What does your laundry routine look like right now? Most people’s laundry room is probably full of plastic bottles of detergent, single-use dryer sheets and bottles of fabric softener. And while the wastefulness of that is something to comment on, the real danger lies in what’s in the products.
So many laundry products contain ingredients that are harmful to both humans and the environment. A lot of people forget that what we put in our washing machines heads into our waterways. Unfortunately, many laundry products contribute to water pollution on a massive scale.
Thankfully, there are several ways we can green our laundry room – from the detergent we use to the actual washing machine itself. Here are 11 eco-friendly laundry tips that will keep your clothes spotless without harming the planet.
Table of Contents for 11 Eco-Friendly Laundry Tips
- Use Sustainable Detergent
- Wash in Cold Water
- Ditch Dryer Sheets
- Use Less Synthetics
- Consider Microplastics
- Wash Less Frequently
- Air Dry Clothes
- Only Run Full Loads
- Avoid Chlorine Bleach
- Stop Using Fabric Softeners
- Get a High Efficiency Machine
1. Use Sustainable Detergent
Many detergents on the market have questionable ingredients and are packaged in plastic jugs. Sadly, around 700 million detergent jugs are thrown away in the USA every single year. Only 30% of these jugs end up recycled, and even then, plastic can never be the same thing twice – so it will eventually become obsolete.
Perhaps what’s worse than packaging is what’s inside the actual detergent – many commercial detergents utilize a slew of ingredients you generally want to avoid, such as phosphates, dyes, formaldehyde, sodium lauryl sulfate, etc. These are not only toxic to humans but aquatic systems too.
Our detergents end up in our waterways, and if they contain any of these ingredients, they can cause eutrophication, which is big algae blooms that cause high die-off of marine animals and depletion of oxygen in the water.
Switching to a sustainable, plastic-free detergent that doesn’t utilize harmful ingredients is ideal. Some options include Dropps, Blue Land, Clean Cult, Tru Earth and Eco Nuts. Some of these brands even offer refills.
2. Wash in Cold Water
Believe it or not, it’s estimated 75 to 90 percent of all the energy your washer uses goes towards warming the water. That’s why it’s a great idea to switch over to using cold water!
Many laundry detergents have actually been specifically adapted to wash in cold water, so just be on the lookout for those. It’ll help save you on energy costs too.
However, if you plan on using cold water and soap nuts, be aware you should soak the nuts in boiling water for 5 minutes prior to placing them in the washing machine. That’s because soap nuts work best when used or activated in warm water.
3. Ditch Dryer Sheets
Stop using dryer sheets – please. They’re a single use item and add up to a lot of waste. Switch over to wool dryer balls instead.
Each wool dryer ball can be used in over 1,000 loads – so you’ll have them for several years! At the end of their life, you can just compost them.
Also, wool dryer balls shorten drying time, which certainly saves on energy. You can also count on them to collect things like pet hair and lint.
If you’d like your load to smell a little nicer, you can also add a few drops of your favorite essential oils directly onto the wool dryer balls. They’ll help spread it onto your clothes!
4. Use Less Synthetics
In general, I recommend using less synthetic fibers in the wash and buying more clothes with natural fibers. Most clothes, if you didn’t know, are made from synthetic fibers like polyester or acrylic. These shed microplastics into the water with every wash.
Switching over to natural fibers like wool, hemp, organic cotton and linen is your best bet. These will not release microfibers as they wash, and if your load is made up on them, you’ll be able to even compost your lint tray. Don’t compost your lint tray if using synthetics though – just dump it in the trash as it will contain microplastics.
5. Consider Microplastics
Speaking of microplastics, there’s a way to help capture some of the ones released with each wash. Using a Cora Ball or a Guppy Bag may help. These are specifically designed to capture microfibers in the wash so they don’t end up in our waterways.
According to a study from UCSB, a city the size of Berlin releases a wash-related volume of microfibers equivalent to 500,000 plastic bags every single day. So please consider this whenever you go to wash your clothes.
6. Wash Less Frequently
To save energy, water and time – I suggest washing your clothes less frequently, and only when they’re actually dirty. This will also help reduce microfiber pollution as well.
Thing is, so many people think they need to toss something into the wash the minute they’re done wearing it. In truth, unless you spilt something on it, you can likely get in a few re-wears before it needs to go into the hamper.
For example, jeans you can get away with not washing for five to six wears, if you don’t get dirty. So please don’t toss them in the wash after just one day.
Bonus points: That means less laundry for you to do! Who’d say no to that?
7. Air Dry Clothes
If you can, consider air drying your clothes, by hanging it out on a line or putting it on a drying rack. Dryers use up a lot of energy, and it can vary between 1,800 watts to 5,000 watts. A typical dryer is about 3,000 wats.
When you air dry, you save all that energy from being wasted, plus extend the life of your clothes. Dryers can be hard on clothing because of the tumble drying, so you certainly don’t want to overdo it. Air drying is so much gentler – and as an added bonus, if you air dry outside, the sun will naturally whiten your whites!
If you have limited space, a drying rack can help. I’ve been known to clean a few things by hand in the bathroom sink – and when I do, I always air dry those items.
Here’s a hack for you: Use clothing hangers to air dry smaller clothing items (like socks and underwear) around your home.
8. Only Run Full Loads
In the spirit of saving more energy, only run full loads. When your hamper is full to the brim, that’s the time to do the laundry. Not when it’s halfway there.
Personally, my family usually washes clothes once a week. By that time, which is typically on a Sunday, it’s full to the brim.
Doing it this way saves you from having to do more laundry than you need, and also saves time, energy and water. Think of it like this: How wasteful would it be to do two to three quarter loads a week where you could just do one?
9. Avoid Chlorine Bleach
We all want spotless clean clothes and bright whites, but you should do without the bleach. Bleach is actually a lung and skin irritant that can cause burning of the eyes, respiratory failure, fluid in the lungs, and even blindness. It also pollutes waterways.
Some natural bleach alternatives include baking soda, distilled white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide and lemons. And, as mentioned earlier, air drying your clothes out in the sun is another way to naturally whiten your clothes. You can thank the ultra violet lights for that!
10. Stop Using Fabric Softeners
Truth is, you don’t really need fabric softeners. Marketing will tell you otherwise of course, but they’re probably doing more harm than good.
Like detergent, most come in plastic bottles and have questionable ingredients.
There are some pretty worrisome preservatives in fabric softeners include methylisothiazolinone, which is a potent skin allergen, and glutaral, known to trigger asthma and skin allergies. Glutaral is also toxic to marine life (yeah, extra uncool).
Skip the fabric softener entirely, or use more natural alternatives. Baking soda and soap nuts can act as fabric softeners. Dropps also creates a more eco conscious fabric softener if you’d prefer not to DIY everything.
Wool dryer balls will also soften clothes naturally, so if you’re already using those, just stick with them. Make sure you use three to four of them in your dryer to get the best results.
11. Get a High Efficiency Machine
If you can afford to, consider investing in a high efficiency (HE) washing machine. These washing machines use 20 to 66 percent less water than traditional agitator washers. Lower water use also means less water to heat and energy waste.
Energy use in these HE washers can be 20 to 50 percent less compared to traditional machines. This will save you on your electric bill and have environmental benefits.
Please be mindful that HE machines are more expensive than traditional ones. However, it may be worth it in the long run to switch over. You can also save money by choosing models that have fewer options, like steam cycles.
If you do get an HE machine, make sure you only use HE safe detergents with it. Some sustainable laundry detergents that are also HE compatible include Dropps, Clean Cult, Blue Land, and Tru Earth. These won’t wreck your machine, and they’re made eco consciously.
Which of these eco-friendly laundry tips will you try? Let us know in the comments below!
About the Author:
Ariana Palmieri is the founder of Greenify-Me, a blog dedicated to zero waste living and sustainability. Her work has been featured on Going Zero Waste, Mother Earth Living, Green Matters and several other publications. Get her free e-book “10 Ways to Reduce Trash” by signing up to her newsletter and learn how to reduce your waste today.