Updated: Oct 29
At this point you know I hate doing laundry. I mention it every time this topic comes up! So over the years I have attempted to master the fastest, most efficient zero waste routine I can manage.
Stop Doing Laundry (or at least not as much)
The first thing to remember when trying to reduce the waste and impact of doing laundry is that less is best. That means doing less laundry is the primary goal. Whether or not you buy your laundry detergent in plastic or use dryer balls instead of dryer sheets is pennies compared to the impact of simply running your machine. Especially when it comes to drying your clothes, the electricity that goes into each load is a lot - so cutting down your loads is the first step.
The easiest way to do that is to wear your clothes more than once! Each night take a look at your clothes and determine whether they could be worn again. Giving the armpits a good whiff will usually let me know how shirts are fairing. I typically wear long sleeves twice before washing unless it's been a sweaty day. My jeans will usually get thrown in after seven to ten days of use, my sweaters every week or so, and my sweatshirts/jackets only as needed. I do wash my undies and socks every time (so stop looking at me so funny!).
Line Dry vs. Dryer
After cutting down the quantity of laundry you are doing, consider switching to line drying your clothes. About 75% of the carbon footprint from doing laundry is from the dryer itself, according to the book How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything by Mike Berners-Lee (a fascinating read!). That means the biggest way for you to cut down on your impact is to cut out the dryer altogether.
I typically hang dry all of my clothes, sheets, and towels. That being said, Noah hates when I hang dry the towels and sheets so we tend to rotate back and forth. Hang drying the towels makes them a little crunchy and he complains about the texture. I can't blame him...but in general, most of my clothes are hung up to dry! Hang drying clothing also helps them last longer as they go through one less tumble dry beating.
Fun fact - did you know that hanging your clothes up to dry in your house in the summer will help drop the inside temperature? Free air conditioning!
When it comes to the actual detergent, you've got a lot of options! My favorite options are the laundry pods and horse chestnuts, but I'll share all the options so you can choose which one works best for you.
There are a variety of DIY options floating around on the internet. The truth is, I haven't tried any of them except for one. I have read horror stories of homemade options leaving residue on the inside of washers and it being impossible to get off! So if you want to try one of them, go for it - but I can't vouch for one in particular.
The one version I have tried is simple - horse chestnuts! Horse chestnuts are the green, spiky balls you see falling off of trees in the fall with a brown, nut like thing in the middle. In some parts of the world they are referred to as "conkers". These horse chestnuts actually have naturally occurring soap enzymes inside of them.
Horse chestnuts can easily be harvested, crushed, and then dried for storage. To use them, simply place a small amount in hot water overnight. that will release the soap enzymes. Strain out the horse chestnut the next morning and toss the soapy liquid into your washing machine.
Since we're on the topic of nuts, I'll mentioned soap nuts for those of you that haven't heard about them yet. They are actually a berry (I know, why call it a nut then?) and have naturally occurring soap enzymes too. Just like with horse chestnuts, they can be placed in hot water to active the enzymes. You can do this either by putting them in a tiny bag in the washing machine or putting them in hot water and straining out the chunks
If you have the option of harvesting horse chestnuts, those will end up being a much cheaper and environmentally friendly option than soap nuts. But soap nuts have been great, especially when space for storing crushed chestnuts is limited or when harvesting them isn't possible.
Many people like these because they feel familiar to the pods made by big brands. You pop a pod into the machine and let it do its thing! Dropps come in cardboard packaging and can be purchased packaging free at some stores (like Scoop in Seattle, Washington).
These little strips of laundry detergent are super cool - and weigh almost nothing! That saves energy used to transport them during shipping and delivery, therefore lowering their carbon footprint. They are safe to use in traditional or HE washing machines and simply dissolve when placed inside.
Bulk powder or liquid detergent
Some stores will also sell bulk powder or liquid detergent that you can purchase in your own container. These options though are much heavier than those listed above (weight) and so tend to have a larger carbon footprint when it comes to transportation.
Here are some of the places I've found bulk detergent so far:
Public Goods (Seattle)
Peoples Coop (Portland)
Food Coop (Bellingham)
The best option I've found for removing stains is dealing with them as soon as they happen. I wet the area and then scrub with hand soap until it's gone. If I don't catch it right afterwards, I'll wet the area and apply a liberal amount of soap on the spot before tossing it in the wash. I bought a bar of stain remover soap a while back which I am still using up. Honestly though, I think most soaps will do just fine!
If you do use the dryer, ditch the dryer sheets! Instead I highly recommend what are called dryer balls. Made from wet felted wool, these little balls help gather up lint and hair in the dryer. They also have the added benefit of reducing drying time by helping the items move around more! If you want to add some scent back into your clothes, I recommend a drop or two of essential oil on the dryer balls before starting a load.
For those of you that do like a little smell to your fresh clothes, I recommend tossing a few drops of essential oil on your dryer balls. This will spread the scent around your clothes evenly as they dry. You can also purchase scented versions of some of the detergents listed above, like Dropps.
So there you have it! My complete zero waste laundry routine! Are there any other tips or products you'd recommend I try?