cleaning products became so prevalent that the cheap dramas that stitched together the advertisements were called “Soap Operas”. To complete the circle, the grocery stores started stocking magazines about the soap operas and related celebrities, to sell to the people who were there buying the soap.

It is also time to open up a watchful eye against the “germophobe” compulsion that creeps into highly sterilized societies like our own. You do not need to wipe the handle of your grocery cart with a “sanitizing wipe”, and you do need to pick up your food if you accidentally drop it on the floor, and continue to eat it. Instead of being afraid of germs, I like to imagine myself gleefully plowing through a sea of them every day, getting a daily workout for my immune system.

Let Them Eat Dirt

A friend of mine is a successful physician who runs a family practice clinic with several other doctors. His medical office sees more coughs and illnesses every day than I will see in a lifetime, which is why a comment he made during a recent trip together really struck me:

“My favorite name for a practice specializing in children would be ‘Let them Eat Dirt Pediatrics’.”

Hearing that from a doctor really piqued my interest, because my own less-educated instincts pointed the same way. I have always ignored germs and sanitation, and always enjoyed excellent health. The germophobes and the see-a-doctor-as-soon-as-I-have-a-sniffle crowd I have known seem to be less fortunate in the health department. Is this correlation or causation? I asked him if adopting a more Badass attitude towards germs and sanitation really is good for general health, and here was his response:

Yes! Exposure to bacteria and viruses in the environment educates our immune systems so they will be ready to fend off attack as we go through life and encounter real pathogens. Excessive avoidance of the normal bugs in the environment may leave you more vulnerable to infection. And, there are indications that kids who grow up in pet-loving households, likely exposed to more interesting molecules early in life, have lower rates of suffering allergies and asthma. A well educated immune system is a strong immune system–bring on the mud pies!

 Dirty is the New Clean

Thus we have our counter-cultural lesson for the day. Rather than seeking to avoid germs and maximize your cleanliness, it is much more profitable to seek out Training for your Immune System, and optimize your life so that things get cleaned the minimum amount that allows you to maintain a functional and prosperous household. The reward is thousands of dollars and countless hours saved, and if you’re lucky, dozens of illnesses prevented.

By all means, keep things happily minimalist, decluttered, and organized – a simplified physical environment is good for the mind. You can also wash your hands with normal soap after a big day out and cook your food properly. But in your own home where no babies are delivered and no surgeries performed, you can safely let yourself off the hook when it comes to wiping, sterilizing, washing, drying, and polishing. You and I were made to live in a forest, and while even Mr. Money Mustache can appreciate a nice clean wood floor as an upgrade over soil and rocks, the earlier you draw the line, the further ahead you will be.


*Before any complaints come in about “But I don’t live in a dry high-elevation place like Colorado!”, I should note that this pattern also worked just fine where I grew up in the humid Great Lakes region, as well as during extended stays in Hawaii, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Australia, Austin, Guadalajara, and Miami – even while using bikes and feet instead of cars to get around! Excessive cleaning is driven by mental, rather than physical, constraints.

Epilogue: Wow, it looks like this is really a hot-button topic, as almost 300 comments have piled on within the first two days. Whenever something is emotionally charged and related to time, money, and effort, you know it is worth looking into very closely so you can challenge any brainwashing. While you’ll see lots of badass innovation and enthusiasm in the comments below, you’ll also enjoy some truly amazing counterpoint, like this one that just came in:

“While MMM has provided many great pearls of wisdom in past posts, this particular post has turned our stomachs. It is obvious that the average household wastes hundreds of dollars a year on unnecessary cleaning products. It is great advice to switch from expensive cleaners to bleach, ammonia, etc. But to take it a step further by showering less, giving clothes the “sniff” test, washing sheets and towels infrequently, etc. is not being frugal, it’s being CHEAP. Reusing towels for weeks on end is UNSANITARY. Not cleaning your toilets on a weekly basis is UNSANITARY. Crawling between the sheets when you’re covered in sweat, bacteria and even just body oils on a daily basis, and washing them on the same infrequent schedule as your bath towels is UNSANITARY. There is a huge difference between being “overclean” and “dirt phobic” and maintaining basic sanitary living conditions in a home — not to mention basic human dignity!! What is next? A recommendation that we switch from toilet paper to leaves and newsprint to save even more money? We all have the right to live how we want in our own homes, but I am also free NOT to associate with people I encounter who believe that throwing on some extra deodorant is a substitute for taking a shower.”

This amazes me, that so many people can make a moral issue out aligning one’s shower schedule with the rotation of the Earth. The funny part is, it has nothing at all to do with cheapness – we make no decisions based on money these days, because money is not limited. This is about health, logic, and free time. Responsible use of water and energy is important too, but even with a magic solar-powered rainwater shower I would not bother to shower on days when I hadn’t become dirty. I’d rather spend the extra five minutes writing to you.

  • Karen December 31, 2013, 10:08 am

    We are stronger than we think. Watch someone clean tables in a restaurant. First the table is wiped and then the seats and then the table gets a final wipe. Who sits on the seats? Kids in diapers, incontinent people and those who use the restroom without washing their hands and then touch everything…..menus, salt and pepper etc. there is a lot of germs there but most people don’t get sick.

  • Cas December 31, 2013, 10:15 am

    Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but I know many student desks are not cleaned regularly unless it’s in a classroom that contains a student with an allergy. Chairs are not washed either… Nor is our staff room table (floors, on the other hand, are mopped very frequently… Where’s the logic in that? I wash the table frequently because I don’t like my clothes and lunch containers sticking to the tables. And the microwaves… I don’t need the smell of 20 other lunches mixed in with mine.

  • jkenny December 31, 2013, 10:24 am

    Well this is an honest post. I could get by without showers every day but would have to wash my hair in the sink – gets too greasy otherwise. Of course that’s what we did growing up. On Saturday nights Mom would fill the bathtub . . . once. First my sister, then my brother, and finally another sister and me got to bathe in what was by then very lukewarm water. No big deal, just life as we knew it.

    But I digress. I don’t really care if this is posted, just a shout out for an honest post from you and readers as to how Christmas went. I have just tallied the month’s expenditures and realized I was an epic failure. I am shocked at how much we spent – upwards of $2000 although probably half or more was checks to others. But it was a great Christmas. Admittedly I enjoy being the crazy aunt check-giver at Christmastime. I love watching my kids open a gift they really love. I love Christmas candles. I love our 12 foot tree. It all counts up though. How did everyone else do? Your own child is getting older now – is he developing his own desires because of what he sees at school? That’s what happened with my kids after about 8 years old. Forget visions of sugarplums, they dream of NIke elite’s and Madden 25. All that stuff is expensive!!

    Hope to see a post on this with some good honest comments from your readership . . .

    • SomeYoungGuy January 3, 2014, 12:28 pm

      Interesting to see this comment salted away back here. I usually stick to the forums when I want to see ‘honest’ posts, far too many people singing MMM’s praises or having their minds blown in these comments, which I just skim. Just the nature of the blog beast, and that he moderates here. On the topic of his post, we had friends that ‘let their house go’ and it is so nasty that we don’t go over there anymore. I would think everyone has their comfort level, but doesn’t work harder than they need to to achieve it. My wife washes her towel much more frequently than I do, but I’m not going to change her mind and she doesn’t use my towel, so we’re all good :) Glad to hear you had a Merry Christmas

  • Stephen December 31, 2013, 10:25 am

    We live in a post-industrial city, and unfortunately the dirt is contaminated with lead, so we use a scrubby door mat and take our shoes off at the door.

    On the other end of the scale, ever since you first shared your shower schedule, I’ve been showering once a week, with a 2 minute baking soda hair rinse at the start of each day.

  • Chris December 31, 2013, 12:14 pm

    While MMM has provided many great pearls of wisdom in past posts, this particular post has turned our stomachs. It is obvious that the average household wastes hundreds of dollars a year on unnecessary cleaning products. It is great advice to switch from expensive cleaners to bleach, ammonia, etc. But to take it a step further by showering less, giving clothes the “sniff” test, washing sheets and towels infrequently, etc. is not being frugal, it’s being CHEAP. Reusing towels for weeks on end is UNSANITARY. Not cleaning your toilets on a weekly basis is UNSANITARY. Crawling between the sheets when you’re covered in sweat, bacteria and even just body oils on a daily basis, and washing them on the same infrequent schedule as your bath towels is UNSANITARY. There is a huge difference between being “overclean” and “dirt phobic” and maintaining basic sanitary living conditions in a home — not to mention basic human dignity!! What is next? A recommendation that we switch from toilet paper to leaves and newsprint to save even more money? We all have the right to live how we want in our own homes, but I am also free NOT to associate with people I encounter who believe that throwing on some extra deodorant is a substitute for taking a shower.

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 31, 2013, 10:14 pm

      “UNSANITARY!!!” I love it.

      As I read through this comment, I shouted out “UNSANITARY!!” in the voice of one of the Dalek robots from Doctor Who whenever I came across it. I recommend you do the same.

      • Mr. Frugal Toque January 1, 2014, 6:16 am

        Plus you can imagine the commenter as having a toilet plunger in place of one of his arms (which makes more sense here than it does on a homicidal cyborg).

      • Doug January 2, 2014, 3:54 pm

        I thought that was funny, saying UNSANITARY like the Daleks (yes, I am a geriatric who watched Doctor Who in the 1980s). Oh dear, I’m wearing some of the same clothes that I had on yesterday. UNSANITARY!

      • PawPrint January 4, 2014, 7:55 pm

        Until now I disagreed with the people on GRS who said that you were arrogant and judgmental–I’ve found you amusing and insightful and able to respond to commenters reasonably. I am disturbed, however, that you are making fun at the expense of this reader, who obviously has some strong opinions about the subject. As a grandmother, I especially worry that you’re teaching your son that it’s perfectly acceptable to poke fun at someone who disagrees with your opinion, especially if it makes others laugh. Is that really the kind of thing that you want to teach? I hope not. However, it is your blog, and I suppose you can do what you want.

        • mariarose January 14, 2014, 8:49 am

          I think using humour to respond to strongly worded, insulting opinions, not backed by any reason, just shouted out opinions, is one of the best ways to respond. Using humour is a great way to teach a young one to respond, should lead to a lot less violence if we all did that. MMM gave lots of reasoning in his article, as have many of the people commenting, even the commenters who disagree have been able to give good reasons for how they think. Not this person…

    • Carrie Willard October 16, 2016, 7:52 am

      All the best things in life are unsanitary.

  • Dave December 31, 2013, 12:34 pm

    My favorite cleaning method is to spray surfaces down with a vinegar/water solution when they are dirty. That’s really all you need in most cases. The vinegar kills bacteria. All the cleaning products are mostly unnecessary. Been doing it that way for years and it’s never been an issue for me. Also, I only wash clothes if they are sweaty or have accumulated dirt. If neither of these conditions are true, they don’t need washing more than once a month or more. Not sure why our culture is so obsessed with constant cleaning of everything. I suspect it’s a marketing thing too.

  • Jane Hallowell December 31, 2013, 12:39 pm

    Absolutely right on! And now I feel even better about my gradual lack of interest in maintaining the ultimate clean house. Maybe as I get older, I’d rather use my precious energy for things that are more important.

    I love the comment re. hand-making your own towels.

    Thanks for another great post, as always…

    P.S. I just added your blog to the list of links on mine as “one of my favorite blogs.”

  • phred December 31, 2013, 12:48 pm

    I was taught to vac carpets every day — at least the daily used parts — to keep soil particles from working down into the fibers and cutting the knots. Sand particles are sharp!
    While dirt can be good — minerals and all that, I doubt the same can be said for eating poop. Otherwise those people who ate salads coated with e. coli wouldn’t have died. Wearing your outside shoes inside the house tracks in poop dust, heavy metals dust. If you’ve rugrats crawling around on the floor, or go barefoot inside, this can’t be good

  • Doug December 31, 2013, 1:33 pm

    The subject of the hygiene hypothesis has turned up in discussion of this topic, and with good reason. I’m a 53 year old geriatric who went to public and high school in the 1960s and 1970s, and don’t ever recall other kids with peanut allergies and very few other allergies. Now it’s commonplace, so what’s going on here? As some posters mentioned above, when you are a kid your immune system is (or should be) exposed to all kinds of germs in the environment. It’s like a self calibration instrument that learns what is harmless (most of the germs out there) and to ignore it. When deprived of this experience, it doesn’t know what’s harmless or not and over reacts to a lot of harmless stuff.
    How did this change happen? Two reasons 1) kids spending less time playing outside and getting dirty (and exposed to germs) because they are inside watching TV or playing video games and 2) this obsession with hyper cleanliness is most likely also a contributing factor.
    If you have kids, shut off the X Box (or whatever) and get them outside playing. Not only will their immune system benefit, but they will get more exercise and possibly even get some social skills if the interact with any other kids outside.

  • kris from ann arbor December 31, 2013, 4:31 pm

    Agree with just about everything that MMM said, but would take it a step further.

    “But in your own home where no babies are delivered and no surgeries performed, you can safely let yourself off the hook when it comes to wiping, sterilizing, washing, drying, and polishing.”

    Well, two out of three of our babies *were* born at home. And like you, our cleaning routines were (and still are) quite minimal. No one got sick. Everyone (babies, mom, dad, midwives) all survived in good health.

    As someone pointed out, people are generally immune to the germs in their own homes. On the other hand, if you want to pick up an infection, the hospital is a great place to do it. :-)

    • Melissa January 1, 2014, 7:50 pm

      I wrote a paper in college for my Risk class about deaths in hospitals as a result of something other than what the person came into the hospital with-i.e. the person entered with a broken leg and died of contracting something else after they arrived at the hospital. I don’t remember the specifics anymore but the numbers are high, every hospital experiences it. It’s not that they don’t clean well or try with air cleaners etc., it’s that the bacteria become resistant (superbugs), and…there’s sick people there after all. It is the reason they now have separate “birthing centers” away from the hospitals to keep healthy mothers and babies away from hospital illnesses. When given a choice to have outpatient surgery at a hospital or a surgery center, I always choose the surgery center. Your comment jogged my memory about that paper I wrote probably a dozen years ago!

      • phred January 2, 2014, 9:55 am

        this may be why a lot of hospitals in Norway have stopped super cleaning. And yet, the hospital death rate there hasn’t increased.

  • Penny December 31, 2013, 6:18 pm

    Great post. I like that you challenge conventional thinking. In my modern Western world I see too many people leading over indulged, narcissistic and neurotic lives all due (in my humble opinion) to advertising and our reliance on consumption to make the world go round. It is so good to read comments from people who understand the folly of too much sanitation. My personal awakening came after the birth of our daughter who in the early years experienced eczema and asthma. During those years I was hell bent on eliminating bacteria with all sorts of cleaners, bleaches and sterilisers. One day it dawned on me that if I line dry washing outside the UV light will destroy harmful bacteria etc. So I stopped using powerful antibacterial and bleaching powders on clothes. My child’s eczema disappeared. Now this may just have been a coincidence but for me it set me on a course of eliminating all chemical cleaners from our home. Years on and we are still chemical free. No one has died or become seriously ill as a result. In fact I think we are healthier for it. My daughter is 18 now and does not use shampoo or soap and her skin and hair glow. She doesn’t smell or look unclean. As for general cleaning, I love a bit of clean dirt around the place. It is good for our immune system. I cringe when I walk into a spotless house and can smell the chemical cleaners. That is what I call a filthy, dirty house. And to all those people who proclaim the need for a daily shower and clean towel or who can’t bear to wear anything more than once, all I can say is ‘get real’! Water is a finite resource, and fresh, clean water is precious and needs to be used wisely. Don’t waste it on your obsessions.

  • Andrew December 31, 2013, 9:16 pm

    Who washes their towels? The towel helps wash you! You are all crazy.

  • Alison January 1, 2014, 6:40 am

    I wasn’t going to comment until I read the last paragraph.

    Your house doesn’t have to be sterile even when your babies are born at home! *Your* germs in *your* house are much better for your new baby than a “sterile” hospital full of everybody else’s germs.

  • Ron January 1, 2014, 8:08 am

    Somewhat related topic. US students assume janitors will keep their schools clean. I watched an excellent documentary once about Japanese elementary education. In Japan, teams of students clean after school. “Cleanliness,” one principal said, “cultivates a kind and gentle spirit.” In other words, it’s a part of the curriculum. I like that phrase “a kind and gentle spirit”. If I could just get my daughters to embrace it.

  • Nina January 1, 2014, 8:23 am

    Upon reflecting on the comments I am going to go wash my sheets.

  • Mr. Grump January 1, 2014, 8:51 am

    Good post MMM. The Grumps fall somewhere in the middle doing about 1.5 loads a week. It amazes us that people devote so much time energy and money to something that is so wasteful on the planet and are health.

  • robert townsend January 1, 2014, 10:58 am

    Your post reminds me of my teenage years, living in West Germany. My parents kept the house at 68F and the weather was mild. We showered every two or three days. The other days I’d wash my face and my pits and spray on some deodorant. They were stinky days.

    As to soap, I have reduced the amount of laundry detergent used, I wasn’t measuring precisely and was using double the recommended amount.

  • Kirsty January 1, 2014, 12:50 pm

    thanks for all your advice re the eczema. My 10 yr old has been tested for food allergies and interestingly dairy products did not show up though we do use rice milk. He is under the care of an excellent consultant – thank goodness we live in the UK where we receive free health care. So I guess that balances out the high electric bills.
    Going back to Mister Money Mustaches original post and the subsequent replies I shall be trying more natural cleaning products ie vinegar and baking soda. I do use soap nuts instead of laundry powder and this saves about £50 annually.
    So yes i will carry on with the excessive cleaning but what I have learnt from this post is that there are cheaper alternatives I can use so thanks everyone..

  • Diva January 1, 2014, 7:15 pm

    My husband is a doctor who grew up in the mountains on the eastern seaboard/upstate NY. We have always made sure our home was NOT sterile. We wear our clothes until they are dirty or smell – not for five minutes. Our children and grandchild were brought up the same way and are rarely sick. We are all healthy, active and lean. We are also happy and well adjusted with a fuck you attitude to people who judge by how spit and shiny your house is and if your gardener made sure your lawn and bushes were trimmed to within an inch of their lives (please, remember that birds and insects and bees and butterflies rely on your haphazard, overgrown natural yard so don’t mow your lawn – better still grow veg if your HOA will allow it – we do not have a gardener and we do not have an hoa). The hippies had the right idea. Change the world by example and stop showing off. So many of the childhood health problems are caused not by dirt and dust, but by the chemicals we use to combat them. Nature has it all figured out; a clean cotton rag. some uncontaminated water to clean and natural materials to build and furnish our homes. Empty your house of everything unnatural and you may be living in a teepee, but your children will be healthier, you’ll be healthier and the world will thank you. Be a stache and save your money for freedom.

  • Ruth Cooke January 1, 2014, 8:04 pm

    For myself, I figured it out long ago. I do have a bath every night–it’s part of my nightly routine and it relaxes me and prepares my mind for sleep as well as cleans my body.

    Because I go to bed clean, though, I don’t need to wash towels, sheets or pyjamas nearly as often as most people do, so I save water there, probably a lot since I’m more in the “once a month” category of this than the “once a day.”

    As for washing towels after every use, I can only say, “Huh?” You use them to dry clean water off a clean body–if you hang them to dry, they don’t NEED to be washed every time you use them!

    Another thing I found out a long time ago (when I was a chemistry student in college) is that there is rarely a need to buy the expensive brand of any kind of soap. The only difference between the expensive shampoo and the cheap stuff is the bottle, the colouring agent, and the scent. Ditto for laundry soap, hand soap, etc. I buy my shampoo and conditioner at the dollar store, and my hair is long, silky, and shiny. I use the cheapest laundry soap I can buy, and it works just fine.

    Finally, with laundry soap especially, use only the recommended amount, or less. The caps on the liquid laundry soap bottles are a lot bigger than needed, and opaque, and I’m certain it’s on purpose. It’s difficult to see the lines they put in for the recommended amount of detergent, but if you take the time to look, it’s never more than HALFWAY up the cap!

  • stellamarina January 1, 2014, 8:30 pm

    Have just read your blog and am now commenting before I ever read the rest of the comments. Just want to say I live in Hawaii….and you need to shower every day! And you need to wash the towels after a few days. Nothing like being the unshowered and smelly person on the aeroplane who nobody wants to sit next to.

  • NovaScotia January 1, 2014, 8:33 pm

    Nice post! We have three kids, each one has their own colour towel with their name embroidered on it. Reduces germ sharing and I don’t plan to buy them another towel in this lifetime. Being preteens, they do not bathe often and I make sure that they swim in freshwater lake or river occasionally instead of the ocean during the summer. Not a lot of towel washing happening. I am planning to install a hook at my bedside, so that I can hang and air my clothes at night before putting them back in the closet/drawer ready for the next wearing (wrinkle free). Love having a winter clothesline for killing bugs and a fresh scent!

  • RetiredAt63 January 1, 2014, 9:39 pm

    So many things to say, so little space.

    Laundry – if towels are hung up, they dry. Before dryers, everything was dried on lines, so there was no way sheets and towels were being washed often. Back before fitted sheets, my mother had three sheets per bed. Each week she washed the bottom sheet, moved the top sheet to the bottom,and put a fresh sheet on top. This was standard. The thinking was that the bottom sheet got dirtier because it was being lain on, the top sheet was just lying over the bodies. So an individual sheet got washed every second week. This obviously doesn’t work with fitted sheets.
    No one has mentioned fabric softener – that is such a waste. Line-dried clothes don’t get stiff if there is a freeze, especially if they are given a good shake before being hung. In winter I pop towels in the dryer on tumble (no heat) to fluff them up a bit, then line dry them inside (good for pollen allergies too), Fabric softener is useless for towels, it coats the fibres and they can’t absorb water.
    I am allergic to house dust and feathers – I have foam pillows, and when I bought this house I had the rugs ripped out and hardwood floors installed. I never vacuum – I sweep and damp mop and that gets the grit and the dog hair. I also have mats at the front and back doors, which catch most dirt (people feet, dog paws) before it enters the house. And of course, the stereotype that Canadians take their shoes off in the house is often true – well, would you want to wear boots covered in snow or slush into your house 6 months out of the year? The rest of the time it is habit.
    Dish clothes – I have gone back to knitting them with handicraft cotton. Rough enough to scrub, soft enough that nothing is scratched, easy to throw in the laundry with towels. Inexpensive enough to have one for every day of the week. I usually wipe all my counters with suds from washing the dishes, that is as much cleaner as I want on them – and they are wiped again with just water, no cleanser, so no soap residue. I learned in Cub leader training that the biggest cause of tummy upsets at camp is dishes that did not have the dish soap properly rinsed off.
    Bathrooms – I have microfibre clothes for general cleaning, one dampened for cleaning and one dry for polishing, my mirrors and sinks sparkle, with no cleaners.
    Toilets – pour a bit of cheap shampoo in, and scrub – just as clean as expensive and nasty toilet bowl cleaners (got that one from Fly Lady).
    Clothes – if they were worn in a clean environment (i.e. an office) they are probably good for another day. Wool (i.e. sweaters) especially should be aired, not washed, for every day use. Of course socks and underwear need washing more often. I had school uniforms (public school, not private) as a student, which actually got us in good habits – get home, change to more casual clothes, hang up the school blazer and skirt, they were fine. Same for gardening or any other grubby occupation – garden or whatever, get all sweaty, have a shower and change, so dirty clothes are not worn in the house and non-gardening clothes are not worn for gardening (this assumes your gardening clothes are like mine, on their way to the garbage once they are too worn for gardening).
    Most of the cleaning we do is because society (read business and advertising) tells us we should. Bacteria are everywhere, the important thing for our health is which bacteria. Most are ones we can live with, or actually need, and they are the ones we want in our homes, on our skin, and in our guts. If we bring their numbers down too much, it makes room for less benign bacteria. Any evolutionary biologist would say this is basic – most people are not evolutionary biologists ;-(
    Obviously those with specific health issues will have to modify their arrangements.
    Oh, and those with skin issues might find gong to a low carb, high animal fat diet, with summer sun exposure, will help. At my latitude (north of 45), I cannot make vitamin D from October to April, not that much skin is exposed anyway when temperatures are ranging from 0 to -10F around here.

  • Gunhild January 2, 2014, 4:23 am

    Love this article and your epilogue! I completely agree. Will wash the windows some time in the near future though, to let in more sunshine :-)

  • Jordan Prince January 2, 2014, 5:17 am

    I was just telling one of my buddies today about you, and then mentioned that you would probably laugh at me(and rightfully so) for having just hired maids at a frequency of once every two weeks. I told him I was not a true mustachian, due to this and other bad spending habits(fine dining), but hey, you can’t argue with a 55% savings rate after taxes either! It’s not great, but not bad.

  • scooter January 2, 2014, 8:39 am

    Amid all the emotional response….let’s not forget that women, especially, are judged (and shunned/ridiculed) upon their state of cleanliness/grooming and the state of cleanliness of their houses. It’s one-up-womanship to see who has the cleanest house, despite the most egregious obstacles. Ugh.

    But major social pressure in the direction of the hyper-clean.

    This is one of those things with social consequences that favor the male, who is expected to both create and endure a certain amount of squalor.

  • Trina January 2, 2014, 9:25 am

    For some reason, when I read this post I thought of that Far Side cartoon where the rats are in their dirty, broken living room and one of them says something like, “It’s supposed to be a rat hole!” I honestly find it difficult to believe that their home is swept and vacuumed as infrequently as MMM thinks it is. I suspect that either Mrs. MM is doing work that he just “doesn’t see” or that they are doing cleaning as part of their routine and he just doesn’t think of it as cleaning.

    Personally, I’m not a bleach-crazy clean freak, and I switched over to cleaning with vinegar and baking soda a couple of years ago. But, as one of the commenters said, there is a certain amount of sweeping and vacuuming that is part of the maintenance of flooring and extends the life of it. It is not frugal to allow flooring or other household fixtures to deteriorate due to lack of maintainence. This is also true of showers or bathrooms where mold might grow. The fact that the MMM household doesn’t have mold growing in their bathroom tells me that there is cleaning/maintenance going on that MMM either doesn’t realize is happening, or maybe doesn’t even identify as “cleaning” because it doesn’t involve lots of caustic chemicals.

    They probably do a lot of preventative maintenance that means they don’t have to clean that often. For example, in our shower we use a squeegee to remove the water and soap from the walls every time we take a shower. We also leave the shower curtain open and use a fan to remove moisture. As a result, we only have to clean our shower every 3-4 months. In addition, the MMM family doesn’t have pets, and I’m sure they remove their shoes at the door, so they probably don’t have a lot of dirt on their floors, and I imagine they just sweep up after meals, etc., when necessary.

    In short, I doubt that they are living in an UNSANITARY!! rat hole. ;-)

  • pete January 2, 2014, 9:29 am

    my only concern with your policy outlined above is the rewearing of your jeans. I think you’ve missed the elephant in the room with regards to sharts and gaseous ass emissions. Yes jeans themselves would surely be rewearable around the house but lounging itself, especially during football season, could cause the user to toxify one’s jeans easily in just one sitting. Unless you are advocating those underpants with the built in carbon filter, then I could totally be on board with this. Of course I’m assuming that the user is married, a single guy can get upwards of 100 wears out of jeans/sweatpants without washing.

    • RetiredAt63 January 4, 2014, 7:56 am

      This is diet based – if you are eating a lot of carbs that you can’t digest, then your bacteria in the lower gut will use them – and they produce lots of gas since it is fermentation, no oxygen. There is a reason our grand-mothers soaked beans overnight in several changes of water – the indigestible soluble carbs came out of the beans.

      Someone who is really gassy should start experimenting with diet.

      At least we are not the “dragons” in Heinlein’s Glory Road – there the dragons burped methane, and it caught fire as it came out – hence dragons “breathing flames”.

  • Yin Yang January 2, 2014, 9:37 am

    Save Water – Shower with a friend :-)

  • lemonlime January 2, 2014, 1:39 pm

    The companies that make cleaning products know what they are doing in getting and keeping customers. When my family decided to start moving towards greener (homemade) cleaning products in our house, we were trying to find washing soda with which to make our own laundry detergent. The only place that had it was a hardware store two towns over. We ended up ordering it from amazon. Keep in mind, including the cost of a three gallon bucket to keep it in, the bucket 3/4 full of laundry detergent costs about a dollar. $17 for a container of Tide? Can’t compare. Also, the homemade stuff has no scent, and when you stop using stuff with the artificial scents, you start to notice how strong those scents really are and they become noxious. I had to change to “hippy” shampoos that had gentle, natural scents because I couldn’t stand the perfume in my hair from my old shampoo anymore. I think the scent thing goes to show how we become de-sensitized to these super strong, synthetic, and totally not innocuous products, and when you get away from them for a bit, it feels like exposing yourself to poison. Which I guess in high doses it really is if you look at material data and safety sheets.
    As for showers, washing just your nether parts or even using wet wipes after using the toilet goes a long way to keep body odor down. I also agree, based on my own experience and some reading on the topic, with those who discuss the important of handwashing as a means to good health by preventing transmission of contagions like colds/flus.
    For those interested, there is an Australian show on hulu called lush house – the host helps clean up peoples super messy houses and teaches them how to make and use homemade, gentle natural cleaning products – no bleach or ammonia but things like vinegar, club soda, and essential oils. You get a couple of recipes in every show (plus I just love watching non-US but still English speaking – I’m not fluent in anything else – tv).

  • Sam January 2, 2014, 3:38 pm

    I wish I had a cleaning service, we’ve talked about it and we can afford it and I want it but two or so years after agreeing to hire one we still don’t have one. What does that mean, well as to busy professionals, most of the time our house is messy and yes slightly dirty.

    Do I like it, no. But I don’t like spending my precious free minutes cleaning and I don’t want to pay someone so we’ve somewhat settled on generally messy and slightly dirty.

    We couldn’t wait a month to do laundry though, here in Florida mold would start growing pretty rapidly.

    When its time for someone to stay with us or we have an event, well then we do a major clean but otherwise we live in a generally messy and slightly dirty home. I try to keep things going so they don’t pile up too much, which means I do a load of towels and such, load the dishwasher and try to vac/sweep once a week. I also make the bed and hang up my clothes each day. If I can keep with that routine it doesn’t get oo bad.

  • RewardTraveler January 2, 2014, 3:39 pm

    Similar to lifestyle inflation, can I coin the term “cleanliness inflation”?

  • D.E. Radtke January 2, 2014, 5:15 pm

    Absolutely one of my favorite posts so far!

    I’ve lived with clean freaks and it was obnoxious smelling all of their cleaning products on a daily basis. It was also hilarious to see their clothes deteriorate not from using them but from washing and drying them way too often and with way too much harsh soap.

    Not only will the post help save you a ton of money and time but it will also help you to be a lot friendlier to our precious environment.

    Thank you!

  • Faith January 2, 2014, 5:33 pm

    Totally agree on the overall premise – I can’t say that I clean or do laundry more often than once a month, but when I do it usually takes a full day (or two, if I declutter or reorganize more). I’ve also switched to showering every other day in the winter since my skin gets dry really easily and have seen some improvement.

    Where I’m stuck: I’ve spent most of my life since I was old enough to use a vacuum cleaning my mom’s house. My mom has never learned any cleaning skills and is a low-grade hoarder. She’s in her 60s and I don’t expect her to change. I was able to keep up cleaning two houses until I got married and my husband and I started tackling remodeling projects on the fixer upper I bought, which left me with less time for cleaning. I feel like a cleaning service is a waste of money that could be put toward a better use, but I’m debating getting help to keep up with at least one of the two houses.

    We both work full time and plan to have kids soon too. My mom has offered to do free daycare (great deal!) but I’m not sure that having her at our house while my husband is working from home will be sustainable for him. I would love to have her house clean and useable but if I takes me 1-2 days a month, that still adds up. Anyone have thoughts on whether or not a cleaning service is worth it?

    • SomeYoungGuy January 3, 2014, 12:49 pm

      One way to think about it is if you make more per hour than the cleaners would cost. That way, it is a more ‘economically efficient’ use of your time to work than it is to clean (and provides a means of income for others). I would also highlight that, even if it is somewhat break-even in the short run, you are freeing up precious time to do something fun / fulfilling and also have a better chance of working longer and earning more in the future if you don’t burn yourself out. Try to strategize – you get more value per hour out of an infrequent deep cleaning service (preferably scheduled to coincide with the toilet and bathtub cleaning cycle…). And watch out for ‘pre-cleaning syndrome’…

    • Ellie January 3, 2014, 1:25 pm

      You work full time and are responsible for two households? If that was my situation, I would have a cleaning service for at least one house (your mother’s in your case), with no hesitation/guilt/second thoughts whatsoever!

  • Josh January 2, 2014, 9:03 pm

    MMM, your cleanliness habits are almost identical to mine and my girlfriends! I thought we were the only ones.

    Fun fact: Anderson Cooper has been made fun of for wearing jeans multiple times before washing them. His staff even stole a pair, had a lab test them, and embarrassed him on TV with the results. Poor Anderson was suffering from filthy jeans all this time without even realizing it!

  • Aly January 2, 2014, 11:50 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly! I call myself a “germophiliac”

  • Becky January 3, 2014, 12:00 am

    Who cares about the money savings? I just hate cleaning!

    Also, I’m pretty impressed with your 10-shower towel use. Mine starts smelling after 3-or-so uses. I can’t even imagine getting to 6 uses without a stench, not to mention 10!

  • Mattbkk January 3, 2014, 6:15 am

    A timely article from the Economist on exactly this subject –


  • Monevator January 3, 2014, 3:27 pm

    I can’t run anything that touches my skin for more than a day, and I pretty much need to shower every day, too. But then, my olfactory senses are exquisite, and I’m sure I’m my own worse critic.

    Otherwise your routine sounds like mine, right down to the towels. And I cut a lawn less than you I’m sure. (i.e. I do about three times a year… ;))

    Happy new year MMM, keep ’em coming!

  • Florence January 3, 2014, 3:27 pm

    For years I washed my hair in the shower every day because it was so oily. But when I switched to showering & washing my hair every other day, my hair was no oilier. I now shower & wash my hair Mondays, Thursdays, & Saturdays. And i do save water and energy by turning the water off while I soap myself. I haven’t offended anyone so far. Towels are changed every other week or after 6 uses.

  • CleenFreek January 3, 2014, 8:31 pm

    Mr MM I love your advice and usually aspire to following some of it. But not in this case. I would fight a dozen hungry tigers for my daily hot bath. No amount of philosophy or common sense will come between me and hot soapy water. With glamorous fruity bubble product in it. Sigh.

  • Kathryn January 3, 2014, 10:32 pm

    Just have to add my two cents worth to this post.

    I believe in basic hygiene but not the over-the-top way that society has gone. Common sense should prevail.

    Our son (now 16 and hardly ever been sick) crawled around on the ground with pegs in his mouth and the dogs slurping his head (never had a dummy so didn’t have some of the issues that other parents have had when dropped). He had a bath once a day (as we shower once a day) and has been very rarely sick, only once he started school and all the sick kids that were never allowed to stay home when they were sick.

    A simple wipe of benches, wipe over the sink and shower every day to keep mould from growing (we live in the tropics so mould is a problem is you don’t keep on top of it).

    Keeping things basically clean, I make our own general purpose cleaner that does nearly everything and costs only a few cents. Cleaning doesn’t have to take up your whole life but it does need to be done to prevent disease and sickness. We don’t need to go overboard with anti-bacterial cleaners that erase everything including the good stuff.

    As for the towel thing, hang your towel back up each time and then throw a load in the wash once a week, simple. But I have to shower every day, at least a night before bed, how people can go to bed dirty is beyond me, that is my one thing I am OCD about, must be clean :)

    Love the blog, reading it here from Australia, always gives me something to think about even if it is not relevant to us here. Take care

  • Hanne van Essen January 4, 2014, 5:44 am

    Great article, good point! Since I started reading this blog, we have started to clean the house ourselves, instead of hiring someone, as we used to (thanks for that 5000 dollars saved Mr MM!). At first we thought we had to follow the old routine of our hired help, which meant cleaning all the linen every week and washing all the floors every week. Slowly we are finding that cleaning for the sake of cleaning is not useful time spent, and are doing it our own way. That said, I have some remarks on the frugal benefits of cleaning. When you are cleaning, you learn to appreciate what you have more. When I am cleaning, I am always amazed at the wonderful home we live in, and am grateful for being able to live in it. Second, cleaning is a relatively cheap way to spend your time, when compared to shopping. If you have a desire to improve your house, you can run to the shop to buy paint and new furniture. Or you can tidy and clean the house. Much more satisfactory, and more cheap. Afterwards you can sit in your favorite chair, have a cup of tea, and a book, and enjoy the clean and tidy room, and feel good about yourself on top!

  • Karen January 4, 2014, 5:48 am

    Hey, MMM, I found this site while I was reading about showers (how to make a shower pan) and I totally love the site.

    We’ve had a cleaning crew for the past 9 years and this post is going to help me get over that and go back to caring for my own home. This will save $2400 a year back in our pockets.

    Having a cleaning crew is a luxury and I had said to myself “its cheaper than marriage counseling” but I think I can handle it. I loved having the cleaning service, especially when my kids were toddlers and I felt overwhelmed with that, but now life is getting easier.

    Our 2014 goal is to save, save, save and invest / learn about investing I want to have an aggressive goal to pay off the mortgage. This will help a lot and I look forward to exploring more ideas on your site.

    Thanks for the idea and encouragement.

  • Ross Macintosh January 4, 2014, 6:33 am

    Regarding marketing of hygiene products…
    Have you ever noticed that tv commercials for toothpaste always show the application of a big squeeze of toothpaste along the full length of bristles? Those commercials brainwash us that it is the ‘proper’ amount and yet a small fraction of the amount they show does the job just fine.

    If you believe all those ‘Fabreze’ commercials, you can cut down on house cleaning even more. Just stash all the pizza boxes, dirty socks, dirty dishes, etc. behind the couch (or other convenient hiding place) and a with a shot of magic Fabreze you won’t even know the stuff is back there! If you get the car Fabreze thingie apparently you can also live with all kinds of garbage in your car.They are also now marketing Fabreze products with scents that are supposed to help you sleep better — conveniently with those sprays you don’t need to clean the bedroom. I wonder if the next Fabreze product will be ‘Personal Fabreze’ — mist yourself daily to eliminate personal odour and eliminate unproductive washing time.

    • Joe Average March 26, 2015, 4:07 pm

      Put a bar of soap under the front seat in your car. When the scent is gone, move it to the shower and wash with it and put a new bar of soap in the car. Makes for a nice perfumed car. Our car tends to smell like stinky shoes if we don’t clean it often enough and we’re going through an especially wet period of the year. The car is 16+ yrs old now and I think this spring I’ll pull the front seats and shampoo all the carpets. The interior of the car still looks good after all this time, outside 365/24/7/16 yrs. All I do is wipe down the plastics a few times per year, clean the glass and vacuum.

  • jennifer January 4, 2014, 8:02 am

    Excellent post… except our babies WERE born in our home and there was no sterilizing necessary for that either :P But once again I agree with pretty much everything.

  • Geneviève (Paris, France) January 4, 2014, 11:39 am

    I read this post and all the comments with a growing interest, because:
    – as a french woman living in Europe, I am absolutely fascinated by the north-american cleanliness obsession. It seems really, incredibly exagerated to me although I don’t consider myself as the best example of frugality in this field (I shower almost once a day, sometimes twice)… Reading all this is really interesting. My conclusion: we, european are less subjects to intense marketing and social pressure in this field (but it is different on other subjects like food and milk for example)…
    – I already knew that there was a lot of savings to obtain (we use few, green cleaning products)… but we can achieve more…
    – You are very brave, Mr MMM to deal with this subject in your blog (that I read a lot)! Very good job!

  • dirtygirl January 4, 2014, 10:47 pm

    I would agree with everything you said… if you had left febreeze alone. I happily grew up playing in piles of dirt and i have a 5 minute rule for dry food dropped on the floor, but febreeze is AWESOME! It breaks up the very personal smell of, well, ME, so that when people come over they don’t get to know my smell as well as any lover.

  • Ed January 4, 2014, 11:01 pm

    I owned a cleaning business for many years and learned a lot about cleaning chemicals. The usual household cleaners are overkill for most situations, not to mention quite expensive.

    “Pro” stuff in concentrate, from a janitorial supply, is 5-20x cheaper than consumer brands, and it’s mostly the same stuff — from Windex-type glass cleaner to dish soap to degreaser to oven cleaner.

    Liquid dish soap will do most cleaning jobs, with a dash on a wet sponge or scrub pad, or with water in a bucket or spray bottle. Water with a little soap is an amazing solvent, just let it soak a little. Avoid the stronger stuff unless you really need it, as it’s harsh, expensive, and toxic.

    Vinegar (an acid) and baking soda (a base, like soap or ammonia) are both good cleaners, and non-toxic. Vinegar will cut hard water soap scum almost as well as harsh, toxic, and very expensive bathroom cleaners.

    Branded dish soap, and hand soap, is usually way more concentrated than it needs to be, and can be cut 2:1 or more, for a less goopy mix that rinses better. Try it!

    As others have said, the mechanical rubbing and scrubbing is at least as important, which is why we’re supposed to rub our hands for 20 seconds or sing all the way through “Happy Birthday.”

    Most soaps are too harsh for your skin at any concentration, with a PH of 8, 9 or more. “Strength” is really about PH, and optimal for your skin is as close to a neutral of 7 as possible. The most widely available low-PH dish soap is Palmolive Clear. A lot of hand, face, and body soaps are neutralized with the addition of some acid, while others are more highly refined.

    Another waste of money (and trees, and landfill space) is paper towels. Buy a 10 LB box of surgical towels or restaurant towels, and use those instead — for everything — wiping up spills, general cleaning, as Swiffer pads, whatever. That box costs no more than a couple of months’ worth of paper towels for most families, and will last years. Another load of laundry every week or two is negligable. Store the normal dirty ones in a laundry bag, and the really dirty ones in a bucket of water with a little soap (pickle buckets w/ lids are great).

    Finally, blogs and forums about cloth diapering are a great resource for ideas about cleaning with cheap, reusable, natural, and non-toxic products. Those who want to get into cloth diapering too can save a lot of money, but that’s another whole topic!

  • Kat January 5, 2014, 12:51 pm

    To the lady who wrote the epilogue comment:

    I’ve lived this way literally my whole life, and my no means is it unsanitary. We still clean and wash everything but less frequently, only when its obviously dirty. I don’t know how long normal people have their bed sheets on the bed but I usually only change mine 3-4 months and wash my quilt every 6 month unless they clearly needs some washing. As for the towel deal, you are drying your CLEAN body off which only had water, not like I’m scrubbing off dirt. I agree, it may get a little funky after 10 showers but 4-5 shower between washes is what I do and it is perfectly find. Reusing clothing isn’t bad nor does it lower your cleanliness. Jeans actually fit better and feel amazing after wearing them 2-3 times before washing. Please get your panties out of a bunch and realize that this way of life is still clean.


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