Social Justice

'I feel judged for being smelly': Millions can't afford to wash their clothes as hygiene poverty soars

Almost a third of people facing hygiene poverty have avoided leaving the house in the last month, affecting their mental and physical health

hygiene poverty/ laundrette

People are finding themselves increasingly unable to afford hygiene products like laundry detergent. Image: Unsplash

Around 2.6 million Brits have struggled to afford to wash their clothes as the grip of hygiene poverty tightens, according to new research.

Almost a third of people facing hygiene poverty have avoided leaving their homes in the past month due to feeling self-conscious about a lack of clean clothes, the study from charity The Hygiene Bank and cleaning-product company smol found.

The Big Issue has previously reported on how hygiene poverty can lead to feelings of shame and isolation.

Tryphine, a 26-year-old who could not afford hygiene products, said: “There was no way I could just keep it to myself and let it grow into something else. I hate letting things fester. I started seeing myself unravelling and isolating myself.”

One in seven people experiencing hygiene poverty have been judged in public for not having clean clothes.

This has an impact on people’s mental and physical health. Just over half (51%) of those in hygiene poverty say that a lack of clean clothes has impacted their mental wellbeing, while just under half (49%) say it has impacted their physical health because they are less likely to go out to keep fit.

“I feel I have been judged at the gym for being smelly,” one person said, while another added: “The smell pushes people away.”

Hygiene poverty is also leading to a loss of relationships, with over one in five (22%) saying they had lost confidence which had made it harder to maintain friendships. This rose to just over a third (34%) in 16- to 24-year-olds, more than any other age group.

Around 93% of people facing hygiene poverty in this age category have struggled to wash their clothes.



Lizzy Hall, founder of The Hygiene Bank, said: “We’ve seen that laundry detergent has become one of the most in-demand hygiene products at our hygiene banks, as people are often having to prioritise the fundamentals to keep them fed and warm.

“But [this] research shows the significant impact that access to clean clothes – something we often take for granted – has on our health and our livelihood, and the detrimental impact on those who struggle to afford it.”

Over the next year, smol is setting out to donate 250,000 laundry capsules to The Hygiene Bank so that those struggling will have the means to wash their clothes. People can support the Clean Clothes Can campaign in various ways, such as through getting a free trial through which one wash will be donated, or giving cash to its JustGiving page.

Hall added: “Everyone deserves to feel clean, but with the amount of people in the UK experiencing hygiene poverty continuing to rise, campaigns like Clean Clothes Can are needed more than ever. We’re asking the public to help us meet our target of raising a quarter of a million washes to help ensure that access to clean clothes isn’t a luxury, but a right.”

If you are experiencing hygiene poverty, you can find out where to get help, such as free toiletries, here.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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