Taking care of your clothes – Eco Laundry

Until stay-clean/ self cleaning  clothes and bedding are invented, or maybe in the unlikely event that the world will embrace nudism or give up caring about cleanliness, we are all dependent on a variety of laundry machines and gadgets to keep our clothing clean. Washing machines and tumble dryers have revolutionized the way we do laundry.  Whilst these have been embraced as the labor saving devices they are, they are also energy draining. They rely on electricity and other resources for their manufacture and operation.   They use water, and chemicals, all of which can have an environmental impact and increase our carbon footprint.

Whilst its unlikely we are going to be able to return to the days of washing our clothes in a local stream, there must be ways to use more eco-friendly methods, to keep clothes  clean, and limit the harm to the environment.  Effective laundry practices can also benefit the environment as our clothes will last longer,  reducing the need to purchase new clothing, and in return reduce our consumerism and overall carbon footprint.

Laundry methods – Do we need to use machines?

Prior to washing machines, laundry was a very time consuming chore – you had to wash, rinse and remove excess water, either by hand, with wash boards and mangles, then with twin tub machines. Now clothing is washed, and spun in the same machine, all ready for drying.  However some fabrics and clothing actually last longer and look better when not machine washed or tumble dried. Hand washing is good for woollens. Follow the manufacturers instructions for different fabrics. By separating colors, and whites we can produce better laundry outcomes  with clothes lasting longer.

Some clothing deteriorates or even shrinks during machine washing and drying.

We are all familiar with the lint and fluff produced by the dryer -a mishmash of fibres from our favourrite clothing pulled out during the drying cycle, mixed with that some junk that got left in a pocket.  In the unlikely event of helping me with the laundry, my family all know the risk of incurring my wrath by putting my favorite jeans into the dryer. It’s up there with using my fabric scissors to cut paper.

Tumble dryers are energy draining.  Consider a clothes airer or dryer rack near a heating source or the ultimate clothes drying method, by hanging washing out to dry –  if you are permitted by local laws and weather.  There are a variety of clothes lines and drying systems available.

You can’t beat the freshness of laundry bought in from drying in wind on a sunny day.  Well ventilated, heated drying rooms can be another option.

Drying this way takes longer than a dryer, and therefore laundry requires some extra time and planning!

When you need to use a dryer..

It is not always possible, or ideal to be hanging damp clothing around in unventilated living spaces, particularly in winter.  Apparently by re-spinning  a laundry load in the washing machine on a spin only cycle prior to using the dryer, can the time needed in the dryer so reduce energy used.    In the case of drying things on the line, some items can go a bit crusty when dried naturally, like bathrobes and towels, but they can be finished in the dryer to soften and fluff them up.

Reduce washing machine temperatures.  Many machines are now designed to be effective at lower temperatures. By using lower temperatures, we uses less energy.  However some items will need to be washed at higher temperatures.  It is recommended that towels and bedding be washed above 60 c to kill bacteria and dust mites, especially when there is a case of illness in the home.   If you are using lower temperatures, separate tea towels and dish cloths from underwear and socks to reduce the likelihood of cross contamination.

Reduce the use of harmful chemicals.

Obviously whatever chemicals and laundry detergents we use will end up making their way to drains and potentially into the environment.  The Suzuki Organisation explains, “ Commercial stain-removing products are often hazardous to humans, wildlife, and the environment. Product labeling can be deceptive; ingredients often include a combination of chemicals and solvents that are nerve-damaging neurotoxins (e.g. benzene, toluene, xylene), carcinogenic (e.g. formaldehyde), severe skin and eye irritants, or may have adverse reproductive effects.”

There are many commercially produced eco- laundry products, However green detergents might not contain the same standard of ingredients that fight stains.  A review of Green detergents found that some greens delivered decent results when the laundry was sorted properly, not overloaded in the washer, and when using the right amount of detergent


The David Suzuki Organisation explain that it is possible to use natural ingredients for  removing stains. Consider switching to stain removers made from plant oils or the home remedy solutions.  They list a complete table guide to stain removal here, which are worth a try.


They also stress the following stain tips

  1. Speed is of the essence; deal with stains as soon as possible to avoid setting.
  2. Heat sets stains, never use warm/hot water or the dryer until the stain is definitely gone. Wash clothing in cold water only.
  3. Rubbing a stain can destroy the fabric—blot instead.”

I would also add that if all else fails, prior to drying, it might be useful to try commercial detergents, to remove and stain and preserve the garment, rather than having to resort to throwing it away. One way or another, stains don’t scare me!

Choosing a new laundry appliance.

Repair appliances were possible, and then at the end of their repairable life, dispose of responsibly at a recycling center.  Research new laundry appliances for quality, reliability, and choose one with the highest energy rating. I was so happy when my last washing machine died.  It was old and had been repaired many times.  In the 10 years since the last purchase, laundry appliances had come a long way, using less energy and water than my old model.

As with everything else, consider using alternative energy to produce the electricity – either by choosing a green electricity supplier, or looking into renewable energy for your home.

A personal confession

Sometimes when I  try to be more eco, I  irrationally feel that the planet should help me, and I am sorry to confess that if I feel let down, I sometimes fight back.

My dryer broke earlier this year.  I made a pact to not repair it but to live without it.  I had great success for a while.  Then one day I hung out my lovely new bed linen.  It had been raining so I hung it in a sheltered spot where the rain couldn’t get to it.  I forgot about it and left it out overnight.  When I went to bring it in the next day I couldn’t believe it. Flies were sitting on it, probably visiting from the farm next door.  They had pooed on it, and left horrid little black stains that had bled into the creamy background on the cotton fabric. I was so upset – cross with myself for not keeping an eye on it.

This feeling was replaced with anger at the injustice.   I was trying to save the planet, and nature hadn’t treat my duvet kindly. I was so angry with the planet. “Hey, I am doing my bit for the environment and you poo on my sheets?”  I reached for the phone and rang the appliance repair man, and tumbled dried whole loads out of spite in the need for revenge.  Obviously it’s not a major concern in the big scheme of life, but I found it annoying.

Since then I have found a happy medium, between hanging out, and using the dryer when I  need to.  I am as eco as I can be at trying to take care of the environment, whilst maintaining a balance between a normal family life, with children who often get filthy, and trying to preserve their clothes though efficient effective laundry!

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