No household can avoid doing laundry (no matter how much we may sometimes want to). With every load, we use lots of energy and water, and often plastic packaging too. That’s not to mention the chemicals and other non-biodegradable ingredients that harm aquatic life. Despite the fact that we all have different circumstances, and need to manage different volumes of laundry, everyone can make the process more sustainable. By applying just a few small changes we can make a big difference!
Don’t worry, we’re not telling you to stop washing your clothes! But daily laundry is not a great solution either. While it’s common sense to wash your underwear after each day of use, tossing a sweater into the laundry basket with no traces of having been worn is unnecessary. If you want to freshen up your clothes, hang them in a well-ventilated space for a while. Washing only when required not only saves resources but preserves your lovely outfit too, as every wash cycle wears out the fabric a little more.
As a rule, you can wash adult clothing in cold water to remove odour and wear marks. Some types of fabric, such as wool or silk, even require a low temperature to avoid being damaged. This action will save the energy needed to heat the water, and increase the lifespan of your clothes.
You don’t want to overload your washing machine, but make sure you have enough dirty clothes to justify the resources used for each load. If you need to wash a few small items, hand wash them or set the washing machine to a quick wash setting.
While separating out light and dark clothes is a given, it’s equally important to separate natural materials from synthetic ones. Every time you wash your synthetic clothes, tiny microplastics are dumped into the sewage systems. As much as up to 25% of these particles have been found to leach into the environment and cause severe damage to marine life as well as humans. But you can prevent this! Simply put your synthetic clothes in a special bag while washing, to catch the microplastics. It’s not a cure-all, but you can prevent up to 54% of the microbeads from ending up in the ocean.
If you look at the laundry section in the supermarket, you’ll probably see lots of hard-to-recycle plastics. Moreover, the use of detergents that contain phosphates (found in many mass-market products) aggravates eutrophication in natural waterways. The reason lies in the overabundance of phosphorus, which stimulates the growth of algae. As a result, the whole surface of a water body can become covered by aquatic plants, causing disease and death in fish and other underwater beings. It’s been estimated that between 50% and 75% of the phosphorus found in lakes and rivers comes from detergents. But the good news is we can solve this problem by swapping to eco-friendly alternatives.
First of all, you can make your own washing powder. That way, it’ll be free from toxic chemicals and pungent scents. You will need:
Just mix the ingredients up, then use about 1 tablespoon of it per regular load of laundry.
You could also opt for alternative laundry detergents:
These options are better than conventional detergents but all have some usage nuances. Check which is available for you plastic-free and suits your lifestyle. We haven’t mentioned laundry detergent sheets and pads here due to the fossil fuel-based Polyvinyl Alcohol used to make their shapes possible.
If you still use fabric softener, we bet you’ll stop after reading this section! First of all, this solution goes against a zero waste approach because it is sold in widely unrecyclable plastic bottles.
On top of this, fabric softener works against your clothes and washing machine, rather than for them. The chemicals coat the fabric’s surface, making your clothes feel softer but lessening their ability to absorb water and laundry detergent. As a result, you need to wash your clothes more often. Your washing machine suffers too, as this water-proof coating accumulates in the pipes and can clog them up.
And if that wasn’t enough, fabric softeners contain chemicals which can be harmful to aquatic life when washed down the drain.
The effect of white vinegar is similar to the softener effect. Swap to this eco-friendly alternative if you can’t go without softening your clothes.
These days, many washing machines have a drying function, but we don’t recommend using it. While they might bring convenience to your laundry routine, dryers pose a number of threats to the environment. Dryers shrink clothes and damage the fibres, making your clothes wear out faster. Besides, to do the task quickly, dryers use 5 to 10 times more energy than your machine uses just to wash the clothes.
The best option is to hang your clothes outside to dry if you can, or use radiators during the cold season or a laundry airer. If you do need to use a dryer, choose short cycles and lower temperatures. Reusable wool dryer balls will make the process faster and reduce static.
With these simple changes to your laundry routine, you’ll make a huge step towards reducing your carbon, water and plastic footprint.