How To Wash Less and Not Be Gross

Update: I earnestly promised an Uber-Frugal January before realizing several things: (1) I had no time to prepare, (2) Big Brother’s birthday is this month, and (3) the results would be tainted by my annual Target gift card shopping extravaganza. So the challenge has been postponed until February.

Wash less? I can hear you going ewww. But the fact is, excessive washing is unfrugal in more than one way. Obviously, it wastes water, energy to heat the water, and soap, plus it slowly destroys the very thing being washed by drying your skin, turning your hair to straw, and wearing out your clothes. Also, it’s time consuming, and I don’t know about you, but I have better things to do than fold laundry. (Actually, with a glass of wine and something on TV, it can be very relaxing, but I digress.)

Fortunately, you can get away with a bit less soaping and scrubbing with no one suspecting that you are deviating from Standard American Washing Behavior.

Shower cap, wash cloth, baby powder: Three things that can save lots of water. Bonus: baby powder is also good for de-sticking sticky skin.

Shower cap, washcloth, baby powder: Three things that can save lots of water. Bonus: baby powder is also good for de-sticking sticky skin.


Not every part of your body exudes odor. You know which ones do, right? Try sometimes taking a soapy washcloth to just those parts instead of showering. Not only will you save on water, energy, and soap, you’ll also need less moisturizer. Here in arid Colorado, I have to slather my limbs with generic Aquafor every time I step under the shower head.

If you just can’t or won’t give up your daily shower, you can also try using soap on only the pertinent areas. My boys both have eczema, and the pediatrician advised that I use soap only on their “skin folds” (the parts that would smell if they were grown ups). Water is enough for the rest, she says. Try that if you simply must get under the water.

Cream cardigan sweater over mesh patio chair.

I use my patio chairs as clothes-airing racks. For very delicate items, I cover them with a towel.


First of all, if possible, stop using antiperspirant. I used to get “sweat stains” on my clothes. Guess what? Sweat doesn’t stain, and neither does natural deodorant. What stains is antiperspirant. If you can get rid of it, your clothes will thank you.

You probably already know that you don’t have to wash your clothes every day. If it doesn’t look or smell dirty, it’s clean (with, of course, narrow exceptions for hygiene).

Even if an item DID pick up a bit of an odor, though, you might not have to wash right away. Put it outside in the sun (if it’s something sturdy) or even just outdoors in the shade (for delicates) and let the fresh air do its disinfecting work. If the item smells fresh after a few hours, back in the drawer it goes. I try this trick particularly often for hand wash items or delicates.


First, try switching to a baking soda and vinegar wash method. My hair stays cleaner longer since I gave up shampoo, probably in part because my shampoo and conditioner were leaving nasty buildup in my hair. (Natural brands seem especially prone to this.) You can also experiment with replacing just your conditioner with a vinegar rinse, but I never tried this.

Once you’ve got that worked out, you can push the envelope by using cornstarch baby powder.* Apply it to your brush, not your head unless you want to look like you’re wearing a powdered wig. It will soak up grease and make your hair look cleaner and feel smoother, and it’s an especially useful trick if you are one of those people who “fix” their hair in the morning. (I usually remember to brush mine.)

What do you think, readers? Am I frugal or just gross? What are your tips for frugal cleanliness?

*Don’t use talc baby powder. Sure, it’ll work, but it’s chemically related to asbestos and probably causes cancer, besides being very bad for the lungs of its intended audience (actual babies). Really–I looked it up.


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About frugalparagon

I'm a part-time librarian and mom to two small boys. I blog about striving for the long-term goal of financial independence while running a tight ship at home.

8 responses to “How To Wash Less and Not Be Gross”

  1. Mrs PoP says :

    I wish I could wash a bit less, but with my exercise routines it’s a definite necessity. Not to mention Mr PoP has a super sensitive nose and isn’t afraid to tell me sarcastically that I smell like roses if I don’t wash soon after a run. But I can get away with just using baby wipes on my “sweaty bits” after biking to work, which is nice. But riding home in the heat generally necessitates a shower with soap.

    One thing I have been doing lately, though, is to stop using traditional face wash. I’ve been doing the honey challenge and it’s definitely having a positive effect on my skin! I started about a month ago and want to see what giving it 3 months or so does to my acne problem since so far I see an improvement but I hope it’s not just temporary.

    • frugalparagon says :

      Well, Florida can be a bit on the moist side! A bike ride in the Colorado winter does not necessitate a shower–Mr. FP is also extremely sensitive of noise and I’m sure he would tell me if my cleaning routine was inadequate :-).

      I’ve heard that honey is antibacterial, which would seem like it would help acne. I used Noxema for many years, but it turns out I’m lucky enough to get by with regular bar soap at night and a wet washcloth in the morning, so I haven’t tried the honey.

  2. Cee says :

    I try to always wear my shirts at least twice before laundering unless I spill something on them. I turn them inside out on the hanger so that I know that I’ve worn them once already and that they need to be cleaned after the next wearing. Jeans, shorts and skirts I wear several times unless they are obviously dirty/smell. My running clothes are washed after every run and undergarment after each wearing.

    I shower every day and wash my hair after every run. I just use shampoo on the roots and conditioner on the bottom 3/4ths. I tried the no-poo method but it left my ends really dry (my hair is tailbone length). I started washing my face only once a day in the shower and my skin is so much softer. I believe the soap was drying it out too much.

    For deodorant, I use a coconut oil/baking soda blend and it works great when I remember to use it, which is only about half the time.

  3. David says :

    Deodorant is something I’ve been meaning to DIY this year in my quest to reduce non recyclable waste. Any particularly good recipes?

    Someone I know swears by something called a deodorant stone.

  4. Tarynkay says :

    My husband and I both used the coconut oil/baking soda DIY deodorant for years. We had tried the hippie Thai Crystal thing and the completely pointless Toms of Maine, so we were excited to find something so cheap that actually worked. It worked well for a long time, but then he started to rash up from it. I kept using it for another year or so, then I started to rash up from it as well. I guess we both developed a sensitivity to it over time. I’ve talked to other people who have had the same problem. Also, in my experience, it does stain. I had to get rid of a lot of dress shirts because of that. I haven’t had any staining issues with antiperspirant, but then, I don’t wear it when I exercise.

  5. Rachel B says :

    I used to use baking soda to wash my hair and loved the way it worked in the beginning, but just a warning – it’s actually quite harsh after prolonged use. After a year and a half or so, my hair started breaking down (thinning out, easily stretching and breaking). I’ve noticed that many of the bloggers who originally turned me on to washing my hair with baking soda have had similar results after long-term use and have quit, as well.

    I have oily hair and wash mine every other day (that didn’t change even with the baking soda) so it ends up being 3x one week and 4x the next week. So lately, I have just been really lazy and only washing it 3x each week. That extra day, I just don’t go out, hahaha.

    I’ve read something before about using natural beeswax as a deodorant, but I don’t remember any of the specifics. You could google it. 🙂

    • frugalparagon says :

      Hmmm, I’ll be on the lookout for straw hair! I have actually cut down recently from washing every third day to every fourth (baby powder FTW), so maybe I can get away with it :-). You were doing the vinegar rinse, right? Some people have tried to get by without it, and it’s a no-go.

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