Laundry — Laziness is Good

Laundry is one of those tasks that must be done, but does it really need to be done every week or is that just a habit? Doing laundry uses resources and generates waste. Perhaps this is a good time to re-evaluate our personal laundry habits. Are there things we can do/not do to reduce the environmental impact of enjoying clean clothes?

Pile of LaundryWhen I was a kid we did multiple loads of laundry every week for our 5-person family. Although we had a dryer, some items like sheets and towels were hung outside on a clothes line using old-fashioned devices called clothes pins. As an adult, I carried the weekly laundry habit forward with my own family. It was not until my kids were adults themselves that I thought about my weekly laundry habit.

It did not come as a huge surprise to learn that my kids did not do laundry every week while away at college and indeed sometimes waited until there really weren’t any clean clothes left. When asked why they didn’t do their laundry every week, the response was generally something like, “I’ve got better things to do or I’m lazy.” One day it struck me that they actually had the right idea and maybe laundry laziness was a good thing.

Laundry Resource Use

Resources including water, petroleum, raw and recycled materials are consumed throughout the laundry life cycle during manufacturing, transportation, use, and disposal. This includes:

  • Manufacturing washers and dryers, transporting them to the store and then one’s home or a Laundromat.
  • Making laundry detergents and additives (including their plastic and cardboard containers), transportation to and from the store.
  • Water, electricity, and natural gas for washing and drying.
  • Treating waste water to remove laundry chemicals.
  • Recycling plastic and cardboard containers, washers and dryers, or transporting to a landfill.

Laundry Habits – Think About It

Frequency
  • Does laundry need to be done every week? There is no law that I am aware of.
  • Does laundry equipment convenience play a factor? Do people with a washer and dryer in their house or apartment do laundry more often than people who go to a Laundromat?
Equipment
  • Is it better to stick with older and possibly less efficient equipment or purchase a high-efficiency washer and dryer? What happens to your old washer and dryer after the delivery guys take it away?
  • How about forgoing equipment like a dryer? Does anyone still use a clothes line? (If you do, give yourself extra points for using renewable energy.)
Process
  • Is sorting into white, light, dark, delicates, etc. necessary? Are today’s fabrics more color-fast? When was the last time you washed a red t-shirt and white socks and ended up with pink socks?
  • How about doing full loads? Do you do a small load of socks and underwear or wait until you have a full load?
  • Are all the products people use to keep clothes blindingly white, smelling like lavender, or snuggly soft actually necessary?
  • Liquid or powder? Concentrated or not? (Weight plays a big factor in transportation resource use.)
  • Green cleaning products or not?
  • Hot or cold water (heating water takes extra energy)?

Laundry is often a task we learn at a young age and we carry those habits through to adulthood. In recent years, there have been a lot of advancements in equipment to reduce energy and water use. A wide variety of products are available that are more efficient, greener, and use less packaging.

Think about your own laundry habits. Would laundry laziness work for you?

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Keeping Clean — Bar Soap vs. Liquid Soap

Bar Soap and Liquid Soap“When did we stop using a simple bar of soap to clean our hands and bodies?” That thought struck me recently while refilling the plastic kitchen soap dispenser with liquid soap from a bigger plastic container. I decided to investigate and write about the topic.

Bar soap has been around for centuries. Liquid soap was first patented in the 1860’s but didn’t become a mass market item until around the 1970’s. Is one better than the other?

Bar Soap vs. Liquid Soap

Cleansing / Additives

Both bar and liquid soap are effective for washing hands and bodies and are available with moisturizers, antibacterial agents, scents, etc.

Size and Shape

Bar soap is usually oval or rectangular shaped and sized to fit in one’s hand. Liquid soap is sold in a variety of bottle sizes and shapes from travel size to giant economy size.

Price

Plain bar soap is likely a more cost-effective choice than liquid soap. However, use for use, a luxury handmade bar of soap may cost more than a store brand bottle of liquid soap.

Packaging

Bar soap is usually packaged in a paper or plastic wrapper and often a cardboard box too. Liquid soap typically comes in a plastic bottle and may have a pump to make dispensing easier. Multi-packs of bar soap or liquid soap are usually wrapped in plastic or packaged in a box.

Transportation

This is where bar soap and liquid soap part ways. Bar soap is small, compact, and lightweight. The first ingredient in liquid soap is water and water is heavy and uses a lot more energy for transportation from the manufacturer to the store.

Waste / Recycling

At the end of the life of a bar of soap, there is nothing left or maybe a small sliver to throw away or attach to the next bar of soap. At the end of the life of a bottle of liquid soap, there is an empty plastic bottle. The bottle can be refilled and reused or recycled.

How Many Liquid Soap Containers and Dispensers Does One Household Need?

I decided to survey my own household to see what was in use.

  • Kitchen – plastic bottle of liquid soap
  • Laundry Room – nothing (whew)
  • Bathrooms – plastic dispensers with liquid soap and non-refillable bottles of various body washes. We also had a collection of plastic bottles/tubes containing facial cleansers, shampoos, and conditioners (but that’s a topic for another post).

When did I buy the first plastic liquid soap bottle or dispenser? I don’t remember but perhaps it all started years ago when I purchased our first bathroom accessory set with matching toothbrush holder, cup, liquid soap dispenser, facial tissue holder, and wastebasket. Who decreed we needed these decorative items in our bathrooms I do not know but I succumbed. Once we started using liquid soap for hand washing it was only a matter of time before it found its way into our showers.

So What

When you think about it, transporting water around in the form of liquid soap doesn’t make economic or environmental sense. Both bar and liquid soap often come with unnecessary packaging. And then there are all the plastic dispensers and bottles.

Stack of Bar SoapWe refill the dispensers and recycle the plastic bottles but that’s still a lot of water being transported and plastic uses energy during recycling. So what could/should we do next? We decided to try bar soap in the shower again and move on from there.

Think about what you use in your household and could / should you make a change?