When was the last time you thought about the way you do laundry? We all have a constant supply of dirty clothes that need cleaning. But there are only so many settings to choose from, and only so many detergents and fabric softeners, right? Unless you have extra money to spend on premium eco-friendly detergent or have the choice to upgrade your machines to Energy Star-rated models, it might not seem like you have many options.
The truth is that each aspect of your laundry routine has an environmental impact, and likewise, there are plenty of alternatives to choose from that make that impact lower—depending on your budget and what’s most convenient. Residents of Berwyn, Illinois are lucky to have the World’s Largest Laundromat in town, powered by 36 solar panels and natural gas. (It also has wifi, free donuts and an aviary!) The rest of us will have to get a little more creative to make a difference with our clothes-washing habits.
Read through these options to start thinking outside the box and “green” your laundry routine.
Reconsider the Machine
Washing clothes in machine washers, and especially dryers, uses an incredible amount of energy. Using cold water is a great idea to cut down on energy use and make your clothes last longer, as is line drying your clothes. If you don’t have the space for an outdoor clothesline, consider investing in an indoor drying rack. And if you don’t like the stiff feeling of air-dried clothing, tumbling them in the dryer for 10 minutes before hanging them will help.
If you don’t have many clothes to wash or don’t have eco-friendly machines at your disposal, you may decide to dispose with the machine entirely! Washing clothes “by hand” doesn’t necessarily mean what it sounds like. The breathing mobile washer was invented for use in parts of the world without reliable electricity or access to washing machines. Check out the Yirego Drumi and the Wonder Wash for human-powered small-batch laundry.
Better Detergent Options
Before you reach for the mega-economy jug of name brand liquid detergent, check out some of your other options. Your choice will depend on the machine you’re using (or lack thereof) and whether you’re using hot or cold water. One of the biggest concerns with chemical detergents is that they release more microplastics from synthetic clothing (more on that in the next tip). You might consider using a concentrated powder detergent for reduced packaging and a smaller carbon footprint, but most of these work better with hot water.
But your choices are not limited to traditional store bought detergent. You may decide to use an enzyme spray to kill germs and combat sweat stains, or an oxygen cleaner to get your whites whiter and your brights brighter. There are plenty of new products on the market from laundry drops to pods and strips that are made with less packaging and fewer chemicals, and you can make your own at home too.
Filter Out Microplastics
Microplastics are tiny fragments of plastic that end up literally everywhere in the natural environment. They cause damage to humans and animals when ingested, leach hazardous chemicals and have plenty of other harmful effects. One of the biggest sources of microplastics is our laundry: when we wash synthetic materials, hot water and chemicals break them down and wash the fragments out into the environment. New products are being developed to clean up microplastics before they leave the machine such as Guppy Friend, a bag that you can put your nylon and polyester clothing into for washing, and Cora Ball, inspired by the way coral filters the ocean. Take a look at the tags on your clothing to find out which items are synthetic (and try to buy more natural materials like cotton and silk!)
Soften Fabric Naturally
The biggest issues with fabric softener and dryer sheets are the chemicals that can have negative effects on your body and the environment and the waste they create. Swapping out chemical fabric softeners with more natural alternatives is one of the easiest changes you can make to your laundry routine, and it will save you a few bucks in the process. Use wool dryer balls with a few drops of essential oil to crush the wrinkles out of your laundry and leave them smelling good. You can also throw a cup of white vinegar in the washer during the rinse cycle to balance pH, soften fabric naturally, and wash away chemical residue.
Ditch the Dry Cleaner
Conventional dry cleaners use a chemical called perchloroethylene (also called “perc”), which has been linked to cancer, skin irritation, decreased fertility and several other health issues. Check out these dry cleaning alternatives to try at home that will remove stains but won’t leave residue or wrinkles. Keep some mesh bags on hand to protect delicates in the washer and dryer, and try to buy fewer items that will require dry cleaning.
Nobody’s laundry regimen is going to be 100% impact-free, but we can all make more intentional choices to do what’s best for ourselves and our surroundings. Instead of overhauling your entire routine, make a bigger difference over time by making small changes you can stick to.