Greening Your Laundry Habits

Freshly Washed Towels with Bottles of White Distilled Vinegar

Greening your laundry habits may be easier than you think. Laziness and using fewer products are the keys to success.

Doing laundry is a habit, something you do routinely without giving much thought to it. Over the course of your lifetime, you will either do or contribute to thousands of loads of laundry. When you consider that everyone else around the country is also doing thousands of loads of laundry, you realize it all adds up.

Laundry Habits and the Environment

Each load of laundry uses water, electricity, and possibly natural gas. So does making washers, dryers, and laundry products and their containers. If you use liquid laundry products, which consist mostly of water you are paying for diesel-powered semi trucks to transport extra water and then flushing it down the drain. Recycling plastic and cardboard containers are better than tossing them in the trash, but recycling also uses energy and creates waste.

All the substances that you flush down your washing machine, toilet, sink, shower, and bathtub end up in at a sewer treatment plant, unless you have a septic tank in which case your wastewater percolates into the ground. Sewer treatment plants primarily attempt to remove solids and kill pathogens before pumping the remaining effluent into an ocean, lake, river, stream, or aquifer. Although many natural and synthetic compounds are broken down in water, not all are. The more substances wastewater treatment plants have to deal with the more energy and chemicals they use to clean the water.

Here are some easy actions you can take to green your laundry habits.

Laundry Laziness Policy

My sons introduced me to the concept of laundry laziness.

Upon arriving at their college dorm rooms, the quickly abandoned most of the laundry habits I had taught them and laundry piled up until they would run out of clean clothes. When I asked them why they did not do their laundry every week, they responded with something like, “I have better things to do or I’m lazy.”

That got me to thinking about my own laundry routine. One thing led to the next, I began questioning everything about laundry habits and wrote about it in the post Laundry – Laziness is Good.

The drought in California forced my hand. At one point, our small town’s water supply was running dangerously low so conserving water was critical. My sons’ laundry laziness strategy seemed like a good water saving measure so I began doing only full loads of laundry and only when it became absolutely necessary.

I discovered that I could actually survive without doing small loads of laundry to wash my favorite jeans.

Laundry laziness is easy to implement because all you need is a slight change in mindset. Doing fewer loads of laundry might even save you money.

Using fewer laundry products will also help you green your laundry routine.

Use Fewer Laundry Products

Depending on how many different products you currently use to wash and dry your laundry, using fewer or in some cases, different products can substantially reduce your laundry environmental footprint.

One of the unexpected results of the drought was that I was laser focused on what we were putting down our drains. That is why I ended up standing in front of my laundry cupboard one day surveying its contents and sighing.

My collection included several different laundry detergents (you know for different fabrics), bleach, color safe bleach, an oxy additive, both a stick and a spray for pre-treating stains, liquid fabric softener, and washing machine cleaner (for the high-efficiency washer).

As I stood there, I asked myself “Do I actually need all these products to get our laundry clean?”

The answer was “I doubt it.” My next thought was “Why did I buy all this stuff in the first place?” followed by “Aha, advertising got me.” I see myself as an intelligent woman capable of making informed choices, but apparently, I had been easy prey for shrewd laundry product advertisers. Thank goodness, I came to my senses before laundry scent booster found its way into my shopping cart.

I decided to try using fewer products, which would mean fewer chemicals and other substances going down our drains or being in contact with our skin 24/7.

The first challenge was using up the products I had on hand. I did not want to dump the products I no longer wanted down the drain or toss them in the trash because that would not be environmentally sound and would waste money. Since I had bought some products in bulk, and am I now using them sparingly, I probably have enough bleach and pre-treating spray on hand to last for at least a decade.

Ditching fabric softer for distilled white vinegar was a major change for me. I buy vinegar by the gallon and transfer some into a smaller bottle which makes it easier to pour into the fabric softener dispenser of my washing machine.

Vinegar effectively removes odors and acts as a softener. The towels and clothes might not be quite as soft and fluffy, but they are soft and thankfully, they do not have that cloying “fresh laundry” smell. When static cling occurs, I just shake it out. Vinegar also keeps the washing machine clean.

I wish I had changed to vinegar years ago, but oh well.

Go look at your own laundry shelf or cupboard and then decide what products you can do without and which ones you want to change to a more environmentally and people friendly version.

Consider adopting a laundry laziness policy and then enjoy having extra time to do fun things instead of laundry.

Reader Note: If your washer is over ten years old, you could be using twice the amount of water of newer more efficient washers that also use less electricity. Old electric or natural gas dryers are also less efficient than newer models. However, I am not advocating replacing appliances that are currently in good working order. When it is time to replace your washer and dryer, consider buying water and energy saving models. Look for the ENERGY STAR label.

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Vinegar Removes Hard Water Deposits from Dishes like Magic

Author's Dishes, Glasses, and Flatware after Vinegar Cleaning
A Sampling of the Author’s decades old dishes, glasses, and flatware after being cleaned with distilled white vinegar.

Is hard water leaving a cloudy film on your dishes and glasses? Vinegar is an eco-friendly solution that will make your dishes look and feel new.

Like many Americans, I live in an area with hard water, which results in mineral deposits (mostly calcium and magnesium) building up on everything from dishes to showerheads. If this sounds familiar, you probably have hard water too.

In an attempt to counteract hard water deposits, we had been routinely using a rinse aid in our dishwasher but it was not entirely successful. Sometime during the almost ten years, we have lived in our current home, our glasses took on a hazy look and a chalky film formed on our dishes to the point that I could feel it when I was taking pieces out of the dishwasher. Yuk.

Over the years, I did notice that mineral deposits were forming on our dishes and the insides of our coffee mugs had become stained. It just did not bother me, at least not enough to do anything about it, until a few weeks ago.

One Thing Leads to the Next

You know how one thing leads to the next and so on. That is what happened. I am in the middle of a decluttering project and I am trying to adopt a minimalist approach to owning stuff, which means living happily with less stuff.

While decluttering the kitchen, it dawned on me that we would be using the dishes, glasses, and flatware we currently own for the rest of our lives (minimalists only by new dishes when absolutely necessary).

My spouse and I have been using the same dishes since we were married over three decades ago. Most of our original knives, forks, and spoons disappeared or ended life in a garbage disposal so our flatware set is only about fifteen years old. Glassware seems to suffer the most casualties so our current glasses are probably between seven to ten years old.

I figured if we are going to be eating off these plates and drinking out of these glasses for another thirty years or so, perhaps they could use some sprucing up.

In the past, we have used vinegar to remove mineral deposits from our drip coffee maker with good results so I decided to try it on our dishes. It took some trial and error and a few hours, but the results were amazing! Now everything is shiny and smooth and looks almost like new.

I realize that over time, the hard water deposits will come back, but I think I can fit in a few hours every ten years to keep our dishes, glasses, and flatware in good condition.

You can easily accomplish the same thing with a little vinegar, a dish tub, and a sponge.

The Wonders of Vinegar

My first thought was to employ the dishwasher. I loaded it with some glasses, poured in a cup of vinegar, and hit the start button. At the end of the cycle, the dishwasher racks were looking less powdery but the glasses were only marginally improved.

Next, I placed a plastic dish tub in the kitchen sink and poured a couple of cups of vinegar into it and I put a dozen glasses on the counter top. Using a slightly scrubby sponge, I wiped the inside and outside of each glass and around the rim with vinegar. After rinsing the glasses under the kitchen tap, I put them in a dish drainer to drip dry. I finished drying them with a dishtowel and voilà the glasses were shiny and clear and looked almost brand new. Wow!

I briefly considered taking all the dishes, glasses, and our coffee mug collection out of the kitchen cupboards and tackling the project all at once. When I realized it would likely be a boring task taking several hours to complete, I had second thoughts.

My solution was to break up the project by leaving the tub in the sink and periodically returning to the kitchen and doing another batch. Each time, after towel drying the pieces in the dish drainer and putting them away, I took out another stack of plates or a group of coffee mugs and repeated the procedure.

At the end of the day, our dishes, glasses, and coffee mugs were sparkling and clean. I was so impressed with the results that the next day I repeated the process on our serving bowls and plates and our stainless steel flatware.

Refurbishing Your Dishes is a Green Thing to Do and Saves Money

Making anything, including dishes, uses resources and energy and depending on what materials and processes are involved, pollutes the air, water, and land to a greater or lesser degree.

An environmental benefit of refurbishing and using the same dishes for decades is that it reduces the need for manufacturing and transporting new goods.

Interestingly, having your dishes look almost new makes them seem like they are new. Now that you own a practically new set of dishes, you can easily ignore the little invisible consumer devil that sits on your right shoulder constantly whispering “Buy stuff.” in your ear.

We can help the environment and save some money by refurbishing our dishes, glasses, and flatware instead of replacing them.

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