How to eco-up your laundry

In my last blog post I shared with you my recipe for homemade laundry powder. I was going to continue writing about the other ways I try to make my laundry rituals more sustainable because laundry powder is just one small (but important!) part of the laundering process, but it was starting to turn into a real essay… So I stopped at the end of the recipe and decided to continue my ramblings in another post (this one). People can really get quite attached to a brand of laundry powder (!) so it may be that only one or two people will ever try my zero-waste, eco-friendly laundry powder recipe, BUT there’s a possibility that more of you will be open to incorporating some of these other eco-friendly considerations into your laundry routine from now on (my fingers are crossed!) 🤞

So without further ado, here are some other ways I’ve eco’d up my own laundry (in no particular order):

The delicates bag

I used to use a delicates washing bag made from a fine (polyester) fabric like tulle but it disintegrated over time, then one day actually ripped to shreds in the wash.  A delicates washing bag is a pretty eco-friendly thing to use in the laundry because it saves delicate garments from unnecessary wear and tear and helps to keep them in good condition for much longer (thus saving you – and the environment! – from having to buy more clothes…)  Unfortunately, most of the delicates bags you’ll find are made from a synthetic fabric (such as petroleum-derived polyester) and they are terrible for the environment, particularly when they go through your washing machine – but more on that later…

I decided to make myself a new delicates bag by sewing up a piece of muslin cloth into a sack with a cotton drawstring to tie it closed.  As you can sort of see, I rounded the bottom corners and just overlocked the sides and bottom in one go!  It works brilliantly by the way 😉.  If this bag deteriorates to the point where it’s completely unusable, and hopefully that will be many, many years (and washes) from now, I can put it in the compost bin!

Hey, those are plastic pegs!

Yup, those are plastic pegs. I use them because we already had lots of them before we decided we wanted to live ‘plastic-free’.  Sending them off to landfill when they work perfectly well isn’t exactly eco-friendly, is it? But we all know that plastic pegs do eventually fall apart, and when they do I fully intend to replace them with marine-grade stainless steel pegs (available from the Mrs Goodness shop, yeah! 🙌 ).

Line-drying in the sun

We’re having the most fantastic summer weather this year (ok, well apart from this week and last week!) so hanging clothes outside to dry in the sun is a no-brainer. However, when you’re busy it’s really tempting to transfer your wet clothes from the washing machine straight over to the dryer.  Obviously, this is a bad idea most of the time, and it’s not just because of the power bill.  Why?

  • Dryers are really hard on our clothes. All that lint you have to empty from the dryer door each time you do a load is evidence of how your dryer has damaged the fabrics and made little tears in the fibres of your clothes. Obviously, the longer you can get your clothes to last in good condition, the fewer replacement clothes you need to buy = better for the environment!
  • Tumble drying shrinks clothes twice as much as air-drying.  And it’s not just the first wash/dry either; clothes continue to shrink each time they’re tumble dried (especially at hot temperatures).
  • Elastane, aka. lycra, spandex, elastic, etc. doesn’t fare well in hot temperatures. It breaks down and loses its elasticity. Given that it’s pretty much impossible these days to find any clothes that don’t contain at least 5% lycra (I try!), I think it’s reasonable to assume that most of your clothes will end up unstretchy and broken faster the more often you dry them in the dryer.
  • Okay, so here’s the worst one IMO (sorry to be the bearer of bad news 😰) – a recent study of tap water found that 83% of samples from around the world were contaminated with microplastics.¹ How plastic gets into our drinking water doesn’t seem to have been decided on yet, but I think most of us will agree that there are some obvious sources, such as our ground water and atmosphere. Washing machines and then tumble dryers which are vented outside, full of plastic clothes, must surely play a role in the contamination of our atmosphere with microplastic fibres. Eek!

I’ll admit that there are weeks when it just won’t stop raining and it’s so humid here that nothing dries properly… and on those days a decent dryer is a total godsend.  But there’s nothing wrong with air-drying first and then just finishing things off in the dryer, or using the dryer in case of emergency only (and not my husband’s definition of dryer-emergency either – that’s just called ‘being disorganised’! 🙄)  Portable drying racks are the BEST, because you can bring everything inside at the first sign of rain, or you can just stand them in a sunny spot inside your house.  If you’re short on space, there are those ceiling mounted drying racks which can be winched up above your head – perfect for Victorian villas with ridiculously high ceilings where all the heat hangs out!  If they’re too expensive for you, you could just get crafty and make your own, as our friends did (it’s possible!).

But of course, the ultimate tried-and-true most eco-friendly way of drying your clothes has to be line-drying them outside. It’s the best! Yup, it’s tedious and time-consuming, especially when you’re not a relaxed, meditative kind of personality (like me).  But it can be a relaxing, meditative kind of activity which is quite a good thing for such a person (like me). Also,

  • Sunlight is the best natural antibacterial, odour-killing ingredient out there.
  • It’s gentle on fabrics,
  • It’s affordable, ethical, and sustainable,
  • It’s a renewable energy source!
  • Sunlight is also a natural bleacher. You’ll be amazed at how well it can make poo stains from cloth nappies disappear! and it will disinfect them for you too 😉
  • Hanging your clothes on the line is a good way to naturally exercise your shoulders; something we sedentary modern-world dwellers aren’t doing enough of these days,
  • It’s also a good way to get a natural hit of vitamin D, which is worthy of consideration given that close to half of us kiwi adults are actually deficient these days.²

Un-plastic clothes

This one is actually getting quite difficult to achieve these days.  I really try my best to buy un-plastic clothes now, but as I mentioned above, lycra is blended into just about every cotton garment you can buy. That, or polyester 😞.  The way I organise my wardrobe is probably worthy of its own blog post actually, but in short: I try to buy second-hand and natural fibre clothing only; then if I have to buy, I look for organic, sustainably manufactured natural fibre clothing; and if I can’t get those I buy plastic-free clothes (with the exception of a teeny bit of lycra. I’m not quite ready for drawstring undies).  Not perfect, but better than not trying at all, right?. Unfortunately, most organic/responsibly made clothes are so much more expensive than ‘ordinary’ clothes, and most of us are only earning ‘ordinary’ wages… so the first option is definitely my favourite.

In case you’re wondering, these are the fabrics I personally label as ‘plastic’: nylon, polyester, acrylic, vinyl, lycra, PVC, microfibre, and microfleece. My preferred fabrics are: (organic everything if I can) hemp, organic cotton, linen, bamboo, silk, and wool.³ As far as I know, none of those fabrics are without some sort of environmental/ethical impact but some are better than others, and the natural fabrics are biodegradable, meaning they give back to the environment before they disappear completely.

Wear less and wash less

By this, I don’t mean dress skimpy! When I say ‘wear less’, I just mean that I don’t change outfits multiple times a day.  That’s what my daughter would love to do – if she could, she would change her outfit 5 times a day. But I discourage it and try to get through the whole day with my kids wearing just one outfit each. If it gets grubby then it gets grubby and will be washed at the end of the day. Obviously, when my son poured half a glass of chocolate peanut butter smoothie all over himself because he didn’t understand how the straw worked (this was yesterday by the way 😩) I immediately reached for the spare set of clothes in his kindy bag. But changing clothes on a whim and then tossing them in the laundry basket is not something I condone around here.  I also try not to wash things that aren’t dirty or stinky, and I give everyone grief when they make me! I hope you’re not wrinkling up your face in disgust right now, but personally I think we’ve become unreasonably obsessed with rituals of over-cleanliness, to the detriment of our health and wellbeing. Hygienic, yes. Sterile, not so important to me. The upside of washing clothes less is they last longer.  And you spend less time and energy on laundry, less money and materials on laundry detergents, and you reduce your environmental footprint!

  1. Article from the Guardian: “Plastic fibres found in tap water around the world, study reveals“
  3. This article about the ethics and sustainability of wool is really interesting! Worth a read I think:

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  • Funny story which I’m so embarrassed to admit to … I wasn’t going to tell anyone !! Anyway here goes . Almost a year ago we moved into our rebuilt home after the ChCh earthquakes. We installed new appliances. The washing machine was suppose to be completely idiot proof … it dispenses automatically the washing liquid which comes in bottles to fit the dispenser.The very handy handyman husband gave me a lesson on driving the thing …. totally idiot proof !!! could do it with my eyes shut until we realised this weekend the VHHM husband had not set up according to manual ( he s allergic to fine detail instructions) SO for an entire year almost I have been washing in water only as the washing liquid was not being dispensed ! Honestly our clothes have come out perfectly clean and fresh !!!! Anyway set up correctly now so everything spells delicious .
    NOTE I had questioned the dispenser process several times over the year …. we dismissed thinking wow this stuff if magic and really economical as it did look like some had been used in the tiny amounts however on closer inspection none had been dispensed: ))))

  • Hi Esther, I don’t own a dryer and always use racks anyway or the line outside.
    We tend to wear cottons, linen ad more cotton so acrylic clothing is very minimal in our temps.
    36C does not go well with synthetic clothing which hangs like a sack around you dripping wet anyway.
    Go for it girl.
    Like your post.
    Love Agnes and Henk xxxxxxxxx