There May Soon Be Less Soiled Underwear Dust Floating Around in the Atmosphere

The Cygnus spacecraft is filled with over 3,000 pounds of supplies for the International Space Station, including science experiments, experiment hardware, spare parts, and crew provisions. BILL INGALLS/ AFP/GETTY

When you picture astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS), you probably don’t picture them doing laundry. And that’s pretty accurate because they can’t. According to, a crew of six on the station goes through 900 pounds of clothing a year, which can pile up and cause a stink in the ISS before all of it can be shipped out.

The ISS does not have a washer and dryer, leaving astronauts with few options to deal with dirty laundry. So what do they do?

Well, it depends. The general rule for disposing of dirty laundry in space has been to send it into the atmosphere where it burns to dust. But that’s not the only option.


Dirty, old underwear also works as fertilizer. With no potting soil available in space, one astronaut decided to use an old pair of underwear to do the trick. The tomato and basil seeds grew in them perfectly.

When fertilizer isn’t in demand, astronauts always have the option of just wearing the same underwear again. And again. And again.

Underwear too dirty to be reworn can always be fed to bacteria.

But we could soon see the end of underwear dust and underwear-eating bacteria. NASA will be launching a new study to try something new: odor resistant astronaut exercise clothing.

The new, specialized clothing was launched this past weekend by Orbital Science Corporation on the Cygnus capsule from the Virginia Coast. The capsule is scheduled to arrive at the ISS on July 16.

The clothing will be worn for 15-day study periods and has been treated with antimicrobial (bacteria-destroying) material and others made with antimicrobial copper ion.

The astronauts will complete a questionnaire about the effectiveness of the clothing at the end of each day.

The space applications for the odor-resistant clothing state:

“Eliminating cotton would reduce lint, which can clog air filters on the International Space Station. Longer-lasting and lighter-weight clothes can reduce storage and launch requirements for crewmember apparel, which reduces costs. Clothing with antimicrobial properties can reduce odor problems.’’

The astronauts will only wear the clothing while they are doing “cardiovascular exercise sessions.’’


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