9 Things You Don't Need to Clean


The Internet is full of lists of things you are supposed to clean but probably don't, from the inside of your dishwasher to your purse to your phone receivers. I hate those lists, don't you? I already have a longer cleaning list than I could finish in my lifetime — why pile on? (See also: How to Shower Less (and Still Feel Clean))

So today instead of laying on the guilt, let's look at nine cleaning chores you can usually skip without major repercussions — and some that you are not supposed to do at all.

1. Ears

In this article on Real Clear Science, Dr. Rob Hicks assures us that the insides of our ears are self-cleaning — any excess wax usually falls out while we're eating. And if you do get excessive build-up, it's a job for the doctor, not a QTip, he advises. In fact, says otologist Dr. Jennifer Smullen, earwax has several important jobs so you don't want to lose too much of it anyway.

2. Cats

Some owners bathe their cats, but according to the California Veterinary Medical Association, the tongue-baths cats usually give themselves are sufficient. Unless one of my cats gets skunked or otherwise disgustingly messy, a doctor's excuse is good enough for me.

3. Toothbrushes

There are plenty of toothbrush sanitizing products, from the $20 SteriPod to the $49.95 Vio100 countertop UV sanitizer. But Delta Dental gives you permission to skip them all. The rinse you probably already give your toothbrush after use is enough — with one caveat. You're supposed to let your toothbrush fully dry before using it again, which means you may need a second brush at the ready for your bedtime brushing in case the one you used in the morning isn't dry yet. I never would have thought of that in a million years.

4. This Wool Shirt

OK, you may not be able to wear the Better Button-Down forever, but developer Wool & Prince claims it can be worn for up to 100 days without needing dry cleaning and without starting to stink. Best of all, the shirt does not need ironing.

So where can you buy the Better Button-Down? Alas, all existing wonder shirts were sold through the company's Kickstarter campaign (at $98 each), and we're still waiting for more.

5. Raw Poultry and Meat

Many recipes start by advising the cook to rinse and pat dry a raw chicken or other piece of meat, but federal food safety authorities now warn that you should skip the pre-cooking shower. The rinse does not cut down on food-borne illness, but it does potentially spread salmonella and other bacteria all over your sink.

Another food washing chore you can skip: Using soap or vegetable wash on fresh produce. Studies have found a tap water rinse just as effective for getting off pesticides. However, if you are concerned about e-coli, a vinegar solution can sanitize the fruit or vegetables.

But what about mushrooms? I have read in equal measure warnings that you should never wash mushrooms and that you really should wash them after all. A chef and mycologist quoted by The Straight Dope lean toward no. But the New York Times lists the mushroom wash contraindication as a kitchen myth and advises a light shower to remove dirt.

6. Clay Teapots

Yixing teapots in particular should never be washed with soap or detergent, according to experts. The clay absorbs the flavor of your tea, a desirable quality with which washing would interfere. Simply dumping out used tea leaves and a quick hot water rinse is sufficient.

Another kitchen utensil that most people avoid washing with detergent is a cast iron pan — but of course you can't just leave your old food sitting in it. Since you still have to wipe, scrape or scrub out cast iron pans, I don't think we can get away with saying they don't need washing.

7. The Oven

Chef's Planet promises that if you use its nonstick oven liner, you'll never have to clean messes off the oven bottom again. I've never tried one, but I'm intrigued. Then there are other things that will need little to no cleaning if you use liners — crock pots, for instance.

8. Bedskirts, Books, and Hubcaps

When I polled friends about what they get away with not washing, these items came up. Sure, lots of people send their bedskirts to the cleaners, lovingly dust or wipe down books, and scrub and polish hubcaps to glossy perfection. The point is, many perfectly respectable people don't clean these things, and yet haven't been condemned by the health department.

9. Your Privates

Did you just hear the sound of a needle scratching right off a record? Did I just say, "You don't have to wash your privates"?

Actually, when it comes to the most intimate parts of your body, soap is actually harmful. Some parts are too sensitive for its drying action, and they don't need it anyway. Sure, you can soap up the adjacent areas, but mucous membranes should not be soaped, says Dr. Ben Kim. And women certainly don't need to douche — the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists recommends against it.

Some people take this even farther and eschew soap and shampoo for their whole bodies and heads — and say they have never felt or smelled better.

What are you not cleaning regularly?

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Guest's picture

I have two cats and if I attempt to bathe either one of them for any reason, they fight for the next 2-3 days, as I think they see the other as smelling different and use their nose over their eyes when it comes to recognition.

I don't use crock pot liners because it seems to me that warming up a piece of plastic into your food for a few hours might not be the best idea?

I learned the thing about the privates as well. Without going into too many details, I was washing a g/f and was told 'Umm..no soap.'

Guest's picture
Reza Alborz

Uh, is it just me or does this list not say 10 things you don't need to clean? Yet, their are only 9 listed. What am I missing?

Meg Favreau's picture

That was our error, Reza -- thanks for the catch!

Guest's picture

Interesting piece. Can't say I've heard #9 before. I've also heard its not healthy to wash your hair everyday but rather ever couple days instead. Meg, have you heard this as well? How often does everyone else wash their hair?

Guest's picture

I wash my hair maybe once a week. I'm lucky because they are dry and not oily so i can go a while without washing them. They look better since i started doing that !!!

Guest's picture

I only wash my hair maybe twice a week, and it's never been healthier! It's also a LOT less frizzy than it was when I was washing it more often.

Guest's picture

"Did you just hear the sound of a needle scratching right off a record?"

Great line! Good article too.

Guest's picture

Cleaning cats? I've always operated under the assumption cats are like self-cleaning ovens and have only bathed my cats when I took in ferral newborns that had fleas. I would have never second guessed my choice in not bathing them, but I am glad that I am right. Poor kitties that get regular baths. I can't even imagines.

Guest's picture

I've only washed my cats when I've had flea infestations in the summer and needed to sanitize or when my older cat stopped grooming himself. I don't think it's necessary nor particularly kind to bathe cats without a good reason.

Guest's picture

I would add dogs to the list. I've fed my dogs a raw food diet all their lives, and they smell wonderful--as my sister said, "like a clean sweater." The only time they need a bath is if they chase a skunk or roll in a old deer carcass (both have happened). If they get muddy, I just rub them down with a wet towel.

I also generally wash my clothes about 1/3 less often as most people. I wear tops at least twice, pants several times, and sweaters many times, before washing. Obviously if things smell, they get washed, but if you have normal good hygiene, many clothes can go through multiple wearings. It makes your clothes last longer too, and that's economical.

And I would second the issue of hair-- my hair is much healthier if I only wash it every couple of days. I used to wash it daily. But it actually styles better with what my hair stylist refers to as 'a little weight from your scalp oils' on it.

Guest's picture

I also wear my clothing several times before washing. Not undergarments, but definitely pants, tshirts, tops, etc. Unless I've been seriously sweating, I don't see the point!

Guest's picture

Your comment about not cleaning your ears, made me laugh out loud. Very funny, but also very true. I think you can cause more damage cleaning them than leaving them to their own devices!

Guest's picture

I wish this list would have included all of the dishes. That would have made my day.

Guest's picture

I always heard about not washing meat but it seemed to always cause an argument from some who thinks you need to clean with lime or lemon. The ovens nowadays are self cleaning so I don't mind. Im with MoneyBeagle on the private parts. I learned almost the exact same way.

Guest's picture
Liz Ocavello

I don't clean my contact lenses.

I wear the extra breathable kind and I just leave them in for 2-3 months. I started doing this after reading that however clean your fingers are, you always add some grease and muck to your lenses when cleaning them. The advise was to touch them as little as possible. I decided to not touch them AT ALL, and never looked back.

The upsides are obvious: 1) I can always see ( despite having -6 and -7) 2) no expensive cleaning fluids 3) less to pack when travelling. Downsides... not really. Sometimes when I wake up they are a little dry for a minute. I close my eyes and massage the eyelids and all is fine.

Details: I have been wearing contacts since I was 16 ( now 44). I have been doing this for 3 years now, with soft extra breathable contact lenses, that I buy online. Not sure if it will work for every one, maybe my eyes are just very forgiving or maybe they are *really* used to lenses after 30 years. I never take them out, not for sleeping, swimming , or anything. When I take them out after 2-3 months I throw them out and replace with a fresh one.

Guest's picture

You are definitely an anomaly. I have contacts that are monthly disposables that I can't tolerate unless I take them out at nights. My eyes get easily infected or ulcerated if I overwear them. Lucky you!