by Jen Quinlan
Maybe you don’t get all the chemistry behind why phosphates are bad or what effects doing your laundry can have on the environment. That’s OK! You don’t need to be a chemist to know that every aspect of our lives could probably be a little more ecologically responsible. Thanks to Green Planet’s top experts, we have a few easy-to-follow tips to help you green your laundry room.
Consider multiple wears. One of the simplest ways to cut back on the impact of your laundry is to just plain do less of it. Of course, this doesn’t go for everything, but research by the U.N. Environment Programme found that “you can consume up to five times less energy by wearing your jeans at least three times, washing them in cold water, and skipping the dryer or the iron” (planetgreen.discovery.com/fashion-beauty/save-energy-with-your-jeans.html).
Choose your detergent wisely. There’s plenty to complain about in traditional laundry products. Phosphates, for one, can cause algal blooms that negatively effect ecosystems and marine life. Look for products that are readily biodegradable, made from plant and vegetable products, are free of phosphates, and don’t have petroleum-based ingredients. Healthier for the planet, and in many cases, much gentler on your skin too. Fabric softener can be replaced with a cup of white vinegar added during the rinse cycle. It naturally balances the pH of soap, so you get soft clothes with no chemical residue.
Concentrate, concentrate, concentrate. Those smaller packages filled with concentrated laundry detergent have a smaller carbon footprint (more useful product gets shipped using less fuel and space) and deliver more bang for the buck.
DIY detergent ain’t so bad. With just a handful of ingredients available at most grocery stores, you can create the greenest laundry detergent you can get your hands on. You’ll know exactly what’s in (or out of) it, and you can personalize the fragrance. There are lots of recipes for liquid and powder detergents online; check it out. You might be surprised how easy they are to make.
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Get Energy Star appliances. Maybe investing in a front-load washer isn’t in the budget right now, but when the top-loader is ready to be replaced, consider a top loader with the Energy Star logo; they typically use 18 to 25 gallons per load, compared to 40 gallons for older machines. Another tip: wash in cold water. Not heating the water saves 90% of the energy used for washing and over $100 a year. Also, only run full loads; same goes for the dryer.
Use the line. With over 88 million dryers in the U.S., we’re looking at over a ton of CO2 emissions annually. Harvest free solar energy and avoid the dryer altogether, if you can. Skipping the dryer will also extend the life of your clothes!
Dry wisely. A few things can help improve your drying efficiency if you use the dryer. Clean the lint filter to improve efficiency. Use the moisture sensor if you have one; the machine will shut down once it senses clothes are dry instead of continuing the cycle. Skipping dryer sheets can preserve the life of your fabrics as well as prevent exposure to nasty neurotoxins like toluene and styrene. Try a sachet of dried organic lavender in the dryer for a fresh scent instead of sheets. More great ideas at www.treehugger.com.
Avoid the iron. It zaps energy, deteriorates fabric, and takes up valuable time. Instead, hang clothes up right after the wash cycle; the remaining water in them will work with gravity to pull out most of the wrinkles. Fold dry clothes where you want creases to be, and place them under other clothes in your dresser, which will further help to press them.
Don’t dis’ the laundromat. Commercial washers and dryers are generally more efficient than the domestic versions – bring a good book or enjoy visiting with locals while the wash goes. If you use a drop off service, request green detergents. Get a load of this: a Laundromat in Chicago is even using solar power for their hot H2O; there are some out there embracing alternative energy. If you find one in the area, let us know!
Skip the dry cleaner. Usual dry cleaning is as un-green as it gets, notably due to the health dangers associated with the use of perchloroethylene. We’re talking bladder, esophageal, and cervical cancer; eye, nose, throat and skin irritation; and reduced fertility as potential effects from perc exposure. Try buying clothes that don’t require dry cleaning, and recognize that many delicates can be safely hand washed instead. For items that must be professionally treated, reducing your exposure is a good goal. Greener dry cleaners are coming, like those who use carbon dioxide instead of perc. The EPA has a list of CO2 cleaners that are also on the horizon. Some businesses now use liquid carbon dioxide instead of perc (our nearest CO2 cleaners are in the Twin Cities area, unfortunately: www.epa.gov/dfe/pubs/garment/gcrg/cleanguide.pdf).
A Few Top Green Laundry Products
…you can find almost anywhere!
This Burlington, Vermont-based company is considered a leader in cultural change in consumer behavior and business ethics. One of the country’s first self-declared “socially responsible” companies, Seventh Generation states that each purchase of their products makes a difference by saving natural resources, reducing pollution, keeping toxic chemicals out of the environment, and making the world a safer place for this and the next seven generations.
Laundry Products: Natural 2X Concentrated Laundry Liquid, Natural Fabric Softener Sheets, Chlorine-free bleach & specially formulated baby laundry liquid
Find it at: Mother Nature Foods, Eau Claire; Target, Eau Claire; Econo Foods, Barron; Island City Co-op, Cumberland; People’s Food Co-op, LaCrosse
Mrs. Meyers (Local Pick!)
Based in Minneapolis, MN, Mrs. Meyers products are named after Thelma Meyers, the mother of the developer of Mrs. Meyers products. Their philosophy: to make straightforward, honest cleaners that smell good and work like the dickens on dirt. Products are aroma therapeutic, based on flowers and scents in Thelma’s garden. Products are biodegradable and cruelty-free, made of naturally derived ingredients whenever possible from corn, sugar cane, coconut, and palm.
Laundry Products: Laundry Detergent, Fabric Softener, Dryer Sheets infused with aroma therapy scents including basil, lavender, lemon verbena, geranium, baby blossom, and scent-free
Find it at: Festival Foods, Eau Claire; Just Local Food, Eau Claire; Little Bare Bottoms, Eau Claire; Menomonie Market Co-op, Menomonie
Ecover is an international company active in the production of ecological cleaners. Founded in 1980 in Belgium, they marketed a phosphate-free washing powder even before phosphates were branded as a problem. They are now known as the world’s largest producer of ecological cleaning products. Headquarters remain in Belgium, but they now have sites in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Switzerland, and their products are marketed in more than 26 countries.
Laundry Products: Non-chlorine bleach powder & liquid, fabric softener Sunny Day, delicate wash, stain remover, laundry wash & powder
Find it at: Menomonie Market, Menomonie; Festival Foods, Eau Claire; Econo Foods, Barron; South Suburban Buying Club, Eau Claire; Main Street Market, Rice Lake; Island City Co-op, Cumberland; Indigo Iris, Amery; Going Green, Amery; Natural Alternative, Luck