Adopt a friendlier and more sustainable laundry routine with our top 12 tips and hacks. We have it all - from biodegradable detergents to microfiber filters.
High temperatures, long cycles, machine drying, toxic detergents in plastic packaging… Does doing laundry the usual way make your environmentally-minded ears perk up? If so, your green instincts are very well-tuned!
Our love for clean clothes does in fact come with a high environmental price tag. According to the Fashion Revolution, washing clothes, together with drying and ironing, produces around a quarter of the carbon footprint in clothes’ lifecycle.
Excessive cleaning is not particularly friendly to clothes either. It causes color fading, shrinkage and misshaping. This leads to nine out of ten clothes ending in landfills long before they should.
So how do you green your laundry routine? Learn about our tips and hacks - some you can adopt the next minute, others take a small investment, but either way, you’ll be making an important difference.
The simplest problem-solver is to launder less often. Clearly, undies and socks have to be washed after each use. But think of jeans, jackets and pullovers. You can easily wear them at least a couple of times before tossing them on the dirty pile.
Curbing your washing urges can have an impressive impact on your ecological footprint. Washing jeans after every ten wears instead of every two “reduces energy use, climate change impact and water intake for 80 percent”, Levi-Strauss& Co. research found out.
Some people are already walking the talk. TV host Anderson Cooper, for instance, famously said that he washes his jeans once a year. If that’s the new craze, sign us up!
Around one billion laundry jugs are discarded in the United States annually. Only 30 percent are recycled, others mostly end up in landfills, or they clog oceans and waterways.
These jugs serve no greater purpose than to hold detergent for a short amount of time. We encourage you to buy a plastic jug once, keep that bottle and just refill it over and over. Many zero-waste stores offer refill stations with liquid detergents.
You could also ditch plastic jugs altogether and replace them with low-impact alternatives. There are many great options. One comes from the good people at Well Earth Goods. They produce laundry detergent in a pre-measured paper strip.
Other companies offer plastic-free, recyclable or dissolvable packaging. Our favourites are Bestowed Essential’s laundry powder with a compostable bag, eco-friendly Dropps pods and Ethique’s solid Laundry Bar.
Another great & green alternative is your household vinegar! Simply pour a half cup of distilled white vinegar into the washing machine in place of a traditional detergent or fabric softener. Level-up by adding some baking soda for extra power. Vinegar whitens, brightens and softens clothes.
We are also nuts about nuts, more specifically, soap nuts. They are dried shells of berries from a tree native to the Himalayas. Completely natural, chemical-free and gentle, these nuts contain saponins, a soap-like chemical that makes a nice foam when agitated in warm water. Soap nuts are also known to be anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and all-in-all a powerful alternative to chemical cleaners.
Castile soap is another all-natural cleaning laundry solution. It’s a vegetable-based soap, gentle on the skin and fabrics. It’s also natural, non-toxic, and biodegradable. How do you make it? It does take a couple of hours, but the payoffs are well worth the effort. We especially liked this beginners guide to making your own liquid Castile soap.
Powder vs liquid: nobody wins if it’s not natural
The great debate: should you use a liquid or powder detergent? Both have their good and bad sides. Liquid detergents use more water and powder is known to cause more friction; hence, clothes tend to shed extra microfibers. Powder is bulkier and usually costs more to transport, but – compared to the liquid stuff in plastic jugs – comes in a cardboard packaging that is easier to recycle. On that note, you can still use the liquid version and avoid buying plastic packaging each time by refilling only one jug at the zero-waste stores. The final verdict? We would go with the liquid stuff – especially if it’s natural and sustainably produced.
The science is in: washing clothes in cold water is as effective as washing them in hot water for everyday loads, people at Harvard University have said.
Going cold is good for the planet - and your wallet - since 90 percent of the energy the washing machine uses is to heat the water, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Colder water also doesn’t shrink clothes, it prevents color bleeding and helps your clothes last longer. Win-win-win.
Washing clothes in cold water can remove many stains, some (such as blood and sweat) even better than warm water.
Make sure that your machine is operating at peak efficiency by filling the washing machine up to the recommended capacity – that’s around three-quarters full in most cases. If you can't manage to fill her up, use the "load size selector” option (some machines have it) to match water levels and load size.
There is another unintended consequence of larger loads. They have been shown to decrease the release of microfibers because of a lower ratio of water to the fabric, according to the researchers from Northumbria University.
What are microfibers, anyway? They are tiny plastic particles that synthetic clothes shed as they squeeze and turn in the washing machine. Wastewater treatment plants don’t capture them, so they eventually end up in our oceans and soils, causing great harm to the environment and our own health. Read more about microfiber pollution and what we can do about it here.
One solution that stops around 90 percent of microfibers is a Planet Care filter. The filter is easy to install and doesn’t require any sophisticated technical skills: you simply attach the filter to the outside of the washing machine or a nearby wall.
Doing laundry with shorter cycles is another important step towards a more sustainable routine. A 30-minute cycle at 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) is “significantly better” for your clothes than an 85-minute cycle at 40 degrees (104 degrees Fahrenheit), the researchers from the University of Leeds found out. Shorter and colder cycles also reduce microfibers from breaking apart - by 52 percent.
Dryers are energy consumers on steroids. If you have the possibility, dry your clothes the old way: hang it on the clothesline and leave it to the sun and wind to work their magic. In case air-drying is not an option, consider a heat-pump dryer – they are more expensive upfront but, compared to traditional dryers, more efficient and can save you lots of money on energy bills.
Your typical dryer sheet is single-use, non-biodegradable and loaded with toxic chemicals. Wool dryer balls are a much friendlier option. They’ll reduce static electricity and wrinkles, make clothes softer and help them dry faster. Sprinkle them with some essential oils to give clothes a heavenly scent.
Front-loading washing machines use around 7500 liters less water annually, compared to their top-loading cousins. That’s about 50 regular bathtubs, filled to the brim. Front-loaders can also help you save heaps of energy. Firstly, by using less water – which means less work for heaters - and, secondly, by employing faster spin cycles. This means front-loaders force more water out of your clothes, so they don’t have to spend as much time in the dryer.
Yes, front-loaders are generally more expensive than top-loading machines, but, in the long run, investment is well worth it.
The usual dry-cleaning process involves soaking clothes in a harsh perchloroethylene solvent (perc, for short), a probable carcinogen also used as a metal degreaser.
A simple alternative to dry cleaning is to still wash delicate fabrics but with additional care and tenderness. Some garments can be hand-washed using a mild, eco-friendly soap, for instance. Also - consider using special bags, switching to gentle cycle modes or using liquid silicone and CO2 cleaning for stains that are harder to remove.
Here is a more “radical”, but perfectly doable idea: don’t let all that washing water run straight down the drain. If you’re a gardener, for instance, you can manually bucket the water before it gets pumped into the wastewater system. Of course, you’ll also have to first use chemical-free detergents and possibly a greywater filter that captures lint and other impurities.
So these are our green laundry tips: wash less, use colder water, eco-friendly detergents, line-dry clothes and consider energy-efficient washing machines & microfiber filters. Did we forget to mention something that already works for you? Let us know in the comments or reach out on Instagram, we would love to hear it!
How does doing laundry affect the environment?
Laundry, specifically water-heating and machine drying parts, consume heaves of electricity. Moreover, chemical detergents are often loaded with harmful toxins that pose a high concern for health and the environment. These chemicals can end up in groundwater that supplies drinking water and helps grow our food.
How do you make your laundry environmentally friendly?
The simplest and most effective problem-solver is to wash less. When the machine is on, however, set it for colder temperatures and shorter cycles with fuller loads. This way you’ll consume less energy and also prevent excessive microfiber shedding. To capture all microfibers, install a specialized filter like Planet Care’s.
What is the most environmentally friendly detergent?
There are many green alternatives to chemical detergents, like Dropps pods. You can also go all wild by using soup nuts or make your own Castile soap with contains only a couple of ingredients. Also – if liquid detergents are your weapon of choice, consider refilling the detergent at zero-waste stores instead of buying a new plastic jug each time.
What are the differences between top-loading and front-loading washing machine?
Front-loaders typically use less energy and water and create less friction which curbs the shedding of microfibers. Top loaders, on the other hand, are often cheaper to buy, but less efficient which will show on the utility bills.
Is it better to do smaller loads of laundry?
Try to fill up the washing machine three-fourths full – this way, you’ll make the best use of water and energy that goes into laundry while avoiding overloading the machine.