When it comes to getting dressed every day, underwear is just one part of that process. But it may be a more important part than you realize. As it turns out, not changing your underwear can have some less-than-ideal effects on your body.
Many people might not realize this, however. A 2019 survey conducted by underwear brand Tommy John found that nearly half of Americans (45 percent) admitted to having worn the same pair of underwear for two or more days in a row. And 13 percent admitted that on occasion, they’ve worn the same pair of underwear for a week or more.
While many experts will admit that occasionally wearing a dirty pair of underwear won’t cause serious harm, this unhygienic habit could produce some unhealthy results if it’s picked up more regularly.
“Wearing dirty underwear quite simply traps sweat, dirt, and bacteria, holding them close to your skin in a particularly sensitive area,” says Giuseppe Aragona, MD, a general practitioner for Prescription Doctor. “You may be thinking that you can get away with wearing it for an extra day—like you might a T-shirt if didn’t smell—but underwear is used to protect particularly dark, moist, and sweaty areas which can far more quickly be affected by the sealing of sweat, dirt, and bacteria.”
And it doesn’t matter how hygienic you pride yourself on being. Kim Langdon, MD, a board-certified gynecologist who works as a medial advisor for Medzino, says that even the most cautious people develop bacteria, dead cells, urine, and mucus on their underwear, as it occurs even if you use “hygienic wipes after bowel movements or urination.” She says at most you could go two days wearing the same pair of underwear, but ideally, you want to put on a new pair every day.
For all the ways your body could be affected by not changing your underwear, read on. And for a hygiene habit to avoid, discover Which Body Part You Should Never Clean, According to Doctors.
A 2019 study published in the Applied and Environmental Microbiology journal found that some bacteria can stay on your underwear even after an entire laundry cycle—so there’s no telling what could be lingering on a pair that hasn’t been cleaned. If that bacteria enters the urinary tract, it can multiply in the bladder and cause a urinary tract infection (UTI). And for more ways you may be hurting your health without realizing it, this is The No. 1 Sign You’re Not As Healthy As You Think You Are, Studies Show.
Yeast thrives in moist surroundings. Langdon says that when you’re not changing your underwear, especially after rigorous activities, moisture can build up down there and it can give you a yeast infection. And it’s not just women. According to WebMD, men can get yeast infections, too.
As Aragona explains, wearing dirty underwear traps sweat close to your skin. And in this “particularly sensitive area,” sweat sitting against the skin for too long clogs your pores which can lead to rashes and breakouts. One of the most common rashes you can get as a result of this is a heat rash, which could last up to two weeks. And for more hygiene help, This Is How Often You Should Really Be Showering, Doctors Say.
Discharge is a natural body secretion, but when you’re wearing underwear, it stays there. Michael Reitano, MD, a physician in residence at Roman, a men’s healthcare app, told Bustle that when discharge stays on underwear and you’re rewearing that underwear, it can linger on your body and get moistened, which leads to some strange smells that will linger. And if you’re not particularly sensitive to funky aromas, find out about the Rare Gene Mutation That Makes You Immune to Certain Odors.
A 2015 study published in Current Allergy found that the buildup of discharge and fluids in fabric can lead to a lot of itching in the area where the fabric touches. This produces a condition called “contact dermatitis,” which worsens when fluids and friction occur against the skin. And for more useful content delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.