An Experiment into Eco-Friendly Laundry Methods

This is the first post in my new series: The Birdgehl’s Guide to Greener Living. I’m exploring ways to make my lifestyle a little more sustainable and would like to share my discoveries with you.

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I’ve learned a lot from living overseas, about the world, the idiosyncrasies of other cultures and of course, myself. It was my decision to become an expat that triggered a desire to take better care of our planet. To do so, I’m evaluating what ways I can go about greening up my life at home. It’s a process I’m enjoying as it makes me feel good and leads to long-term savings in money. These are good enough reasons as any to pursue a goal, in my opinion.

Laundry is a big’un. Clothes obviously need to be cleaned eventually, lest one wants to grievously offend the nostrils of every person they come into contact with. On the other hand, laundry can make a bit of an impact on your carbon footprint.

Do we over-wash our clothes?

As a society, we are probably way more concerned with our personal hygiene than we need to be. I think the whole notion of “wear once, wash once” is ridiculously outdated (unless you have a tendency to spill your dinner on your clothes, as I am definitely guilty of doing). Did you know you could probably get away with wearing jeans 10 times before having to wash them?

The only items I wash after one use is underwear (obviously, am not that disgusting) and maybe T-shirts after a particularly sweaty day. If you’ve worn something once, give it a sniff – if it’s odourless it’s probably good to go again.

Once you’ve accumulated a pile of threads that you’ve worn again and again, it’s time to consider washing. I decided to split this task into three, addressing the issues of where I was washing my clothes, what with and how I was going about drying them.

Eliminating the use of the washing machine

For me, clothing is an investment. I eschewed fast fashion from my life a couple of years ago, as I really didn’t enjoy having my blouses fall to bits after just a couple of wears. I now mostly purchase my threads secondhand, or I invest in quality items that won’t go out of fashion and I know will last. Well, will last as long as I take proper care in cleaning them.

When I first moved to London I took to washing my delicates in the bathtub. Not ideal, but at least I knew they were encountering minimal damage. However, my current apartment contains only showers and there are no sinks large enough to wash clothes in. It was either a case of taking my beloved delicates to the dry-cleaners (nope) or wash them in a bag in the machine. I took to doing this but worried hugely about the wear and tear on my clothes by the washing machine.

Enter the Scrubba, which I first saw featured on Alex in Wanderland’s blog, followed by a mention on Rob Greenfield’s website.

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A portable laundry bag (that was also intended for travel) seemed like the perfect solution to my washing woes. I purchased one to use next time my clothes needed a soak.

There are other ways you can limit your energy consumption when using a washing machine. Try to do one big load a week and wash your clothes on cooler temperatures – it’s better for them. I will continue to wash my bedsheets and towels in the machine, but realistically could probably get away with doing a wash once every fortnight.

Washing Powder

I’d been using “Eco-friendly” laundry detergent for a few years back in Oz, but the price tag it carried was not kind on my bank account. After being forced to revert back to conventional detergent in Doha, I was determined to change my ways when I moved to London.

I thought I’d found the answer when I bought myself a laundry ball – which did seemingly clean my clothes as long as I was careful not to spill stains of any kind on them. I was back at the drawing board when I thought: “Stuff it. Why don’t I try making my own?”

I turned to the Internet, seeking recipes for homemade laundry powder. Lo and behold, it seemed exceedingly simple to make… IF YOU LIVED IN AMERICA. As always, I was thwarted by the lack of availability of items in the UK (England, you know I love you, but really?!), with washing soda being seemingly completely unavailable, unless I wished to pay out the nose for it, of course.

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Fortunately, I stumbled upon this article that explained that you could actually make your own washing soda, simply by baking bicarb in the oven! I generally always have an over-excessive supply of bicarb on hand, so I gave it a shot. (Hint: It doesn’t say in that article, but it takes around two hours in the oven to bake. I had it at 205 degrees Celsius). From there on, I followed this recipe, mixing my homemade washing soda with castile soap and borax substitute.

I would use it sparingly – a spoonful is probably more than enough to wash your clothes with. On the upside, you’ll get more use out of a batch that way.

Drying of Clothes

Finally, a simple solution. Don’t tumble dry your clothes. Buy a clothing rack and hang them up to dry. Just be careful not to leave the clothes draped on one another in any ways, otherwise they’ll stink.

The Result

My clothes are washed and smell fresh, with a touch of rose, one of my favourite scents. My delicates remain undamaged… which is more than I can say for their eventual fate if I continued to clean them in the washing machine.

And… That’s it

So all in all, relatively little bother for big reward. I’ve got washing powder that doesn’t contain any nasty and surprising ingredients, a washing machine I can take with me when I’m on the road and clothes that will last, I hope, a lifetime of wear.

Have you ever considered changing your laundry routine in order to be kinder to the environment? How do you wash your clothes while travelling?

LC

LC can often be found nursing a cup of green tea, with her head in a book. She is a writer, video editor and professional cheese eater. Her life's aspiration is to one day live on a farm in Tasmania with 11 dogs, a Shetland pony and several pygmy goats.

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Hope - October 18, 2015

That bag looks great. I think I will invest in one for my travel adventures. My last visit to a laundromat whilst travelling was annoying to say the least!
It cost a lot of money, the machines were gross, and when I tried to get home, the taxi company thought I was pranking them so they wouldn’t pick me up because ‘who goes to laundromats?’

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    LC - October 18, 2015

    I’ve fallen into a terrible habit of packing more clothing than I need to combat this, plus a pair of undies for every day of the trip!

    Reply
found it! - October 18, 2015

Worth noting that borax substitute will bleach your clothes, so should probably be used very sparingly or only on whites. That bag looks fun, forgive my Englishness, what is a day pack? Is it a handbag?

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    LC - October 18, 2015

    Good question… a bag you pack for a day?

    Reply
Greenr Malta - February 21, 2017

Great article. Going green is a huge part of today’s culture and people are always finding new, creative ways to help the environment.

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    LC - February 21, 2017

    Thank you! I’d forgotten this post existed! (Wrote it quite some time ago). It still rings true.

    Reply
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