I have gotten a lot of questions in recent weeks about what I do for laundry: How can you clean your clothes and keep things plastic free? There are a lot of angles to consider, so let’s dive right in.
Micro Waste Prevention
To start this conversation, we of course have to talk about microplastics. All clothing sheds fibers from the moment it’s made, but for synthetic fabrics (polyester, nylon, spandex, elasticine, and more) this is an environmental and health concern. Microplastics from washing machines drain into our waterways, and there have even been studies showing that there are microplastics in most bottled water.
The first step the preventing this micro waste is to simply wash your clothes less. Re-wear as much as you can, and only wash if it stinks, or has real stains on it. Your clothes will hold up longer, and you will use less water because you wash less frequently. When you do need new clothes, try to find second hand clothes made with natural fibers, like cotton, hemp, wool, cashmere, linen, silk, and bamboo.
I also recommend getting a bag to catch microplastics, like the Guppy Friend, which I have recently started using. Put in as many of your synthetic garments as you can fit without over stuffing the bag, and dispose of the microplastics after you wash in the trash.
Do You Need To Dry Your Clothes?
The answer is probably not. Most of the world gets by just fine air-drying their clothes–using dryers for everything seems to be a uniquely American pastime. Besides, you can save energy and money by skipping the dryer. Set up a clothes line in your backyard for the warmer months, and invest in a clothes rack to dry clothes indoors (or in apartments).
There are a lot of options for low waste washing products, but if you can’t find any of these in your neck of the woods, don’t sweat it. Opt for fragrance free laundry soap with all natural ingredients and make sure to properly recycle the bottle afterward—make sure it’s clean and dry when it goes in the bin, and the cap is off. Caps are usually made with #7 plastic, which cannot be recycled in most jurisdictions because it is usually a combination of plastic materials. (If this is as frustrating to you as it is to me, check this out: Envision Hands is a non profit in Australia that collects plastic caps to be made into prosthetic limbs for those who need them, free of charge. Send them caps or donate to their GoFundMe to support them, or try to find an organization that will take caps in your area.)
Soap nuts are a great way to start, and you can order them online fairly easily. You put 5-6 in a little cloth bag, and throw it in with the wash. Soap nuts are used in traditional soap making, and have many of the properties of soap on their own when you put them in water. You can also boil them to make your own liquid soap. I will admit that I stopped using them last summer because I wasn’t convinced that my clothes were getting clean, but they work for some people. I also never tried making the liquid soap myself, which I may do in the future.
Old school laundry powder is also a great option. It’s easy and cheap to make your own, too. Here is a recipe I found that looks good. I have never tried making this, but some people swear by it.
This last option is the lazy route, and it is the one I’ve stuck with the longest because it’s easy. I just use castile soap as laundry detergent, and refill my old Dr. Bronner’s bottle at my local bulk store. The store I go to also sells laundry specific soap in bulk, but I use Dr. Bronners for other stuff around the house (including bubble baths and cleaning spray) so the minimalist in me tends toward buying the more versatile product. (If you don’t have castile soap in your life, this is your sign to get some. It works for everything. It’s amazing. I promise.)
If you have clothes with lots of stains, throw in a 1/4 cup of white vinegar with your load. And if you are looking for an alternative to dryer sheets, try reusable wool dryer balls, which can be found online and sometimes at farmers markets. Fabric softener is a hoax, as far as I can tell.
I hope this was helpful! If you still have questions about laundry, send them in. Let me know if you try any of these methods in the comments!