What Every Traveler Should Know About Disposable Underwear

Speaker's Corner: Kelsey Timmerman tells all

12.17.08 | 10:02 AM ET

onederwear disposable underwearPhoto by Frank Murray

The day I realized archaeology wasn’t for me was the day my classmates and I, while on a dig in Ohio, found it. It was the most exciting thing we found all summer: a shaft straightener. 

For those considering a career in archaeology: if you can say “shaft straightener” with a straight face, you may have found your calling.

We, on the other hand, giggled a lot.   

My passion for archaeology died with our laughter.

The presence of a shaft straightener told us that the Native Americans in our area hunted their food with arrows. Not exactly groundbreaking, but that dig and archaeology in general taught me an important lesson: Our stuff says a lot about us. 

Armed with this lesson, I’ve found few places more fascinating than a mid-level hotel I stayed at in China.

I found:

Disposable underwear? I was stumped.

At the time I thought disposable underwear was purely a Chinese phenomenon. But after I returned from China, I stumbled upon an ad for OneDerWear disposable underwear sold in the United States. 
This got me thinking: What does disposable underwear say about us?

There was only one way to find out. I dropped $13.79 on a five-pack, and then I browsed the OneDerWear website:

OneDerWear is an ultra-light disposable underwear created for traveling ... Each package ... can fit in the palm of your hand. With OneDerWear, you simply wear and toss! By the end of your trip, you’ll be surprised to find plenty of luggage space for gifts and souvenirs.

There are many qualities that I look for in underwear, but, I must admit, the ability for a pair to fit in the palm of my hand has never been among them. 

The package of OneDerWear I received a few days later played up the wonderful qualities of the product: “It’s not paper!” and “100% cotton is biodegradable!” Absent from the packaging was any warning that you shouldn’t drive after putting on a pair of OneDerWear. I learned this the hard way.

The first day I wore OneDerWear, I ran a red light. I was distracted by the itching. 

I bet that’s one the cops haven’t heard before.

Luckily, I passed through the intersection unnoticed.

I wore OneDerWear for an entire week. One day I went jogging in them. I’m pretty sure they were half-way biodegraded by the time I was done.

Before bed, it’s not rare to find me walking around my home in my underwear. The first and only time I did this in OneDerWear, my wife, Annie, nearly died laughing.  OneDerWear, although not made out of paper, are paper thin and basically see-through. They don’t really look like underwear at all, but more closely resemble “bloomers,” something that Charles Ingalls would wear if he were a cross-dresser.

A fresh pair of OneDerWear tends to fill the room with a smell of glue and formaldehyde. Trust me, if you’re looking for a few nights of chastity, a five-pack of OneDerWear should do the trick.

The way I see it, underwear have two functions: protect your clothes from you and protect you from your clothes. OneDerWear does neither. But the folks who sell OneDerWear claim they serve many other useful functions. 

On the trail:

“... you don’t have to use limited backpack space with re-packing dirty underwear (peeeewww!) ... you can just Wear and Toss! Also, OneDerWear is friendly to the environment.”

How in the world is wearing a pair of underwear once and then tossing them into the woods environmentally friendly? The saying goes, “Take only pictures, leave only footprints,” not, “... leave only footprints and disposable underwear.”

At college:

“With the busy schedule of college students, who has time to wash clothes?”

Personally, I never had more free time than when I was in college. Plus, four years of wearing disposable underwear would cost roughly $3,000, which would put quite a strain on a college student’s budget.

At war:

“OneDerWear is also great for troops whose military stays require them to reside in areas where access to washing facilities may be inconvenient or impossible ...  Just Wear and Toss!”

Allow me to set the scene: Our brave OneDerWear-wearing troops are in hostile territory trying to hide from the enemy.

“Sir, we’re under attack!”

“How did they ever find us, private?”

“Sir, I think they may have followed our trail of OneDerWear.”

“Aggghhhhh! I’m hit private. OneDerWEARRRRR! “

Let’s imagine we are archaeology students 2,000 years in the future, and we’ve come across a pair of OneDerWear, still in their palm-sized packaging. Our professor asks us what we can infer from our findings.

Our answer would be something like this:

“Given the smell, the underwear would have had negative effects on reproduction, thus leading to a negative birth rate. 

“Due to the number of these products found around centers of learning, we infer that epidemic levels of laziness permeated the culture. The expense of one-time-use undergarments likely made higher learning unaffordable and led to a general dumbing-down of society.

“The work of other archaeologists shows that disposable underwear, first found in what was once known as Asia, led to increased fatalities of motorists and a gradual weakening of the society’s military.

“In closing, we believe that OneDerWear led to the extinction of this once great society.”

We would say something like that, or we would just giggle and abandon our education as archaeologists.

Kelsey Timmerman is the author of Where am I Wearing: A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People That Make our Clothes, for which he went undercover as an underwear buyer in Bangladesh. He considers himself to be one of the top 10 living underwear journalists in Indiana.

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26 Comments for What Every Traveler Should Know About Disposable Underwear

Eva 12.17.08 | 11:13 AM ET

Ha! Thanks for this, Kelsey. OneDerWear never seems to get any less funny.

Grizzly Bear Mom 12.17.08 | 12:45 PM ET

Maybe the Chinese hotels provide the special wash because you are weaing onederwear? 

Personnally I just travel with my nastiest clothing, and toss it as I travel.  I would have throughn it out eventaully anyway, and tossing it leaves room for gifts and souveniers.

Danielle 12.17.08 | 8:34 PM ET

A 5-pack of real underwear can cost less than $13.79…  I’m really not understanding this at all.


Kelsey 12.17.08 | 9:17 PM ET

Danielle, It truly is hard to understand the wacky world of disposable underwear.  I just checked and a 5-pack runs $7.99 plus shipping—hence $13.79.  I have the receipt.  Of course, I suppose, if you ordered it by the box you could reduce the cost somewhat, but that begs the question….why they heck are you buying disposable underwear by the box?

Grizzly Bear Mom, Good point about the special wash.  I never thought of that.

Eva, being able to write about OneDerWear almost makes me glad it exists…almost.

Jana 12.18.08 | 10:16 AM ET

This was hilarious.  Who knew there was such a thing as disposable underwear?  Great article.

Emily 12.18.08 | 6:38 PM ET

This is a great story, and I love that you actually wore the underwear for a week to test out the concept. I’ve heard of underwear that dries quickly and you can take just one pair on a trip, but not the kind you just toss. It certainly does seem the opposite of eco-friendly!


Helena 12.18.08 | 9:43 PM ET

This is not such a new product.  In 1970, I spent a few weeks in Great Britain and that’s what I wore, leaving room for souvenirs and not having to schlepp smelly undies around from village to city to town!

Helena 12.18.08 | 9:46 PM ET

I actually bought and wore disposable undies while in Great Britain for two weeks.  No schlepping unfresh items.  They were fine.  I also took along t-shirts that once I’d worn them a few times, I tossed them as well.  Great way to clear out a wardrobe and leave room to purchase memorabilia and gifts for famiy and friends back home

IndyMo 12.26.08 | 1:13 PM ET

I’ve done the “throw out your oldest underwear”  thing on cruises for the past several years, to make extra luggage room. But I asked my wife, wouldn’t it be fun to be a mouse and listen to the cabin stewards when they empty the wastebaskets, and tell their cohorts about what nasty thing the old man in one of his cabins must have, if he doesn’t even want to carry around his used underwear! Some funny scenarios there, I think!

Vicki 01.03.09 | 6:17 PM ET

I like the idea of bringing the old ones along and tossing them, but it is a devious pleasure to think of the TSA discovering the dirty ones while riffling through my bags!

bluefeather 01.04.09 | 4:38 PM ET

To be truly Eco-Friendly we should all use edable undies.You will always have something to eat when money gets low !!

Kelsey 01.04.09 | 5:26 PM ET

@ bluefeather Sounds like that would make a great follow up piece.  Maybe WorldHum can land Michael Pollan to write that one!

IndyMo 01.05.09 | 6:38 PM ET

Better still, we’ll send them to the little fat bald-headed guy to stuff into his mouth in between the worm & bug courses

Patric H 02.01.09 | 7:46 PM ET

I read that article twice, just to make sure it was really as funny as I thought it was the first time, yep its still that funny!

I have never heard of such a thing until now, didn’t know that disposable underwear existed, and still can’t visualize a situation in which I would need to have a package. :)  Has anybody taken the time to cross reference the price of onederwear against a package of edible underwear, the edible underwear would give you the same great biodegradable qualities while possibly saving money? lol

Patric H

wow gold 02.06.09 | 2:58 AM ET

I actually bought and wore disposable undies while in Great Britain for two weeks.  No schlepping unfresh items.  They were fine.  I also took along t-shirts that once Id worn them a few times, I tossed them as well.  Great way to clear out a wardrobe and leave room to purchase memorabilia and gifts for famiy and friends back home

i agree

Matt 02.15.09 | 5:19 PM ET

There are other brands than onederwear available. I tried all of the different brands I could find once in order to see if any of them were useful. They are all ridiculously useless. A competing brand is made out of a material similar to a cafeteria worker’s hair net—essentially see through, and not in any way flattering. The comfort was similar to wearing a piece of newspaper as underwear. There are also useless disposable socks for those who are interested in putting similar materials on their feet.

The suggestion that using disposable underwear (which is very smelly when brand new) avoids having to lug smelly used underwear around when travelling, seems like an attempt to fix a problem that doesn’t really exist. First, underwear isn’t heavy, so there is no “schlepping” or “lugging” to be done. Second, for the most part, my used underwear is not really that smelly. Perhaps if I buried my nose in it I would find the smell offensive, but it isn’t like I’m carrying a dog turd in my bag that emits a foul stench easily noticed by others. Even if you throw out your used underwear, you’re still carrying dirty shirts and socks around, which is my experience have a similar scent to dirty underwear, except in situations of ill health. Even if it is a bit smelly, why do the makers of disposable underwear think it is better to schlep around smelly clean underwear versus smelly dirty underwear? 

After trying all of these things out, I decided to do what others have suggested—take my oldies and throw them out along the way. Though, I must confess that it doesn’t seem to actually free up too much room for souvenirs, unless of course the souvenirs are pairs of underwear. Underwear seems to account for only a small percentage of my luggage, and throwing it out makes only a bit more space available.

Kelsey 03.24.09 | 7:51 PM ET

Matt, You cracked me up.  I concede to your disposable underwear expertise.  That’s some dedication, trying multiple different brands.

Kirsten 03.31.09 | 7:34 AM ET

I think that disposable underwear is a must for every traveler. Am I right?  Kirsten Willis

Kelsey 03.31.09 | 8:06 AM ET

Kirsten, I’m afraid you are very, very wrong.

liz 08.09.09 | 11:02 PM ET

i think disposable undies might come in handy for girls during that time of the month. i mean, who wants to have a little accident in their pretty victorias secret undies? this way during those 5 days or so you can just wear the disposable ones and not ruin your costly pretty ones. although i don’t know about those cheaply made smelly disposable ones that have been mentioned so far. maybe i’ll just have to come up with better ones. what do you girls think?

Angelynn 11.11.09 | 2:36 PM ET

Liz- all women have a couple pair of underwear set aside for our special time of the month. As thin as the disposable ones sound, could you imagine if you had a leakage problem??  I mean, the underwear are there to protect our clothes from us… doesn’t sound like they’d do much protecting. 
How is MORE trash environmentally friendly???  Aren’t we being told to “reduce, reuse, and recycle” every time we turn around?

Mike 01.23.10 | 6:28 AM ET

This looks like a needed equipment for every traveler.
Mike from the <a >winter coats</a> guide.

Paul 01.25.10 | 1:53 AM ET

I’ve been traveling with disposable underwear for years, but a different brand than the ones you mentioned. I buy mine from http://www.dnaproductsonline.com. They are considerably cheaper ($3.50 for a package of 5), and come in different “styles”, for men and women. I’ve found them surprisingly comfortable to wear - even on an overseas flight. I first tried them because I hate to wash clothes when I’m away, plus they take up considerably less room in your luggage than regular undies.

Matt 01.25.10 | 1:21 PM ET

I’ve tried the ones Paul mentioned, and I have a different opinion. Admittedly, I’ve only tried the “boxer” style, named “El Boxer”. I found these underwear to be made out of a material similar to a disposable bouffant cap. On this link, there is a picture of a bouffant cap: http://www.cleanroomproducts.com/Cleanroom-Consumables-s/282.htm.

When worn, the boxers look absolutely ridiculous- as if you had escaped from a mental hospital or nursing home, or perhaps were confused about how to wear a bouffant cap, and accidentally strapped it on as underwear.

I agree with Paul that these underwear would take up very little space, though I don’t find that my underwear take up much space to begin with—it’s the jeans, sweaters, and shoes that take up a lot of space, not a few boxers. Also, these disposables are so thin, and see through, I’m not sure they’re really serving a purpose, other than to allow you to classify yourself as wearing underwear. You’d get about the same effect by not wearing underwear—and that would not only save you room in your luggage, but also allow you to avoid being suspected of having some form of mental illness.

I wrote the following review immediately after trying the product, about 2 years ago:
The material used to make the boxer is described as polypropylene, and its appearance reminds me of the hair coverings cooks and sanitation workers might wear. For those in the medical field, it seems to be very similar to the material used to make disposable gowns or bouffant caps. The boxers are white in color, but when worn are highly translucent, and essentially see through. For me, the effect was not flattering, or desirable. The boxers were a good size and fit though, and were comfortable for the brief time I wore them (about 5 minutes). I had thought I would wear them for a few days in different conditions to test them out, but abandoned this, as I realized that I could not envision myself actually using such a product. I would be embarrassed to be seen in such underwear, even by my wife, and since they are so translucent I dont really see the point. For travelling, I would rather simply not wear underwear than wear see through underwear.

African Sands 01.29.10 | 10:22 AM ET

I loved the article. You have a great sense of humour. With the advent of Onederwear, we truly have become the ultimate disposable society! Wear and toss knickers…. the thought is just to dreadful!

Renee - Travel Accessories 03.22.10 | 4:47 PM ET

Your article cracked me up! Very funny. If you are at all particular about how your underwear fits, as I am, then disposable underwear will never work. The fact that they add to our carbon footprint is absolutely unconscionable. I recently traveled with ExOfficio travel underwear, which was really nice. It fits well, feels comfortable and dries very quickly so you can wear them again. It worked really well. I didn’t have to pack as much underwear, and they washed out great. Definitely worth a try, and a better idea than disposable!

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