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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What Good is a Rain Barrel during a Drought?

A rain barrel is useless when there is no rain—or is it? With a little ingenuity, you can keep your rain barrel full without rain. Your plants will thank you.

climbing-rosebush-watered-via-bucket-during-drought
This climbing rosebush planted over 25 years ago by the original homeowners is still going strong after 4 years of being watered via bucket.

I believe people have a natural affinity for living green things. We need trees, plants, and flowers physically for oxygen and food and spiritually for beauty and connectedness to the rest of nature.

In our sparsely forested and wild yard, we have a small collection of potted plants, a few drought-resistant bushes, and a decades-old climbing rosebush. To me this is beautiful.

When drought and water restrictions hit our town, we either had to let everything growing in our yard survive on what little rain fell or supplement it with water that did not come from an outdoor hose. We turned to untapped (pun intended) sources of water inside our house. Hint, the solution involves buckets.

The Bucket Brigade

As an environmentalist and resident of a drought-stricken town, I am willing to do things to save water but jumping into a freezing cold shower is not one of them. Now, I keep a plastic bucket in my shower and collect the first 30-seconds or so of water while it warms up. I put the bucket on the floor outside the shower and get in. On especially cold days, a smaller vessel is handy for collecting water while waiting to wash my hands or face.

I am amazed at the amount of water we used to let run down our drains before implementing the bucket brigade. It is also surprising what you can keep alive with a few buckets of water.

I used to carry my shower bucket downstairs, out the door, and dump it on one of our outdoor plants in an informal rotation. Then I bought a rain barrel.

Our House Gets a Rain Barrel

It seemed silly to get a rain barrel when we hardly ever have rain. Then it struck me that we could fill up a rain barrel with the bucket brigade during the dry months and then with rain if it ever rains. Now we can collect water daily and disburse it periodically.

Shopping for a Rain Barrel

Usually, I do a fair amount of research before embarking on a new project or buying equipment. The day I bought the rain barrel, my son and I drove into the “big city” and I walked into a home improvement store with no idea what was available or what I wanted. I figured there would be a wide selection for thrifty water collectors in our dehydrated region. Shockingly, there was only one model. It was an ugly Grecian urn-looking thing made out of black plastic. I measured it and fortunately, it was too wide to fit in the space by our garage so rejecting it was easy.

With little hope of success, we drove over to the only other home improvement store in the area. This store had an expansive selection, which included two models. The rain barrels were stuck way in the back of the garden section behind a bunch of stuff and covered in dust and a few cobwebs. One of the units was a 50-gallon plastic wood barrel lookalike with a flat back (to fit against a wall). I liked it and after measuring it determined it would fit in the allotted space.

I paid for the rain barrel while a store clerk manhandled it out of the corner. My son loaded it in the car and we headed home.

Installing a Rain Barrel

Installing a rain barrel is relatively easy if you have a hacksaw and a handy person like my spouse to do it. You saw off a portion of the rain gutter drainpipe, put the barrel in place, refit the curvy bit of drainpipe on the end, screw in the spigot, attach a hose if you want, and put the debris screen on the top. Our driveway is a little uneven, so we put a few pieces of metal under part of the bottom edge as a shim.

Some people choose to buy a water barrel stand or put it on top of a couple of concrete blocks to make accessing the spigot or filling up a bucket easier. I did not think of this until we got home. See if I had done my homework ahead of time, I would have thought about the possibility of needing a stand. Fortunately, we have a little pump I can use if I need it.

Filling a Rain Barrel

The first time I carried a bucket of shower water down the stairs and dumped it in the rain barrel, about half of it sloshed out over the barrel. After another couple of tries, I now have the hang of how to pour so the water actually goes in the barrel. Besides saving water, daily trips from the shower to the rain barrel allow me to get in an extra four flights of stairs a day. It is good exercise.

We are keeping our yard alive with a few buckets, a barrel, and a little creative thinking. Whenever I look outside and see our little bit of greenery, I feel pleasure and a sense of accomplishment.

I can hear the rosebush singing.

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