“One of the worst things that you can do to a garment, in terms of its durability, is wash it.” So says Mark Sumner, a lecturer in sustainable fashion at the University of Leeds. During a wash, he says, garments can tear, shrink and lose colour. With his colleague Mark Taylor, Sumner studies how microfibres from household laundry end up in marine animals. But while he says reducing the frequency of our clothes washing is the right choice for the environment, he doesn’t advocate a complete washing machine moratorium.

“We don’t want people to think that they can’t wash stuff because… they’re destroying the planet,” Sumner tells BBC Culture. “It’s about trying to get the balance right.” Washing clothes is important for medical and hygiene reasons, he says, for example for people suffering from eczema who are trying to avoid irritation caused when our natural skin bacteria multiply inside our clothing. It’s also important for people’s self-esteem “to not feel embarrassed about their clothes because they’re dirty or smelly” […]

The best approach, it seems, is to be flexible. “If your clothes don’t smell, then don’t bother [washing them],” advises Sumner. “And when you’re going to wash them, be clear about what to do to get the garment clean, but in the most effective way.” Wash things on lower temperatures, he suggests, or do a really short refresh cycle without any washing powder at all.