My zero waste laundry routine

Laundry lovers and laundry haters alike, there are some simple, solid steps to take to make washing clothes and linens greener. While it will never be particularly exciting, the simple routine of doing laundry is an easy place to make things more zero waste. I am a big fan of handwashing materials like silk and wool, but for all the rest a conventional washing machine is suitable.

So for socks, tees, and everything in between, here’s how one zero waster does it:


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When to wash

The frequency with which we wash our things varies from person to person, but washing less is the simplest way to cut waste in the laundry routine. I always wear additional washable underclothes like camisoles, long johns and slips so that there is limited contact between the body and clothes. This way, outer clothes (ie., the ones people actually see) don’t get soiled and can be worn multiple times.

Between washes, I hang my clothes to air out and spot clean anything I spilled on them before taking them off. For clothes that are difficult to wash, I like to mist them with a spray bottle with vinegar and water before hanging between wears. For any clothes and especially those that wrinkle, ironing with steam can refresh your clothes for another (or many more) wear.

When it comes to exactly how often things should be washed, there don’t seem to be any recommendations based on actual studies about when clothes and linens get dirty. To keep towels and sheets clean between washes, be sure to let towels dry completely between uses to avoid a mildew smell and wear dedicated sleeping clothes rather than your clothes from that day to keep the bed cleaner.

Soap

I wash my clothes with laundry powder, either store bought in cardboard or homemade. My homemade laundry powder can be found here. I haven’t used fabric softener in years and it’s definitely a product you can get by without, so I recommend simply skipping the softener; it makes little difference, especially dealing with tumble dried clothes and scented detergent.

washing

If every household in the UK switched from 40 to 30 degrees {to wash their laundry} throughout the year, it would be the equivalent to the annual emissions from around 1,550 typical homes.
— Households are using twice as much energy as needed for laundry, reveals research, Jack Peat, independent.co.uk

When washing, I always use cold water because it can cut a load of laundry’s energy use by more than half. For commercial laundry powders, cold water is just fine, although warm water works best for my homemade version. It’s important to only run the washer when it is full as well because most machines use the same amount of water regardless of how much is in the machine. If your clothes have been washed many times over, you may find they no longer need to be separated into lights and darks to be washed. Buying secondhand many-times-washed clothes helps avoid bleeding, and I haven’t separated light and dark laundry in at least six months.

Drying

The greenest choice for drying your laundry would be to hang dry everything. I suggest hanging dry as much as you can. Personally, I hang dry in spring and summer but I use a clothes dryer during cold months because it would take well over a day for my clothes to hang dry, even inside, with the long, cold winters in New York State. Do what you can!

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If you choose to use a clothes dryer, use the dry-sense setting that will automatically stop  when it senses that the clothes are no longer wet. Above all, be sure to turn off the “wrinkle prevention” setting that makes the dryer tumble on hot every few minutes after the cycle is complete until you take the clothes out of the dryer; it’s a silly waste of electricity.

softening

Finally, to avoid static and to replace fabric softener, I use wool dryer balls. Wool dryer balls are made from natural fiber and can be reused for years. Another bonus is that they help separate your clothes in the dryer to allow more air flow and absorb some moisture, which can cut down on drying time.