I know we’re here to talk about laundry, but have you watched Our Planet on Netflix? I’m watching the series right now, and I highly recommend it. Narrated by David Attenborough, it’s a new take on his original Planet Earth series with more focus on sustainability. If you’re having trouble getting your friends and family on board with your eco-friendly efforts, this will shift things. Our Planet builds reverence for the wonders of the natural world while demonstrating the impact of our actions.
Speaking of our actions, let’s dive into laundry.
From wasted water to microplastics to energy use, there are a lot of opportunities to improve our laundry routines. Here are 11 ways to make your laundry routine more sustainable.
Opt for cold water
It takes a lot of energy to heat all the water used in the washing machine -- in fact, 90% of the energy used by a standard washing machine is to heat the water -- imagine the energy savings!
On top of that, hot water will wear out fabrics more quickly and draw out their dyes more quickly than cold water. Your laundry detergent will do enough to keep your clothes clean without the heat.
Reduce microplastic pollution
Microplastics, which are released from our clothes in the wash, have detrimental effects on our planet.
If you have synthetic fabrics in your clothing (think polyester, nylon, acrylic, and polyamide), you can reduce your microplastic pollution with a Cora Ball, Guppyfriend Bag, or a microfiber filter added onto your machine.
The best option for most people will be a Guppyfriend Bag. It’s easy to use, just toss your synthetic clothing in and it will capture any fibers that get released. It’s more reliable than the Cora Ball which swims around with the rest of your clothes in the wash and might not catch everything.
We’ve heard questions about the effectiveness of the Guppyfriend Bag given that it, too, is made of synthetic material. On their website, they say this:
"The mesh is made out of monofilaments, which are more like sticks than threads, and thus does not release fibers itself. On rare occasions, depending on the mechanical condition of your washing machine, the binding tape around the bag may release a few fibers.”
The most effective solution, though, is the Microfiber Filter. This will filter all of your wash water so you can guarantee you get as many fibers as possible. If you have agency over the mechanics of your washing machine, this is a great option.
Use better laundry detergent
Most laundry detergent comes in a plastic bottle and we’ve talked before about the problem with many “eco-friendly” laundry detergents that come in the form of pods or strips. As a reminder, it’s this: PVOH doesn’t actually biodegrade and it’s been found in marine life in deep parts of the ocean.
So opt for a planet-friendly laundry powder instead. Our new laundry detergent is free of PVOH, biodegradable, plastic-free, AND high performance. Plus, it requires just 1 tablespoon per load.
Substitute vinegar as a natural fabric softener
Traditional fabric softeners are bad for the planet and could, in fact, be making your athleticwear and towels less effective.
Fabric softeners contain all sorts of chemicals that can harm us and our planet. Quaternary ammonium compounds can trigger asthma and be harmful to our reproductive systems. Fragrances, preservatives, and colorants can all trigger skin reactions, build up in our bodies, and harm marine life.
If you’re like me, you haven’t fully given up synthetic clothing -- it’s in my workout gear (though I try to buy items made of recycled plastic like from Girlfriend Collective). The synthetic materials found in athletic apparel are moisture wicking. When you add fabric softener to that, it basically clogs the pores of the material and reduces its ability to wick sweat away from your body.
Similarly, it can reduce the water absorbency of towels, so you’re better off skipping it.
Try doing without and seeing if you actually notice a difference. If you find you do want softer fabrics, try adding a half cup of white vinegar to the wash during the rinse cycle.
Ditch the chlorine bleach
Chlorine is horribly toxic to us and our planet. According to Treehugger:
“When released to waterways, chlorine bleach can create organochlorines, that can contaminate drinking water. Organochlorines, which are suspected carcinogens as well as reproductive, neurological and immune-system toxins, have also been known to cause developmental disorders, and are some of the most enduring compounds. Once introduced into the environment it can take years, or even decades, for them to break down to less damaging forms.”
Yikes! Try these natural DIY bleach alternatives instead.
Try a natural stain bar
Traditional stain pre-treatments contain toxic chemicals that can also pollute our waterways.
etee’s stain bars are effective, all natural, and easy to use.
Hang to dry
If you’re not using a machine to dry your laundry, there’s no energy wasted. Your delicates and athleticwear will last longer when dried this way too.
If you’re managing truckloads of laundry for your large family though, we get that! Get an Energy Star-rated dryer if you’re in the market for a new one, use low heat -- yes it requires less energy to tumble your clothes longer on low heat than shorter on high heat -- and add some dryer balls to reduce drying time.
Dryer balls instead of sheets
If you are using a dryer, invest in a set of dryer balls instead of single-use laundry sheets which are often made of synthetic materials. Wool dryer balls will not only reduce static but also reduce drying time. They last forever and are made of natural materials so also biodegrade.
You don’t want to look haggard, but you can also avoid some ironing by stopping the wrinkles before they happen. Hang or fold your clothes right after they’re done drying to avoid wrinkles.
Another pro tip: hang your wrinkled item in the bathroom while you take a shower and let the steam do its thing. Once it’s nice and steamy, tug on the bottom of your clothing and smooth out the wrinkles with your hand.
Invest in a greener washer and dryer
Reduce both your water consumption and energy usage by selecting the right machines if you’re in the market for new ones.
High-efficiency washers (with an “HE” symbol) use less water than traditional washing machines. There are also various ratings for energy efficiency given by Energy Star. Any energy-efficient washer and dryer will have their symbol on it.
Buy clothes you can wear more than once
If you buy the right clothing, you don’t need to wash them as often. Besides adding to the microplastic problem, synthetic clothing also holds onto stink. It gets trapped in the unbreathable plastic fibers and never gets fully clean. Over time, you’ll simply have stinky clothes. At best, you still have to wash your clothes after every wear.
Natural fabrics like cotton and tencel are better options in terms of getting clean, but merino wool has been a game changer for me. Merino wool is antimicrobial so you can wear it several times before washing.
A tip for the women: I’ve been using Numi undershirts under all my sweaters which makes them last longer between washes. In fact, I have several sweaters that I’ve never washed because my Numi protects them against sweat.
Denim can also go a long time without washing. A student at the University of Alberta once wore a pair of jeans for 15 months straight, and found that bacteria levels were no different than after 13 days of wear. Most people can go months to a year without washing their jeans. It’ll save water and they’ll mold to your body for a better fit. Right now I wash my jeans about once per year.