Life hack: a freezing failure in laundry

October 20, 2016 — by Austin Wang

Junior Austin Wang attempts to clean his clothes by freezing them overnight.

“Austin! Why is the freezer filled with laundry?”

Naturally, my mother was slightly confused when she reached into the freezer to defrost some chicken and instead grabbed a pair of my old jeans.

I, too, always thought freezing and defrosting were for food, not pants, but on the morning before my Calculus BC test, I found myself hurriedly stuffing frozen denim into a microwave.

I was testing a simple theory: Instead of washing my clothes, I would just freeze them to kill the bacteria. If it works for raw fish, why wouldn’t it work for blue jeans?

Additionally, the freezing plan could save me hours each week if I simply routinely froze and defrosted my clothes.

A quick Google search solidified my plan — I would place a pair of worn jeans in a Ziploc bag and freeze them overnight. I chose a pair without stains as I imagine any stain on my pants would freeze to the fabric.

The next day, the jeans did feel somewhat cleaner when I tried them on, although that may have just been because they were still cold after 15 seconds in the microwave on defrost. However, since my jeans weren’t exactly bacteria-soaked and smelly before freezing them, it wasn’t possible to tell how clean they actually were.

To further the experiment, I threw two unwashed jackets into the freezer, one with an aromatic dryer sheet and one without. After 12 hours in the freezer, I took the jackets out and set them on a particularly sunny spot on my couch to defrost.

Initially, both jackets didn’t smell like anything, although the cold may have just been numbing my nose. However, after an hour of defrosting, it was clear that the freezing process did little to clean the jackets.

There was no difference in smell for the jacket without the dryer sheet and the jacket with the dryer sheet ended up feeling moist and smelling like mildew.

The mildew smell likely resulted from the existing moisture in the jacket. Freezing left the stained or damp jacket even dirtier than before, as the jacket would simply be marinating in its own frozen moisture for several hours.

When I did further research, I found that from a scientific perspective, freezing clothes actually has no merit. Bernhard Redl, an associate professor of microbiology at the University of Innsbruck, found that the freezing process does not even kill most of the bacteria found on clothes.

With this life hack disproven, all that’s left to do now is wash all my frozen clothes and hope the freezing process didn’t do any lasting damage.

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