For challenge 8 in One Small Step, let’s dig in and make small changes to something nearly all of us do every week (if not almost every day!)–laundry.
Whether you wash your clothes at home or at the laundromat, in a modern, high-efficiency washer or a well-loved top-loader, chances are there’s still a little room for improvement. (I’m certain there is at our home.)
Read on to find suggestions for a more sustainable wash day–including better detergent options, tips on reducing drying time and saving energy, and more.
Plus, I’m sharing my tried and true HE-compatible DIY laundry powder recipe. We’ve used it with great results for over a decade!
Read on, then share your own ideas in the comments below. I can’t wait to hear your additions!
Five easy tips for a more sustainable wash day
1. Do less laundry.
Let’s start with the most radical (yet simplest) item on my list: wash your clothes less frequently.
I know. Radical.
But it makes sense that when we do less laundry we save resources. We can reduce wear-and-tear on our clothing (too-frequent laundering wears them out in a hurry), save water, use less soap or detergent, and save electricity. And all it takes is washing our clothes a little less frequently!
No, I’m not suggesting you show up for work next week wearing a balsamic vinegar spattered top. But how about wearing the same spot-free shirt on Friday that you wore on Monday, or the same pants you’ve been rocking for most of the week?
Indeed, many clothes stand up to multiple wearings without looking any worse for the wear! So look over your clothing and linens before dropping them into the hamper to make sure that they really need to be washed (wool in particular is a wonder at staying clean without frequent washing).
And the next time you pick out new or upcycled clothing to add to your wardrobe, seek out clothes made of natural fibers, which wear better and require less frequent laundering. If possible, avoid white, which is the least forgiving of all (and most prone to a short life due to staining).
2. Swap out your liquid liquid.
While there are a few notable exceptions, most liquid laundry detergents are packaged in plastic. We’ve already discussed how all too often plastic “recycling” is really a one-way trip to the landfill, so the less plastic the better.
Finish up your current plastic jug of liquid laundry detergent, then upgrade to something more gentle on the earth.
Upgrade to what, you ask? There are loads of great options (see what I did there?).
- Find a liquid in a cardboard container. It’s still not perfect, but it’s leagues better than a plastic jug. Check your natural foods store if your grocery doesn’t have options.
- Try a purchased powder. There are lots of great brands out there making fragrance-free, phosphate-free, environmentally sustainable powders. But read those labels. Because what’s in the detergent matters as much as the packaging material.
- Make your own laundry powder. My DIY recipe (below) costs just 25¢ per load. We’ve been using it for over 10 years it in our HE washer with excellent results, despite our extremely hard well water. And it’s been trouble-free for our plumbing and septic system. You can find my recipe at the bottom of the post.
- There are other low- to no-waste options out there, including “Sheets“, “Dropps“, and even homemade horse chestnut laundry liquid. Don’t discount Soap Nuts either, despite a bit of questionable press recently regarding their sustainability. Soap Nuts are still an excellent, sustainable option to keep on the table!
3. Replace your synthetic fabric softener with vinegar.
A generous splash of white vinegar in the fabric softener cup of your washing machine can make all the difference in your laundry load (with none of the toxins found in conventional fabric softeners).
Vinegar helps remove detergent and soap reside, and results in brighter, cleaner laundry. Vinegar also helps to soften clothes, brighten whites, and reduce odor and stains. We keep a gallon in the laundry room and add it to nearly every load.
4. Give dryer balls a spin.
Ditch the toxic dryer sheets, and toss in a set of reusable, wool dryer balls instead. Wool dryer balls can reduce drying time by up to 25%, by helping fluff your laundry while it tumbles.
Years ago, my kids and I made our own using a retired wool sweater cut into scraps, bundled with waste yarn, wrapped in wool roving, then felted. We’ve been using them for more than a decade, and they’re holding up brilliantly.
You can find a simple tutorial online, or buy wool dryer balls by the set. (4-6 is a good number to start with.) Or go quick and dirty (er, clean), by washing and repurposing a few old tennis balls from your garage.
5. Better yet, line dry.
If you can swing it, give line drying a go.
Full transparency: I can make some huge improvements here. I depend on our dryer nearly every day, even when line drying would be a more simple and sustainable option. We can all do better, myself included.
To my friends who line dry everything (year round!), despite having a consistent source of grid-power: you know who you are. I am humbled by your commitment and hard work and your fresh smelling linens.
If you have access to an outdoor space (whether a giant yard or a tiny patio) there’s probably room for a clothesline. Indoor spaces are drying friendly, too–especially in winter.
But avoid buying a cheap, flimsy drying rack which is nothing more than a wobbly legged frustration machine. Instead, find something stable and solid. (We use a long ago discontinued wall-mounting metal rack from IKEA, while my friend Ginny recommends handmade Homestead Drying Racks. Search around and you’re bound to find something good.)
While there are countless other ways to reduce our laundry impact, these five tips felt easy and accessible. I look forward to seeing what you add in the comments below!
And now, are you ready to give homemade laundry powder a go? Find my easy recipe below.
DIY Zero-Waste Laundry Soap Recipe + Tutorial
We love to make this by the double or triple batch. Then we have enough to last you for many weeks of daily use. Better yet, get together with a few friends and make a huge batch to share! Each load costs only 25¢ (with optional oxygen bleach).
Pro tip: our new Zero-Waste Dish Soap Bar is ideal for homemade laundry soap! It’s our favorite soap for this to date. We often have scratch-and-dent 1 lb. bags available at a bargain, just perfect for making laundry soap, or use ordinary LüSa soap bars or Imperfect Soap Samplers.
- 4 oz LüSa Organics Dish Soap Bar or Classic Bar Soap, finely grated (approximately 2 cups)
- 1 1/3 cup washing soda
- 2/3 cup oxygen bleach (optional)
- 1/2 cup baking soda
- 1 cup borax
- Finely grate your bar of soap on a box grater.
- Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl, being mindful to not stir to vigorously and create airborne dust that you might inhale. (Consider wearing a dust mask if you prefer your mixing on the enthusiastic side!)
- When mixture is relatively uniform, transfer to a plastic pail or glass jar to store in laundry room.
- To use, add 2 to 3 tbsp per load, directly into the drum of your washer. Wash laundry with warm or hot water.
How do you reduce your laundry’s environmental footprint?
You can find the entire One Small Step series here, or click through below for individual posts:
- One Small Step: a year of small actions with huge impact
- Swap Plastic Bottles of Soap for Bars (plus a DIY liquid recipe)
- Buy Less Stuff
- Switch to Loose Leaf Tea
- DIY All Purpose Citrus Cleaner
- 50 Ideas for More Sustainable Gifts
- Bring Your Own To-Go Box
- Upgrade Your Moisturizer