A friend of mine (who shall remain anonymous) recently informed me that he no longer washes his jeans – instead, he sticks them in the freezer overnight. If your face is currently contorting into some incredulous, squinty-eyed configuration, don’t panic! It’s not permanent. Mine did that too.
The general idea (or so he told me) is that freezing will kill any bacteria that accumulate in your pants, thus refreshing them and making them ready to wear (after warming up of course). Please note that said friend did say the jeans get to go in the washer if stuff actually gets spilled on the denim (or if they just look too dirty for decency’s sake). Being the sceptical non-trusting person that I am, this seemed to warrant an actual experiment.
But first – Background! (hey, we ARE scientists here, sort of).
In a New York Times article from Nov. 1st of this year, Levi Strauss & Co. were quoted that a typical pair of jeans will “consume” about 723 litres (919 gallons) of water throughout their life time. In a short paragraph following this, they (Levi) suggest that in an effort to conserve more water, you (the jean wearer) can skip regular washing of your jeans and simply place them in the freezer instead. Not washing will also keep the colour from fading and protect the fabric, making your jeans last longer. While I couldn’t actually find any information related to this on Levi’s website (like scientific theory) I did stumble across many living examples of people who don’t wash their jeans on a regular basis. On purpose. Apparently this is not a new trend.
There are even blogs dedicated to the exploits of not washing one’s pants for months. You can also find handy instructional videos! You know, in case finding room between the frozen veggies and ice cream becomes too much of a cerebral strain. While not everyone in the non-washing marathon ends up freezing their jeans, many do, again making reference to the idea that the low temperatures are enough to kill bacteria. No, it doesn’t get rid of dirt and old skin cells, but if the microbes are dead is dirt really an issue?
Personally, yes. Yes it is still an issue. Now I will accept the functional difference between living and unliving dirt – I’d pick up a dust covered book without thinking but would probably leave one covered in rotten tripe alone. I would also leave the room. I mean, tripe? Take better care of your things! Regardless, I would still clean off the dusty book if I had to carry it around for a day – I don’t think preferring clean, not just sterile, clothes is much of a stretch.
Even still, are the microbes really dead? Really, really dead? Like that obnoxious computer programmer at the end of Goldeneye dead?
According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, a typical household freezer should be kept at a temperature setting of around or below -18°C/0°F. Sounds cold right? However, I’d like to draw your attention to the following warning (which comes straight from their website):
Ok, so a typical household freezer won’t kill dangerous food bacteria. But what about the bacteria that typically live on your skin (and also hang out in your pants)?
The human skin suit, having an area of about 2m2, plays host to an estimated 1012 bacteria (around 20x more than you’ll find in a yogurt cup). Most of the time, these stay on the surface and unbroken skin is an excellent physical barrier against microorganisms. In addition, the majority of the skin’s surface is not a favourable environment for microbial colonization. Skin tends to be dry, and bacteria like moist surroundings, which is why you’ll find a higher concentration living in areas like your armpits, palms, and private bits. Skin is also slightly acidic, with a pH of 5-6, and sweat contains high concentrations of sodium chloride and lysozyme, both of which stress many bacteria, inhibiting growth.
Some of the most prevalent skin bacteria include Staphylococcus epidermis and members of the genus Propionibacterium. Growth and colonization from microorganisms like these actually inhibits other, more harmful bacteria from moving in. For example, your oil glands secrete lipids that are partially broken down by propionibacteria into unsaturated fatty acids that have a strong antimicrobial activity against gram-negative bacteria (often pathogenic) and some fungi. These fatty acids are also responsible for producing strong body odor.
Most bacteria (and almost all human pathogens) are mesophiles, meaning they have an optimum growth range of 20 to 45°C (60-113°F).
High heat kills bacteria by denaturing enzymes, transport carriers, and other proteins. Heat can also destroy cell membranes. So both cell function and structure are affected. Cells die, growth stops.
In contrast, at lower temperature (-20°C or lower) membranes can solidify and cellular activity doesn’t work as rapidly. Cell function, but not structure, is affected. Low temperatures, therefore, simply act to inhibit microbial growth and reproduction. In fact, freezing is a common method of storing microbial samples for later use. Conventional freezer temperatures won’t actually act to kill most bacteria, and once warmed up, growth may continue. In theory anyways.
Get on with it already? OK! The experiment begins NOW!
Will the bacteria survive their exile to the freezerburned fields of forgotten fishsticks? Does the accumulation of matted Matt matter matter? Was Genevieve wearing pants before the experiment began?
Check back here in a couple of days (more likely a week) for the answers to these questions and more in our CHILLING conclusion!!!