The easiest way to make sure that your laundry is green is to put all your white items in the same washing load as a very bright green piece of fabric with non-colour fast dye. Joking apart, there are ways that we can make doing the washing more natural – and still get clean, dry, comfortable clothes at the end of it.
Let’s start with energy consumption. Does anybody still wash using hot water? With modern laundry detergents that are designed to do a good job in cold water, I’d be amazed if anyone still does. Hot water is a big part of anyone’s energy consumption and, quite frankly, I’d rather save the hot water for washing bodies rather than towels. Hot water sets protein stains, too. If you really need a bit of heat to help get things out (e.g. mud), it’s best just to soak the item in question in a bucket of hot water with a good dollop of ordinary soap. And whether you wash in hot or cold water, it makes better economical sense to run full loads only rather than little half loads (this advice applies to dishwashers, too). OK, this may mean that you’re washing every two days (or even once a week, depending on your family and circumstances) but this is no bad thing. You may also have to wait a while for a full load of delicates to build up… or else wash them by hand.
Next comes what you actually use to get the clothes clean. Most people, let’s be honest, use commercial laundry detergents and commercial cleaning products. These aren’t the best environmentally speaking, but you can get decent washing powder from Ecover. You can also reduce the amount of chemical gunk going into the wastewater system by doing less washing. You don’t have to wash every item of clothing after only one wear. Underpants, yes. Things that are definitely grubby or sweaty, yes. But you can wear the same T-shirt or pair of trousers for several days before they need washing. If you haven’t been doing very dirty work, you can even make a pair of trousers go for a whole week before they need washing. Shocking? Gross? Smelly? Actually, not really. One shirt a week was the norm within living memory. We’ve only got into the habit of washing things more frequently since the invention of electric washing machines. Before that, everyone was perfectly happy with wearing the same shirt all week unless it got filthy.
However, if you want a greener alternative to washing powder, you can either (a) use soap flakes, which has the downside of not working so well in cold water (but they do work, especially if you turn the flakes or scraps into gel first by the simple addition of boiling water); (b) switch to soap nuts or laundry balls. Laundry balls are a higher-tech option, as they use ionized pellets that attract dirt out of clothing. This also saves water, as you don’t need to rinse out oodles of soap. Soap nuts are imported from India and quite literally grow on trees.
Now for the drying. Everyone should be able to fit a washing line in somewhere around their home. Even if all you’ve got is an apartment balcony, you should be able to put up a few strings somewhere. Alternatively, you can get one of those collapsible towel horses that packs away when it’s not sitting on the balcony drying clothes. The real beauty of a collapsible towel horse is that you can move it inside if things are wet and rainy.
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