do astronauts wash their smols?

There are some big space fans here at smol. We have been following the recent adventures of the SpaceX Dragon and were excited to see its safe descent into the Atlantic Ocean after its successful docking with the International Space Station.


Talk turned to life in space and we couldn’t help but wonder about laundry. With 3 crew members on board each staying 6 months, that’s over 540 pairs of pants! Clearly, it’s not practical to take that many into orbit so they must be cleaning them somehow? Our smol capsules don’t need much room so we think they would be perfect for compact living.


So, imagine our disappointment to learn there is no laundry in space!


Turns out water is such a precious commodity, it just can’t be wasted on washing clothes. 70-80% of water on ISS must be produced by recycling from any available means – urine, exhaled moisture, sweat – it all gets recycled into re-usable water for drinking etc.


One knock-on effect means astronauts must stretch out how long they can keep their pants going – some aim for a week’s wear from one pair. And what on earth then happens to these week-old undies if they can’t spare the water for a short half-load cycle?


Used clothes get loaded onto one of the resupply craft along with other waste like empty food packaging and solid-waste containers (from the toilets!). When this craft undocks from ISS and falls back down towards Earth, it all burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere.


It’s a spectacular fiery death for all laundry in space. Think we’ll stick with a mixed load at 40.