Which Is Better: Showering and Dirty Clothes, or No Shower and Clean Clothes?

A low-stakes debate.

A laundry basket with dirty clothes and a stack of clean, folded clothes.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

When you’ve voted, donated, volunteered, and screamed into the void, what’s left? Leading up to Election Day, Slate is offering a series of Low-Stakes Debates as brief respites for your all-consuming anxiety. Herein: Is it better to shower and put on dirty clothes, or not shower and put on clean clothes?

Bryan Lowder: Hi, friends! Now, I think we can all agree that the ideal state of human existence is to be freshly showered and wearing clean clothes at all times. But, as 2020 has made all too clear, we do not live in any such state. We live in a fallen world in which awful choices must be made, such as the one proposed by this debate: Is it better to put on dirty clothes after showering OR to put on clean clothes while dirty? I believe the answer is blindingly clear! But I’m willing to entertain your opinions first. What say you?


Julia Craven: Can we define dirty?

Rebecca Onion: Yeah, I hate to split hairs right off the bat but I think a lot depends on what kind of dirt. If we are talking about, like, the normal kind of funk of wearing clothes for a day while sitting at a desk, I vote for putting on the dirty clothes after a shower. If there is poop on the clothes, the opposite. Poop, motor oil, garden dirt …

Lowder: Yes, defining dirty does seem key.

Ben Mathis-Lilley: Oh, hey, look, it’s a bunch of cowards who won’t give the right answer, without caveats, which is: It’s better to put on dirty clothes after a shower.

Craven: Ben, that’s also my answer, I’m just asking!


Christina Cauterucci: I strongly prefer clean clothes on a dirty body to dirty clothes on a clean body. There’s a kind of softness and stale stench (to say nothing of actual body-odor stench) to dirty clothes that gives me the heebie-jeebies. I hate the smell and feel of dirty clothes way more than I hate the smell and feel of a dirty body. And putting clean clothes on automatically makes you feel fresher.


Onion: I like the way this question puts me in the Worst Timeline, where I’m hiding from MAGA militias in an empty warehouse and only have enough water to either wash clothes or body. Thank you, “fun” question.

Mathis-Lilley: Rebecca.

Craven: I really hate this, but I always defer to washing one’s ass.


Cauterucci: And then putting on dirty underwear?

Mathis-Lilley: Let’s interrogate that.

Craven: I don’t like either option, but I think at bare minimum you should bathe. However, as a germaphobe, I want to be clear that my preference is clean ass and clean drawers.

Cauterucci: Clean underwear is always the priority. Full stop.

Onion: I think if I were in this situation, I would wash my body, ass included. Then I would NOT wear the dirty underwear, go commando. Put the rest of the clothes on, and hope for the best in the upcoming 10 hours of life.

Cauterucci: That’s not an option in the warehouse, Rebecca.

Onion: Dammit.

Cauterucci: I think my preference stems from the feeling that putting dirty clothes on a clean body makes your body worse. Putting clean clothes on a dirty body makes your body better. If you start at a point of grossness, then improve, it’s better than starting at a point of cleanliness and then being made to be grosser.


Craven: The thought of dirty underwear on a clean ass makes me gag. But I’d much, much rather someone shower, because I refuse to consider how dirty the underwear could be and prefer to just say they have a lil’ smell to them as opposed to having shit stains—something you shouldn’t have anyway because I hope you’re at least wiping properly. TL;DR—I hate it here.

Cauterucci: Ben is curiously silent.

Mathis-Lilley: I’m just marveling at how quickly we got to this “space.”

Onion: It’s the crux of the matter, though!!! Poop, that is.

Lowder: Doesn’t some of this have to do with what you are doing/where you’re going? I have managed to shower every day during quarantine, but I have def worn the same outfit (very generous use of the term!) for like three days in a row. But if I were going … anywhere … I might feel like clean clothes were more important than shower, assuming my “dirtiness” is of the non–motor oil sort?


Craven: That’s why I think we should define dirty. Because are we re-wearing a pair of jeans or a pair of pants our lil’ cousin threw up on?


Onion: Bryan’s point brings up a good question: Are we talking about how it FEELS after you’re done, or how it LOOKS? Comfort or propriety?

Cauterucci: Think about how good a crisp clean outfit feels!

Onion: See, I think my “shower is first” perspective is very influenced by the fact that I used to be a Phish Show Teenager and wear the same jeans for, like, weeks. So I have lived that life. My sister and I used to believe that jeans that hadn’t been washed for a long time were “getting good.”


Cauterucci: I’m nauseous just thinking about soft, smelly, slightly browned jeans.

Lowder: I think there is definitely a “feeling”/metaphysics thing to this. If I don’t shower every day, I get a grimy feeling pretty quickly that I hate. It takes jeans or whatever like a week to get there.

Craven: As Rebecca said, I’d def go commando or just lay on the floor or SOMETHING before I put the dirty underwear back on.

Onion: Is there a blanket in this warehouse? I can take a shower and then wrap up in it until I find more water to wash my clothes?


Craven: I want to die. I hate this.

Mathis-Lilley: I do have the opposite belief from Christina here, though. My philosophy, which is definitely informed by having once been a twentysomething living alone in a building that didn’t have laundry machines, is that the laundry-industrial complex makes too big a deal out of washing clothes as soon as you wear them once. I mean, what are most of us doing, most of the time? Sitting around, or maybe walking somewhere. This isn’t a coal miners’ Slack. The grease, the oil, the psychological feeling of not having refreshed yourself in the nude—it’s all about the skin. Clean the skin, clean the mind, put on the shirt and jeans that you only used to sit at a desk and walk to Chipotle.


Cauterucci: But I wouldn’t call those “dirty” clothes. We’re talking about “dirty” clothes, at least a little smelly. I see your point, though. Bodies get gross before clothes do.

Onion: Way before, I feel like. But it also depends on the clothes … denim can go a while. A T-shirt’s pits get gross.

Cauterucci: What about this, though: Clean clothes will absorb some of the grime on your body. Like a mini-shower!


Lowder: Do we all agree that shirts/tops get dirtier faster than pants?

Onion: Especially if you are my husband and it’s July.

Mathis-Lilley: I guess I have a middle position on that. I think the no-deodorant movement is insane. I don’t like dealing with anyone’s MUSK. But a little sweat—that’s what people smell like. Let’s not get too worked up about it.


Craven: To be fair, all clothes are dirty if they’ve been on your body. But I would like to know the degree of filth we’re considering. Skin cells from throughout-the-day friction? Or post-workout?

Cauterucci: OMG Julia, you had to bring skin-cell-shedding into this.

Lowder: I feel like armpits are the source of most “dirt.”

Cauterucci: Uh, no, Bryan.

Mathis-Lilley: What is Christina doing to her pants?

Cauterucci: Like, Julia, I’m most concerned about the butt region/general undercarriage. My pits are fine.

Lowder: Fascinating.

Cauterucci: Also, I sit on buses, the metro, movie theaters, waiting rooms. Wipe my hands on my pants. I’d wear a T-shirt that I’d been wearing all day into bed before I’d wear pants I’d been wearing all day into bed.


Onion: Are there maybe any baby wipes in this warehouse? Can we wash the clothes with the water and use the wipes on our undercarriages? Honestly that would be my solution: Use most of the water for the clothes and then SOME for a quick pits/undercarriage wipe.

Mathis-Lilley: I am getting convinced of the necessity of at least some Butt Region Sponging.

Craven: You have to wash your ass. It’s the bare minimum! You be peeing all day. You do a poo. And then you just put on clean clothes? Nah. That’s not the way it was intended.

Lowder: I think perhaps the place to wrap up this important debate is with a general agreement that BRS, above all else, is essential.

Onion: I think we can agree!

Cauterucci: That’s the MAGA militia warehouse plan!


Cauterucci: Julia, go take a nice long bath.

Onion: Yep, enjoy it—suds on up!