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.

  • Ed January 6, 2014, 12:46 am

    For when the unthinkable happens, here’s a recipe for tablets to unclog toilets and drains, made from baking soda, epsom salts, and liquid dish soap: http://lifehacker.com/thank-you-fixed-now-1494866065/@alanhenry

  • Karl January 6, 2014, 2:33 am

    It’s uncanny how alike we are MMM.

    I too am a strong proponent of having a reasonably clean and tidy, but not sterilized home, and also allowing your body to be exposed to naturally present bacteria on a daily basis. As a result I rarely ever get sick (maybe a slight cold for 2-3 days a year) and rarely get infections too, and even if something does get infected it heals up within days.

    I also found, on the note of being frugal, that using vinegar, distilled water, baking soda / sodium bicarbonate, lemons (peel and juice), eucalyptus oil, and olive oil (for polishing) will take care of 99% of your cleaning needs around the house as well as a number of other tasks. Having a few spray bottles with various concentrations of vinegar and a guide sheet works wonders in a share house. We have cut our monthly cleaning product expenses from around $35 to $3 (1L of vinegar a month and a box of baking soda every 2-3 months, lemons we get for free!).

    Too easy! Safer, cheaper, more environmentally friendly and works just as well (often better if used correctly). Win-win-win!

  • Nihongo Dame Desu January 6, 2014, 8:04 am

    Not cleaning toilets weekly is unsanitary? Perhaps if you are drinking out of them. Otherwise, moving to an every other week or even monthly scrub isn’t going to magically inject bacteria up through one’s exposed anus and into one’s system. A weekly cleaning of one’s toilet has fuck-all to do with sanitation. That’s laughable.

    • Ellie January 6, 2014, 8:44 am

      Couldn’t have said it better myself! I clean the toilets when I notice a ring forming. Why clean something that doesn’t look dirty?

  • Ashley Chiang January 6, 2014, 3:05 pm

    Yes! You are right on! I don’t wash clothes (to then hang dry them of course ) unless they smell off :) everything stated sounds just as it goes in my home! I wash the towels/sheets when they smell funny or get stained (we have a potty learning two year old after all so it may happen more often than it could) … I may vacuum/sweep when someone’s coming over …. And sometimes dishes sit for a day or more because I’ve got more important things to do :)

    And the toilets definitely only get cleaned when visibly dirty …


  • squeat January 6, 2014, 11:59 pm

    Here’s a tip. Use a zinc-oxide based deodorant (Google it). Since I’ve discovered this, I find my pits don’t smell and I can truly go longer between needing a shower. Apparently the zinc-oxide inhibits the growth of bacteria that cause odors. They are hard to find but worth it.

  • sara January 7, 2014, 2:29 pm

    I’m totally with you on the hygiene hypothesis, MMM…
    but how do you get Junior MMM to pee IN the toilet?! I think our four-year-old’s mission in life is to make the toilet as disgusting as possible!

  • Karl January 7, 2014, 5:57 pm

    To add further to this discussion, I currently live in a share house with 4 other dudes. We each contribute, on average, 30 minutes on dedicated house cleaning or gardening per week. Our house is pretty spotless and has beautifully maintained garden (that’s my area), which is pretty good as it’s a large garden and a large house too with lots of people coming and going, cooking food at all hours.

    We are all conscious that it is easier to be clean as we go, meaning we all wipe up the kitchen and bench tops immediately after we use them and sweep up anything dropped on the floor. Takes 10 seconds to do this and keeps the kitchen and other areas clean and tidy without having to do a major clean every week.

    I have my own bathroom that I spend about 30 minutes cleaning once every two months. My personal trick is to lightly spray the shower recess every few days with pure white vinegar as this kills any mould and mildew, and keeps it clean without having to spend lots of time scrubbing. I also don’t use soaps in the shower, apart from washing my hair with a natural plant based shampoo and conditioner once a week, so this results in less soap scum and other residue on the tiles to be cleaned.

    Having a reasonably clean and neat house in definitely important for enjoying your surroundings and being healthy, but I definitely agree a lot of people go totally overboard with it. There’s better things to do in life people!

  • Katytibbs January 8, 2014, 5:08 pm

    I am not surprised at the outrage about this post. It’s part of the purity doctrine that psychologist Haidt called one of the stages of moral foundation, For a brief explanation check out Steven Pinker’s Better Angels of our Nature, pages 624-628

  • Bethany January 8, 2014, 9:16 pm

    I grew up with the idea that I was “unsanitary” because I didn’t shower every day, carry around hand sanitizer, and wash my clothes every time I wore them. I knew doing all that stuff was stupid, but worried about what other people would think. I would just not say anything about, say, wearing my shirt for the third time without washing. To my knowledge nobody knew the difference. When I admitted these weird unclean habits to my fiance, he said, “Oh yeah, I do that too.” What a relief!

    Reading this article in a hostel in Guatemala. Some people need to come down here and see what “nasty” really is.

  • Willow January 9, 2014, 11:10 am

    I just want to say thank you for some common sense! I wash my sheets when they feel dirty. It might be a month without washing. Same for towels. (Though, in the summer, mine do start to smell funny after a week of use.) I vacuum when the carpet looks dirty or company is coming. And my cleaning products are all homemade with vinegar, baking soda, ammonia, etc. Febreeze is for suckers. We have all been sold cleanliness, and it’s insane to think not having a cleaning routine makes you some dirty animal.

  • Tara January 9, 2014, 4:51 pm

    I’m with you on this, although I do have to change my sheets at least every 4 weeks because of allergies. I’ve noticed I don’t have to shower as much in the winter which is also a lot better on my skin.

    For towels, I always suggest people to not use any fabric softeners if they are using them. For anything that is supposed to absorb water, using a fabric softener on it in the wash is a big no-no and can lead to more smelly towels when wet.

    I do need to get better at not washing my clothing every use. I’ve had to toss clothing items because of damage from the washer or from set-in stains from dryer and washing less frequently would definitely at least extend the clothing life.

  • MBC January 10, 2014, 7:14 am

    Love it! I absolutely agree with the premise. And yes, there’s a huge asterisk depending on location, etc (sorry, even spread out on a rack there are times of the year when towels will not dry where I live…. so I use ’em for a few days and give up.) I clean stuff about once a month. It’s all about what works for you. In winter we track in so much sand and salt that floors need to be washed more quickly – in summer the entry can go weeks with no problems.

    Once place I do like the disinfectant is in a shared space with people who are obviously sick. I work a rotating shift, when I come in I take over the exact same physical work space the prior shift had. If that person is coughing/runny nose I happily disinfect the telephone they slobbered all over for the past 8 hours. If they are healthy – probably not.

  • Claire January 11, 2014, 12:54 am

    Just had the greatest Saturday. Timer on cleaning routine that used to waste my whole Saturday. Instead did whole house in 45 mins. It doesn’t look any different to a whole day of cleaning and instead got to spend day at river,cycling,reading,playing cards, etc…….., most beautiful day. Thank you mr money mustache for writing this article. Forced me to see the sense that I have known all along somewhere underneath but had been ignoring the nagging voice saying why are you cleaning your life away!!

  • Money Saving January 11, 2014, 6:28 am

    I’m finding myself closer and closer to being in your boat MMM. We probably change our towels every 20-30 days. I really don’t see the point in using a new towel every day. You just washed all of the oils from your body, so the towel shouldn’t really get that dirty!!

    I’ve also started wearing my work clothes 3-4 times before washing them. Here’s my rule about washing clothes: If they’re no stains, I must refrain!

  • Nika January 12, 2014, 9:59 pm

    Lots of great information; glad I read all the way through the comments! My husband doesn’t get why I insist on changing the sheets weekly, and it looks like many Mustachians are in his camp. He vacuums weekly, but probably neither task would be necessary if we didn’t have two large, shedding dogs. I’m not prepared to go totally without my daily shower just yet, but might experiment with foregoing the shampoo a few days per week. Between distance running, gardening and horseback riding, not too many days go by that I don’t need a shower before show up at the office.

    One tip I wanted to add, is that NEWSPAPER is the best thing ever for cleaning glass. It doesn’t streak and leave behind lint like paper towels or even microfiber towels, and it’s generally free or close to it.

  • Leslie January 14, 2014, 10:12 am

    I have always been a huge fan of showering once, if not twice a day. But about a month ago, I had major surgery and could only take sponge baths for several days and then SLOWLY eased back into showers, as in a shower every 3-4 days. To my surprise, it was not horrible like I imagined. Granted I wasn’t really doing anything, but that just goes back to why clean what’s not dirty? Even now that I am back at work, I am only showering every 2 days and even that feels like 1 day too soon. And guess what…my hair and skin have improved dramatically!

  • Colleen January 15, 2014, 10:46 am

    Ugh to housecleaning. I enjoy a clean house, but the endless repetitive nature of the tasks are soul sucking.

    The morality of cleanliness…slut’s wool is a great example of judgment on a dirty house.

  • Nate January 18, 2014, 10:16 pm

    My training is in biology education and I would consider myself a person motivated by evidence-based decision making, and I have never be a germophobe. I’ve got a 20 month old and I’ll pretty much let him stick anything in his mouth as long as it is not E-coli or Ebola. He’s been doing great. I grew up on a farm and I’ve probably accidentally consumed more fecal matter than most, and I for one am doing great. As a young child I also once drank out of a “barn-cup” that I had used to remove a dead mouse from a water tank. Granted, I wouldn’t recommend that people do this, but my grandpa grabbed the offending mug, took a swig, and offered it to me. I couldn’t let gramps go down, knowing I’d used to mug to remove a dead mouse from the tank. I took the drink, and no ill effects.

  • Laura January 19, 2014, 12:09 pm

    I don’t go as long as you do between cleaning things, but I’m not a fastidious germaphobe either. I wash our towels, clean our toilets and sweep our floors once a week. (Wearing a button-down shirt ten times before washing it is too long, even if you wear an undershirt. I’m willing to bet a good friend will be honest if you ask and tell you that you smell a little ripe. I would say three or four times is the max.) I do agree that a lot of the cleaning product (and beauty product) marketing is designed to make you use it up much faster than is necessary or to make you buy things you don’t need at all.

    I am curious what your views are on organizing and decluttering. Are you part of minimalist side of the simplicity movement?

  • Dale January 20, 2014, 10:06 am

    I’ve been a raw jeans enthusiast for a while now (jeans that aren’t processed to keep their color, so that “distressing” you buy happens naturally).

    Raw jeans people typically wear the same pair of jeans every day, washing them very infrequently, to keep from washing off the indigo. I’m considered to be a frequent washer, at every 3-4 months of daily wear (city life).

    When they get dirty, I wash them. When they start to smell, I wash them. But there’s this huge disconnect between when they start to smell, or when they’re noticeably dirty, and when people *think* they’re going to smell.

  • Edith January 20, 2014, 1:19 pm

    After your valuable input on the subject some months ago, I convinced my husband who reluctanctly bought a $400 Roomba (white floors, tuxedo cat) and I do the rest of the cleaning myself, which means the Roomba will pay itself in no time, without too much sacrifice. I don’t devote a whole day anymore. I just clean whatever looks dirty during the week, but I haven’t been able to stop wiping the counter and dinner table daily, and I feel the need to dedicate 30 minutes to dusting every week. I used to do 4 charges of laundry every weekend and now I do 2. I think I’m rehabilitating slowly but steadily. I don’t want to have to work until I die.

  • H January 20, 2014, 4:38 pm

    I like this post. A lot. We are clean & tidy people but after reading this I am realizing we do clean sometimes more out of habit than need. Why? I have some pretty damn interesting hobbies that are much more interesting than a rag attached to my arm… interesting stuff! Also I am generally anti bleach because I don’t like breathing in that shit nor do I like my dogs and children breathing it in either but my husband insists on bleaching our floors. Perhaps someone can help me change his mind…

    I was surprised to see how many people commented their horror at the thought of a parent scooping up a fallen pacifier and popping it into their own mouth before offering it back to their baby. We do that, almost daily. Super healthy baby, super healthy parents.

  • mollz January 23, 2014, 9:08 am

    MMM, THANK YOU for writing this. I always thought it strange and wasteful to clean stuff unless it smells or looks dirty. To the person who said it was “UNSANITARY” to not clean your toilet every week, makes me laugh because what the hell kind of mess are you makin in there?

    I’ve just returned from a stay in beautiful India and it makes one realize just how antiseptic the US is. Our floors are literally clean enough to eat off of. Granted, India has its health concerns, but after 3 weeks there without getting sick, I’ll continue trusting my immune system.

  • Tania January 27, 2014, 4:13 pm

    I do shower daily before bed each day (I live in Hawaii and a really HOT shower is one of my favorite parts of the day). But, I agree with what you’re saying. I don’t clean my floors weekly or my toilet or my linens/towels. Not in an effort to save money but just because there is only so many hours in the day and I want to spend some of them writing, exercising, spending time with loved ones and jumping in the ocean.

    I also never had trouble with my cat allergies until I went to college. Grew up with several cats and never had a reaction until I was away for one year living in a dorm, catless.

    I do also make the effort to use less soap/detergent. I know some people who wash their clothes just with water but I’ll still use some, about 1/2 the recommended. I also stopped separating blacks and colors in my wash (the horror!). By combining, I can do just one load for the two (it’s just me and I wear majority black). I’m very interested in learning more about soap/cleaning supplies alternatives as I’m also moving toward minimalism and don’t like to keep a ton of products in my home. I also re-use some clothes but usually not the ones I wore for a full day (except maybe jeans). Certain sweaters/jackets, I barely ever launder as it’s usually layered over a sleeved top and only worn when chilly. When I used to travel to colder weather for business, I often made do with just two bottom pieces (a skirt/trousers).

    The readers that got freaked out about this post could put it in perspective. They don’t have to do exactly as you are doing. They could apply the concept in the way it works for them. I would never go to sleep without a shower but that’s a location and cultural specific thing for me. I don’t judge you for it.

  • Elise January 29, 2014, 10:16 am

    “This is about health, logic, and free time.”

    Some counterpoints to balance out the one-sided nature of this particular post- it came off sounding like someone trying to get out of doing any chores around the house. I actually feel like I am working towards my financial independence and personal-happiness goal when I suck it up and clean things, which is why I wrote this response.

    Consider the MMM-style pros of reasonable cleaning!

    Non-excessive cleaning is a habit that makes me feel invested in and proud of my house. It keeps my mind at rest and gives me some time for thought and reflection on my goals for the space, and what I could downsize- which means less cleaning!

    Keeping up with cleaning makes your possessions (bathtubs, tile floors, appliances, etc.) last longer and have a higher resale value down the road.

    I haven’t gotten sick in years, and I credit it to wiping down the kitchen counter and fridge down once every few weeks. Even if you are building up a (very specific) resistance, you still have to take those repeated sick days from work and from activities every time you encounter a new and easily avoidable bug… which amount to more free-time loss than the sum total of cleaning.

    Your comment about the chore wheel really struck me, as well. Living in a house with 5 people, things get dirty 5 times as fast. If you would only vacuum once a month living alone, it might be necessary once a week in a house of 5. I also find that the chore wheel helps give the house a sense of unity- nothing breeds resentment more than cleaning up someone else’s mess. I’ll admit to being the originator of the chore wheel in my shared house, but the way we have it organized takes less than 10 minutes a week per person to keep our home liveable. It has solved far more strife per month than the happiness that those free ~30 minutes would have given us. House-sharing when you are young helps keep costs down! MMM-theory should love a well-balanced chore wheel due to the stability they add to shared houses.

    Many MMM-style tips can apply here: how to make DIY household cleaners(the amazingness of vinegar and unnessisaryness of bleach etc), and that most store-bought cleaners/laundry detergents are overkill to what you need to keep your household at a reasonable state.

    …Hah, this made me sound like cleaning nut. I actually had fallen the most behind in the chore wheel this month, and spent a whole half hour (wow!) catching up on four weeks worth of chores. it made me feel like I was doing something for my friends and I felt really good about myself afterwards. Although my hobbies are fun, I don’t get that same feeling from spending 30 minutes on my own stuff.

    I completely agree about keeping children too clean, and the other points. The above is all I could muster up :P

  • Faith February 6, 2014, 7:30 pm

    I read all the comments, and it seems that I will be the only one that really doesn’t use towels to dry off after my bath. If I wash my hair in the shower, I will, but otherwise, I air dry.

    I picked up this habit when I started using a daily body moisturizer from the ages of 16 to 18. I’m 47 now, and while I no longer use moisturizer (it was overkill esp at that young age) but I had no desire to lock the moisture out by using it before drying off.

    Now, by the time I get dressed (am) or go to bed (pm), I’m all dry naturally.

    It really cuts down on my towel washings!

  • Moribund Cadaver February 8, 2014, 4:46 pm

    I think it is a poor and somewhat conceited framework to place modern standards of “cleanliness” in the category of wasteful commercial brainwashing. On one hand commercial culture does contribute. On the other, you don’t need commercial cleaning products and a conspiracy of marketing to decide maybe it’s nice to take a bath every day. Possibly interesting historical perspective: when europeans arrived in north America, the native peoples generally were shocked at their filth and lack of concern for their bodies – the idea that they would only take baths if forced to was shocking to the locals.

    You must keep in mind that when it comes to hygiene there is no one-size-fits all wisdom. Everyone has different curves for body odor and skin oils. Everyone has a different level of physical comfort that pings awareness when relaxed and noticing it. Some people all but literally don’t smell BO – including their own. It makes them wonder why everyone else is so “picky and annoying” with wanting to be clean.

    As well, everyone lives in different conditions and a different climate. Generalizing that everyone is probably deluded about being clean isn’t useful advice in most contexts. (Debates over the use of anti-bacterials may be another matter.)

    I think the best advice with being clean is learn how to get rid of as many commercial products and chemicals as you can – the goal is to simplify, not find excuses to be less hygienic. Simplification does in itself save time as well as money. I think we must also be careful not to let the temptations and pressures of our modern, neurotic lifestyles trick us into paying less attention to basic things that make life better. Many a young internet addict (and not so young) rationalizes that they don’t have to stop and clean that counter or put a load of laundry in because that five minutes could be spent checking the phone for more tweets.

  • FieldsOfFreshFlowers February 21, 2014, 9:22 am

    My spouse is from the developing world where toilet paper is too expensive for regular folks. After seeing what is done instead of using paper, I’ve adapted to it and I have to say I couldn’t do it any other way now.

    It takes a little coordination and at first, as an American that knows no other way, your first go-to is to paper, but after you firmly switch, I guarantee you will never go back to paper. Cleaning with water is so refreshing and if you don’t shower every day, well this method helps from getting “crusty” (haha).

    We have what looks like a small sauce pan with a handle like a sauce pan, but made of plastic. We fill it at the sink and then lean scoot forward on the toilet then lean over a little bit when pour water down your back while the other hand is under there “washing/rinsing.” Like I said, it takes a little getting used to, but we buy paper only once a year now, because only our guests use paper.

    We also use the same sauce like pan except with soap for washing the front before having sex. Someone here mention a “bird bath” so this is it for us.

    This is the way they operate in developing countries. This is also why in some countries one hand is considered dirty and the other clean. They eat with their hands… only one hand, the one considered clean.

  • Laura March 2, 2014, 7:48 pm

    Took a quick scan of the comments, so if mentioned before, I apologize. Washing clothes too often wears them out prematurely. Clothes these days are not made as well as they used to be. I wash mine when they are dirty, not just because I’ve worn them just once.

  • C.J. March 13, 2014, 6:17 pm

    I think this cleanliness issue is mainly a factor of what you are used to. Personally, I have gone from more towards the dirty side, to more towards the clean side over the years. I know as a kid, we washed our sheets maybe 2-4 times a year, and my bath towel lasted probably a week, until the weekly laundry was done. Also, as a kid there would be days I didn’t take baths or brush my teeth. As I grew up, and learned the socially correct and dentist recommended ways to do things, I forced myself to bathe and brush my teeth daily. Now I do it all twice daily by choice. And I wash my sheets every week, and use a fresh towel every day. And yet my significant other refers to me as a walking cootie bug, because I don’t live up to thier cleanliness standards, since I don’t use soap every time I wash my hands, don’t use chemicals to clean every surface in my house, don’t spray lysol in my bathroom, and refuse to use those antibacterial or alcohol gels on my hands. And yes, they do get sick more often than I do.

  • alex c March 14, 2014, 1:53 pm

    Excellent article. Even the most hardcore super-cleaners who bleach their homes from top to bottom on a daily (hourly?) basis will be disappointed to find out that they have left billions of bacteria, spores and viruses behind, as achieving sterility is impossible (and the buildings with the strictest codes of cleanliness, ie. hospitals, consistently have the most powerful germs lying about).
    It is illogical to assume that human beings can’t maintain their health if they dry themselves with a shower-towel that hasn’t been washed after several uses, or eat a cracker after it has fallen on the floor. Give our species some credit! Somehow we as humans made it this far without the modern anti-bacterial soaps, sodium hypochlorite, and other (relatively) recent chemical-inventions. It might gross-out many of the naysayers to learn that toilet-paper is also relatively new, so guess what people used to wipe with prior to its invention!
    But what is hygienic or sanitary goes beyond ‘being clean’ doesn’t it? There is also a profound cultural and social aspect to these topics. Cleanliness is godliness after all. “I’m cleaner based on my habits, and therefore a better person than my peers.” The marketing of cleaning-agents often tend to suggest that this is the case, and it helps them sell more product.

  • Megan March 16, 2014, 9:18 am

    Love this post MMM. While I need to shower every day (I think maybe women require a bit more care in that area, especially after having kids, for reasons I won’t get into), I have no problem using the same towel for at least 10 showers (sometimes many more), and, since I’m showering in the morning anyway, who cares if my sheets are less than perfectly sterile when I go to bed. Once a month is just fine for washing sheets if you ask me! I fully and wholeheartedly agree with everything in this post.
    Thanks !

  • green_knight008 March 22, 2014, 10:23 am

    I wholly agree with your doctor friend. My brothers and I grew up with a great exposure to natural elements running around in the countryside around our small town as youngsters. We’re all quite healthy and of the three of us during our childhood the only time spent in the hospital beyond birth was my middle brother for pneumonia and my youngest for a burst appendix (both clearly not the result of being exposed to bacteria and the like). To this day my immune system is strong as an ox-I’m certain this is due to not maintaining a spotlessly clean house at all times and exposure to pets (cats when we were younger, all of us have dogs now too).

  • Grif April 4, 2014, 3:01 pm

    I don’t know if anyone is still looking at this post, but I’m getting a real kick out of the “I’m precious and need to be sparkly clean all the time” crowd. I think everyone that enjoys this topic would really enjoy the podcast called “the dirtbag diaries” and the episode is called “the shorts- 5 types of B.O.”
    It is hilarious to those of use that get outdoors and get dirty, and potentially offensive to everyone else. I personally laugh ou tloud every tme I listen to it.

  • bobwerner June 23, 2014, 8:50 am

    This inspired me in January to take the soapless shower challenge. No soap of any kind for 2 months. Wife never noticed. Cost of soap = zero. Just rinse and scrub with fingers. My hair looked and felt better than ever. My back acne completely dissipated. My face acne however worsened so I added soap back to the face once a day. I shaved my armpits to avoid bacterial build up.

    Then I added using a 12″ by 12″ microfiber towel for drying. Really, since my natural oils help repel water and I flick off water with my hands that towel is all I needed. I will wash it every month or so with a short load. So my lifetime towel washing is essentially zero. Nice!

    Then I added going every other day for showers. (Still daily face washing). Then I added hanging up my office work shirts and pants everyday thus decreasing washing by a factor of 3. I wear underpants and undershirts that are washed after one day’s use.

    By adapting these new habits over time I will free up (not save, you can’t save time) about 7,500 hours of time over the next 50 years. That is the equivalent of 4 working years.

    Is it hard? No, what I was doing was hard. Does it save tons of money. Well hell yes it does. My annual soap bill will be about $4. My wife, who hasn’t changed her habits, will spend about $200 on shampoos, soaps, conditioners etc… She will spend an extra $200 on towels, washing, drying etc.. So in essence I’m 100 times more efficient with the dollar than her. $400 per year? Well if we both did this we would be saving $800 per year.

    Over 50 years that would compound to a post tax amount of $340,000.

    Which would you rather leave your grandkids? 340K or the memory of a soapy smelling grandpa who diverted his time from the grandkids so he could shower and do laundry?

    Thanks MMM for literally changing my life and my kids and grandkids futures. By applying the “shower principal” to other habits my grandkids will be very, very wealthy!

  • Sarah C July 11, 2014, 12:01 pm

    I haven’t read all 432 comments on this post, so I don’t know if someone suggested that rather than living in a dirty house, we can cheaply make all the cleaning products we need. White vinegar, baking soda, and water in a spray bottle (there are recipes all over the internet) makes the perfect all-purpose spray, and then you use old t-shirts as rags (NEVER buy paper towels!). Same goes for laundry detergent, though I’ve not gone that far – the effort-to-economy ratio doesn’t work out, to my mind, on that one. But likewise use vinegar instead of fabric softener – we have never used that stinky stuff, and the vinegar cuts out almost all the static cling. So cleaning can be cost-effective when done right!

  • J October 3, 2014, 4:15 am

    Hey there,
    We spend very little on cleaning products since reading “zero waste home”.

    The only cleaning products we need are:

    WHITE DISTILLED VINEGAR for general cleaning, used as a solution to decrease film on dishes in the dishwasher, used in the washing machine as a softner, used for everything.

    REAL LEMONS to help things smell nice, disinfect, the list is pretty endless for uses

    CITRIC ACID (we have very hard water in Germany) and we use it to make dishwasher detergent per Bea Johnson’s recipe


    BAKING SODA for cleaning drains, cleaning cutting boards, used to clean stainless steele instead of harsh chemicals

    We will NEVER, ever, ever again use bleach, ammonia or anything that makes our eyes sting and air passages irritated.

    Many cleaning books claiming to have a ton of recipes in them are decent to borrow from the library to see what other people do, but it’s kind of like the making your own make-up books: there is so much “extra” that for people simply intending to live more simply (smile), it’s too much info. (unless, of course, it’s a favorite hobby, or business, or what have you).

    Thank you for reading, j

  • Jon November 25, 2014, 2:33 pm

    I am a clean freak but there is definitely a line. I hate the sanitizing wipes for grocery carts and all of the anti-bacterial soaps. When I was growing up I literally played on a pile of dirt with Matchbox cars, ran home and ate dinner with my hands without washing them. Yes, it is important to be clean, but nowadays we take it too far.

  • Dan Zehner March 26, 2015, 6:33 am

    I agree with almost all of your points in here! I think my wife and work associates might have something to say if I didn’t shower every day, since I’m a bit sweatier than a normal person… Other than that, spot on! I think even with keeping a daily habit of showering for the sake of a harmonious home, this will save us a pile of cash. Thanks once again for the kick in the butt over ridiculous things we do every day without realizing it.

  • Jane March 26, 2015, 6:42 pm

    You might be interested in this article below. It says that over-washing yourself in hot showers (daily) can cause ‘defatting’ of the skin.

    “Protective oil isn’t the only thing destroyed by our obsession with cleanliness. Research reveals that, like the gut, our skin is an ecosystem of billions of bacteria, viruses and fungi. These residents need to be in balance for our health.

    “If you over-shower you are altering the natural distribution of good bacteria on skin,” Shumack reveals. “This may predispose you to other bugs on the skin such as pityriasis, an overgrowth of yeast organism on skin, more common in those who shower a lot.”


    Since reading this I am trying to limit my showering. It has been hard to break the habit of just jumping in the shower first thing in the morning though. I have always done that and it doesn’t feel right to skip the shower. But I find so long as I wash my face and private bits and brush my teeth, I can usually feel just as refreshed without needing to waste the water in the shower and it’s quicker too. Still, some mornings I just go jump straight in the shower without thinking! Old habits are hard to break! Thanks for this post! You make many great points! And it’s backed by science.

  • Tree May 2, 2015, 11:48 am

    Thats an interesting reply at the bottom of your post there…

    Not washing your bedsheets is unsanitary? Shit, its been a few months since I’ve washed mine…. I don’t even think about it.

  • Joe W. July 3, 2015, 11:30 pm

    My great grandfather used to say that we sould only wash the parts that need cleaning. Broken down that is: pits, crotch, ass, feet, hair, and teeth. I dont soap everything and I don’t need lotion. Funny how that works.

    I asked a guy who always dressed nice how he kept his clothes looking so nice– he looked both ways to make sure no one was standing near and said “Avoid wasing them. The machine destroys your clothes. Be careful when you wear them to keep them clean, and you wont have to clean them as much. They will last longer and look new.”

    Our culture is convinced that you need to chemical blast everything. Hundreds of thousands of years without bleach and now you “need” it. Nope.

  • Rochelle August 10, 2015, 5:25 pm

    I just love this post MMM. You have said everything that I’ve been trying to say to my husband for so long, to no avail. Its all marketing, marketing, marketing, just to make us buy their cleaning products and in reality plain old vinegar and baking soda could do the job that is done by many of those new fangled ‘quantum’ cleaning products. I totally agree with your doctor friend and know from personal experience with my 5 year old and 4 year old, that germs are actually good and make them much healthier. My kids in comparison to many of our ‘germphobe’ friends’ kids are able to withstand common colds and coughs and even the flu much better.

  • Redsky September 2, 2015, 8:29 am

    DAMN!! you just took it to a new level.

    During my travels, I noticed something interesting while in china and traveling with a Chinese friend. He only brought 1 shirt and 1 pair of pants with him for the entire week long trip (not sure on underwear and sox, i didn’t ask). We visited, factories, beaches, tourist attractions (great wall and such) and he always wore the same thing… while I had 7 pairs of pants and 7 shirts (not to mention unholy amount of sox, yet just 7 underwear). After that trip, I started re-using all of my shirts and pants 4-5 times. Now since I have at least 10 pairs of each, I honestly don’t need to get those things laundered more than once a month (or longer). Unfortunately the wife was brought up by a mother who cleans 25 times a day. I mean the vacuum goes off last thing at night and first thing in the morning (in the mothers house), so i have to quickly re-hang my stuff before it gets caught and goes into the laundry machine.
    My body tends to sweat a lot, but I noticed that if you just hang up your clothes, they air our really well. So no need to wash each time you use…. less time spent, and your clothes enjoy a longer life cycle.

    PS: daily shower is a must! I don’t care if i lived in the forest or in a mansion, showering or cleaning yourself in a stream or river is IMPORTANT. At night your eyes get “crusties” and you drool, and god knows what else leaks out of your body. Jumping in the shower for 2-5 minutes is NOT A WASTE OF TIME.

  • CHRISTINE September 12, 2015, 9:46 am

    I once shared a tiny office at a hospital with a woman who was such a germ freak, she poured on the Purella (hand sanitizer) every 15 minutes, driving me out of the ‘room.’ She would just about shit her pants whenever I pointed out (which I did often for amusement) that my lunch had been sitting on my desk ALL MORNING and that I was going to eat it – anyway. She was at war with germs, and whenever I tried to warn her about using all that toxic shit (bleach, ammonia, windex…), her eyes would glaze over and I could tell she couldn’t even hear me. I began calling her ‘Purella DeVille.’

    Thank you for this article…and the insight about how to get people’s attention. Duh. I should have known myself that most people’s number One concern is Money.

  • Krys December 2, 2015, 1:35 am

    “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. ”

    Call me CHEAP then! Seriously, pajamas do not need to be washed after sleeping in them One single evening. Towels are supposedly just wiping relatively clean water off of your hopefully clean body from, ya know, washing effectively. Sheets do need washing, but like towels you will hopefully be crawling into them being relatively clean. Clothing does not need washing daily. If you sweat in it one day, and are working in the yard that next morning and know you’ll get whatever dirty, just use something semi-dirty. I have a ‘bin’ of liason clothing in my place.. stuff I wore, and don’t mind wearing again to do something more gritty. Amazing how the laundry slows down. I have a single load every week of my only bath towel, my sheets, and 7 washcloths. Ask any person in the military how many uniforms they are issued originally. Hint: It’s 4. 4 Uniforms to last a week. Why? Because underclothes catch most of the muck your body makes, and the uniforms will survive a couple days usually. If basic training soldiers can survive on 4 uniforms with a week’s worth of under garments, you’ll be fine wearing a pair of jeans 2 days in a row. (Hint: Almost everyone does. Don’t ever ask a woman if she changes out those expensive bras daily if you’re disgusted by the idea of using a towel twice in a row.)
    Be sanitary where it makes SENSE to be sanitary. Have two pairs of shoes and rotate them daily so that they can air out. Keep your feet dry and change your socks if you went playing in the rain, etc. Don’t just NOT shower if you’ve been sweating like crazy. But do you REALLY need a shower if you had a Netflix marathon on the couch? Probably not. You could probably get away with washing your face, hands, and brushing your teeth and no one will even know the wiser.

  • Kate January 2, 2016, 1:42 am

    I have to say (in response to your last paragraph) that I have always had a similar approach to ‘clean’ and I recently did give birth in my own ‘unsanitary’ dining room! On purpose, in fact!
    Babies are naturally designed to be colonised by their mother’s bacteria as they are born, to the point that some people who need c-sections are asking that this be done retrospectively, and as previously posted breastfeeding is their defence system for the first 6months or so.
    I grew up in a mud-pies household with no central heating system in a wet region of Northern England and have always had a hardierimmune system than most of my friends and acquaintances… Go figure…

  • Andrzej March 23, 2016, 1:01 pm

    Awesome article, it pretty much mirrors and validates how I’ve chosen to live my whole life… this excessive cleanliness with chemicals love affair that most people have is just plain weird.

    Here’s some of my personal favourites for their ease, simplicity, cost and most importantly EFFECTIVENESS:

    * Use the juice of lemon or lime as a deodorant. It’s so effective you don’t even need much juice, you can even dilute with water. Over time your dependence will be reduced and you’ll need less and less and perhaps none at all, especially if you go easy on the neurotic showering and chemical dousing (and eat cleanly). Trust me, use lemon juice just once and you’ll never go back to anything else, not even coconut oil or baking soda. It’s THAT effective. As with everything the key is only using it when you need it – that way your dependency gradually decreases.

    * Baking soda for cleaning teeth – You can also make a powerful cleaning and mineralizing powder by mixing a base of baking soda with smaller amounts of either himalayan pink salt (best) or sea salt, and very small amounts of clove and/or cinnamon powder, and some xylitol. Like the above it also has the effect of making your mouth cleaner over time.

    * Just don’t wash your hair – seriously, just don’t… I go MONTHS without washing my hair and it is the cleanest, healthiest hair you’ll ever see. It doesn’t look greasy or unkempt, and it no longer leaves strands all over the house, not even on the bed. It also took on the convenient quality of sticking with whatever shape it’s given. I don’t even own a brush or any sort of hair product. It just… isn’t necessary. If you really do have some dirt in your hair, just use plain water. Cold water is ideal. A tiny bit of soap for no more than a few seconds is OK too. This can sound extreme but once you stop washing your hair you’ll see just how badly it reacts to being washed excessively. Part of the reason I try not to wash it all is because it gets very dry for several days after – a clear indication that it’s fine as it is and doesn’t need a heavy wash to upset the delicate balance of normal health and cleanliness. The concept of shampoo and conditioner is a complete joke – one that is being played on you by marketing companies. I should note I have always been very sparse with washing from childhood, and my hair has always been admired for being thick and full. The rest of my family had “normal” high-maintenance hair.

    * If you must use soap at all, use African Black Soap. It’s cheap, organic (should be), and quite simply it gets the job done with little to no fuss (i.e. chemicals, smells, slime). If you just want to be as clean as possible then African Black Soap is all you need. But usually showering with just water is perfectly fine and clean, and most importantly weans you off the slimy, smelly chemical cocktails that your skin is used to being assaulted with.

    Bottom line: it is entirely possible and easy to cut back on weird chemicals and be clean to a higher standard than most people, whilst also expending far less effort and money. Your body’s natural state is one of cleanliness that reflects health – before marketing hijacked it.

  • NotMe April 12, 2016, 4:20 pm

    I stumbled across this article quite a while ago. It actually made me stop reading MMM, because I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Frugality is one thing, but being a pig is a different league entirely! Disgusting! I’m through with you, MMM!

    But then it happened.

    I actually moved out and had to start thinking about money. On top of that, I was often too tired to even think about showering in the evening, let alone while stumbling out of bed the next day. So, without even thinking about it, my shower schedule changed. I showered every two days, sometimes even three. And surprisingly enough, nothing changed. I’m not dirty, I don’t smell (they say everyone thinks they don’t smell, but I actually asked people, because I told them about my new showering habits), nothing. Granted, there are a few guidelines I follow, and some advantages I have:

    – I live in a big city, which means there is no mud, dirt, and other things you would seriously need to shower off.

    – I work in an office, my job is sedentary, so not much physical activity -> no dirt, no sweat.

    – I don’t have to walk all that much, since both my house and my work are at public transport stops, which means I pretty much get to work just as clean as I left home, and I get home just as clean as I left work.

    – I don’t sweat. I mean, I do sweat in extreme circumstances, but my whole life, people have been amazed at how I can wear thick cotton shirts in 30°C heat while not visibly sweating or having stains anywhere on the shirt. I don’t know, I guess I’m just lucky, but barring some intense physical activity, like a workout or going for a run, I won’t sweat no matter what. So I don’t have that traditional sweat smell.

    – Old Spice antiperspirants/deodorants are epic. Forget deosprays, buy those awesome stick ones with the blue, gel-like stick (not the classic dry white one). They actually do work for like 12-24 hours straight. And one should last you at least a month.

    – I do use perfume, you don’t have to put it all over, a little bit is enough.

    – I do wear fresh clothes every day. I’ve got two pairs of pants, which I change up every day or two to let the other pair hang and freshen up, and I wash them every 10-14 days. But shirts, socks, and underwear are 1-day use only.

    Compared to my previous habit of taking a bath twice a day (yeah, living on parents’ money doesn’t make you frugal), this is an amazing change. I can’t even imagine how much I’m saving on water. I’m essentially showering as if I was only here 2-3 days a week. Plus, my showers are: get in, 3-5 seconds of water, apply soap & shampoo, 3-5 seconds water, get out. This, twice or three times a week. It’s essentially nothing.

    Today, I read a new article about how doctors recommend showering less. Like, every other day, or every three days. That it’s healthier, better, whatever. So that’s how I remembered this MMM article. And I just wanted to say to the angry people in the comments that no, it doesn’t have to be disgusting, it doesn’t have to be full of germs, and it doesn’t have to be unhygienic to not shower every single day.

    • Mr. Money Mustache April 12, 2016, 5:48 pm

      Wow, I am glad to hear you experienced that change! It is completely true: there is nothing natural or healthy about ripping the oils and healthy bacteria off of your skin every day. Instead, just focus on washing off stuff you DON’T want.

      Your next assignment is to get more active. You should be walking or doing SOMETHING besides sitting for several hours a day. Either walk to work, or if it’s too far, walk the first couple of miles each way and take public transit from that point onwards. Once you’re comfortable with that, get some weight training going.

      It may increase your shower needs slightly, but it’s worth it to keep the body strong – nobody should be sedentary.

  • Scott June 29, 2016, 2:38 pm

    People are just more germaphobic, ocd, and conditioned more now to clean. I’m personally not a germaphobe, but I do keep my stuff decent. Folks at my work are totally OCD, and almost have heart failure when something’s out of place. What’s funny is that these same ocd types complain about and are constantly warning us non ocds, yet they are the ones who are always sick and missing work.


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