From plastic hampers to disposable dryer sheets, the average laundry routine needs a sustainable makeover. These eco friendly laundry tips may sound simple, but they will transform the impact this essential chore has on the planet–and your energy bills.
Tweaking the way you wash and dry your clothes doesn’t just help the environment. An eco friendly laundry routine will lower your energy use, make your clothes last longer, and ultimately save you money.
Here are nine easy ways to wash your clothes more sustainably.
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#1. Wait for a full load before running the washer
Your washing machine uses the same amount of power to operate no matter how much laundry you put into it. To reduce water and energy waste, only run the machine when you have a full load of laundry.
Sticking to a strict weekly laundry routine may feel natural, but it can be detrimental to a low waste household.
If you set aside the same day each week for laundry, you may not have dirtied up enough clothes to fill up the drum. This happens more often in the summer, when we wear thinner fabrics and less bulky clothing.
This eco friendly laundry tip requires the least amount of effort–by doing less work, you’re helping the planet!
#2. Use a low waste laundry detergent
When it comes to eco friendly laundry tips, it’s not just the washing machine itself that should be sustainable. The products we put into it–such as the detergent–are equally important.
Switching to a more sustainable laundry detergent isn’t just better for the environment–it’s also good for your skin and your clothes.
The chemicals and toxins found in most commercial laundry detergents dull the colors on your clothes and are more likely to irritate your skin. In fact, many laundry detergents are responsible for triggering eczema in children (and even adults).
Eco friendly laundry detergents avoid ingredients such as chlorine, dyes, and phosphates–all substances that can cause skin irritation. Because of this, they also don’t dull the colors of your clothes as much, which keeps them in better condition.
Ideally, the detergent would also come in biodegradable packaging. However, a plant-based liquid detergent in a recyclable plastic bottle is a better choice than Tide.
#3. Use an eco friendly fabric softener
Most of us use fabric softener in our laundry routines. But do you know how it works?
A fabric softener helps to smooth out and normalize the distressed fibers so that they return to their original, smoother state. Fabric softeners also help to decrease the static charge caused when clothes rub up against each other during the cleaning and tumble drying process.
Unfortunately, most commercial fabric softeners use harmful chemicals like parabens, plastics, and toluene to make clothes feel softer and smell better.
Thankfully, there are a growing number of eco friendly options available.
The best eco friendly fabric softeners come made from natural, biodegradable ingredients, avoid using perfumes and scents, use recyclable packaging, and are made by companies committed to sustainable practices.
There are even fabric softener alternatives, such as wool dryer balls and plant-based dryer sheets. And for a truly zero waste laundry tip, replace traditional softener with ¼ to ½ cup of white distilled vinegar (I promise it won’t leave your clothes smelly).
#4. Use an eco friendly water temperature
Once upon a time, hot water was essential to the act of cleaning. But thanks to scientific advances in laundry detergent, you can effectively cleanse your clothes at much cooler temperatures.
The main reason a washing machine uses power is to heat the water. By running cycles with lower water temperatures, you’ll use less power and have a more eco friendly laundry routine.
The average temperature a washing machine uses is 104°F/40°C. However, many machines will have the option of 90°F/30°C. Using this temperature will still provide an effective wash for your laundry in most cases, whilst also making your household greener overall.
Some devices can even go as low as 70°F/20°C, which is even more environmentally friendly, and far kinder to delicate items and materials.
If you’re like me and wash all of your laundry at cooler temperatures, you’ll start to get mildew and residue build-up in the seal and drum.
Luckily, you can keep your washer fresh and clean by running a monthly high-temp cleaning cycle with vinegar in the detergent chamber. I also wipe down my machine’s door, seal, and detergent drawer with a washcloth when I’ve finished all of the laundry for the day.
I’ve managed to keep my washer looking and smelling brand new for an entire year by following these steps.
#5. Hang your laundry out to dry
Before moving from the US to Europe, I thought line-drying clothes was an old-fashioned practice.
And then I spent three years living in London without a dryer, and learned a few lessons about hanging laundry to dry.
For one, my clothes smelled fresher thanks to the air and sunlight. They also lasted longer when they were hung up to dry.
Tumble dryers have a wearing effect on your clothes over time. The process of being artificially heated and thrown around in the drum causes your clothes to become frayed and stretched, especially the more delicate items.
A major part of low impact living is reducing how much we consume. If our clothes last longer, we can cut down on the need for new clothing production, which helps the environment as well as our wallets.
Ultimately, using a mechanical dryer–even an eco friendly one–requires energy. Hanging your clothes out in the open air does not.
Eventually, we moved into a larger place and purchased a HE dryer (damp English winters are brutal). But we still hang at least 70% of our laundry to dry. It may take longer, but it’s worth the savings.
#6. Invest in energy efficient appliances
While it may seem like a huge leap to begin with–especially if you already have a conventional washing machine–changing to an energy efficient model may end up saving you more money in the long run.
An energy efficient washing machine will use less power to wash your clothes, and can mean a reduction of anywhere from 25% to 40% or even more depending on the model.
It will also reduce the amount of water you’re using with each use. The average full-size traditional washing machine will use around 20 gallons of water per load. An energy efficient washing machine can reduce that number down to 14 gallons or lower.
Using a less intensive wash cycle will also lower your washing machine’s rate of energy consumption. Unless you have some clothes that got heavily covered in mud or had a full bottle of red wine spilled on them, you can skip the extra rinse, spin, and steam features that modern machines have.
#7. Only wash your clothes when they need it
Do you toss your clothing straight onto the laundry pile at the end of the day? It has been worn, therefore it must be washed. Right?
Well, maybe not. Sometimes clothes are only worn for short parts of the day, and don’t come into contact with anything that would make them unclean (or at least, unclean enough to warrant a full wash).
If the only dirt on your sweater is a small stain on the arm, for example, a small application of soap and cloth might be all the washing it needs that day.
Outer clothing, such as jackets, coats, scarves or other items that can be worn over other clothing, may not need to be washed as frequently as clothes that make direct contact with your body.
In these cases, putting some items back on the shelf or in the wardrobe makes for one of the best eco friendly laundry tips, and will certainly help make your household greener.
Some clothes naturally need much less washing than others. When it comes to hardy materials such as the raw denim in jeans, it is actually recommended by many jeans manufacturers to wash them as little as possible.
#8. Keep clothes in eco friendly laundry hampers
All those dirty clothes have to be stored somewhere while they await being cleaned. Sadly, the majority of laundry hampers on the market are made of plastic and other synthetic materials.
A plastic-free hamper is an instant improvement. Hampers made of combinations of fabric and natural or untreated wood and fibers are often sturdier, longer lasting, and–in my opinion–look better than their artificial counterparts.
These handmade wicker laundry baskets are made from woven water hyacinth and lined with cotton bags.
#9. Avoid using bleach
Bleach is one of the most toxic chemicals that’s readily available in supermarkets. Using even a small amount to whiten your towels and tees means polluting the water in your community and risking chemical burns in the process.
Fortunately, there are multiple ways to remove stains and keep whites fresh that don’t involve bleach.
Lemon juice, baking soda, vinegar, and salt can all be used as stain removers in different ways, with no negative impact on the environment. And adding vinegar to your pre-soak cycle will keep your whites from getting dingy.
I hope you can incorporate a few of these eco friendly laundry tips in your cleaning routine. For more sustainable home tips, check out these posts: