Making the right choices regarding how you wash your clothes can help you become more eco-friendly. Our laundry routines involve more waste and consumption than we may assume. And when you consider the waste that comes with laundry, a great step towards being a bit greener is to use refillable laundry detergent.
This seemingly small change can help you withdraw your support for damaging systems and move closer to a zero-waste lifestyle.
In this article, we'll talk about ways to work towards zero waste laundry. We'll explore why you should use refillable laundry detergent and several other ways to make your laundry routine greener.
In addition to considering using refillable laundry detergent, you could also move away from commercial laundry detergents altogether. You can consider making your own from simple, natural ingredients.
You can also help reduce plastic waste by installing filters to catch microplastics or, better yet, by avoiding synthetic clothing altogether. And you can reduce water waste and save electricity at home by washing more carefully, with the right appliances and at lower temperatures, and by air-drying your clothes.
One of the very first things to think about when it comes to zero-waste laundry is how often you launder your clothes in the first place. To avoid wasting water and energy, it is important not to wash too often. Make sure you only wash clothes/ bedding etc., when they do need it, and not necessarily automatically after you have worn items for only one day.
Many people are guilty of washing clothes and other textiles far too often. Remember, this won't only be wastewater and energy. It also increases wear and tear on your fabrics and can often mean that they won't last quite as long.
Another important thing to think about is how you can reduce plastic waste. Many laundry liquid detergent brands you can buy come in plastic bottles or other plastic containers.
If you still want to use such detergents, consider choosing bottles you can refill. Several stores and hubs are popping up that allow customers to refill their laundry detergent bottles rather than buy new ones. Furthermore, most of these will offer refills for dish soap, shampoo, hand washes, and more.
To find a store that offers refills in your area, simply run a Google search for 'where to refill laundry detergent in *insert your area*.' Or 'soap refill stations in *insert your area*.' Like this:
You can also encourage your local stores to bring refill stations for laundry detergent to their shelves.
And to suit your style, there are some lovely glass choices and other reusable bottles specifically for your refillable laundry detergent. Etsy has loads of great ones, and you also get to support smaller sellers.
But better yet, consider switching to laundry detergents that are kinder for our planet and don't come in plastic packaging. Several natural powders or eco-friendly laundry sheets come in cardboard boxes or paper containers you can recycle, for example. Here are a couple of examples:
Eco-friendly Laundry Detergents on Amazon:
But perhaps the best way to move closer to a zero-waste lifestyle is to remove commercial laundry detergents altogether. Commercial advertisements and a consumerist mindset have tricked us into thinking that we ALWAYS need fancy and expensive cleaning products for our clothes.
But this is not true at all. With a little effort, most households should find it easy to move away from commercial products and get back to basics. You can clean and wash many of your garments with natural soaps, soap nuts, and organic ingredients.
Related: for elsewhere in the home, also consider zero-waste dish soap bars & eco-friendly dishwasher detergents.
You might not be aware of this, but you can make your own completely natural, zero-plastic, and waste-free laundry detergent at home using a few simple ingredients.
The first option is to use bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) to clean certain fabrics and colors. Baking soda is great for deodorizing and brightening whites3. And people used it for just that before commercial detergents became popular.
While you can add essential oils (such as mint or lavender) for fragrance, baking soda, and hot water are all you need to get most fabrics clean and smelling nice.
Another great option to use is Castile soap (amazon). If you buy your Castile soap locally, you don't have to use more than a paper wrap of packaging. Grate a bar of Castile soap into water to make your own DIY liquid laundry detergent. You can also get liquid castile soap, but make sure it's from a store that offers refills.
There are also many plastic-free and eco-friendly bar soaps for your laundry. With bar soap, you avoid the plastic bottle entirely, and most come without chemical nasties, are cruelty-free, and some provide fragrance-free options for sensitive skin. Look out for laundry soap that comes packaged using eco-friendly card or waxed paper, for example:
Another important thing to consider when you are doing your laundry is the microplastic pollution you send down your drain. Reducing plastic packaging is only part of the solution to solving the massive problem of plastic waste.
Responsible consumers trying to reduce their plastic waste are increasingly turning to products designed to catch microfibres during a wash. Synthetic microfibers, which are shed during washes, are responsible for 35% of the primary microplastic waste in our environment2. So you may decide to add a filter to your washer.
But a recent study from the Institute for Polymers, Composites, and Biomaterials of the National Research Council of Italy (IPCB-CNR) and the University of Plymouth has revealed that wearing clothes can release even greater quantities of microfibres into the environment than washing them1.
The study compared four different types of polyester clothing and measured the number of fibers released after participants wore and washed them. The results showed that we can release up to 4,000 fibers per gram of fabric during a conventional wash. But it also showed that we can shed up to 400 fibers per gram of fabric during just 20 minutes of normal wear.
This means that in one year, one person could release 300 million microfibres by washing synthetic clothes and more than 900 million into the air simply by wearing the clothes.
The study also found significant differences depending on the manufacturers who made these garments. This means that clothing designers and manufacturers have a major role in preventing microfibres' release into the environment. But it also means that synthetic clothing has an even more significant impact on plastic pollution than previously thought.
So when it comes to your laundry room wash – we have not solved the pollution problem yet. So, you have to look carefully at which clothes you choose to buy in the first place. Avoid synthetic options whenever possible, and try to choose natural, organic fabrics instead. Only when we choose the right clothes in the first place can we hope to reach a zero-waste laundry routine?
Moving to a zero-waste lifestyle is not only about avoiding single-use plastic. A genuinely sustainable zero-waste lifestyle also involves looking at how we waste other things – like energy, or water, for example.
One meaningful way to ensure we don't waste energy is to choose an energy-efficient washing machine. We can also help stop energy waste by ensuring that we wash at lower temperatures and don't wash clothes at high temperatures or for long periods when they don't need them.
Using quick wash cycles at 30 or 40 is usually sufficient for most laundry washes and still results in clean clothes. Even better, doing so will help you reduce your carbon footprint due to few carbon emissions.
Finally, don't use a tumble drier. This helps you conserve energy by using less electricity. Rather than using a machine, try to dry your clothes on a washing line outdoors whenever possible.
Air drying clothes outdoors is not only better for the planet. But UV sunlight also helps kill germs and keep clothes clean and fresh.
You might not think that small steps like choosing refillable laundry detergent or making your own will make a big difference. But these small changes to how we live our daily lives can have a considerable impact on our planet. By overhauling your laundry routine and carefully thinking about clothes and clothes washing, you can move towards a more eco-friendly and sustainable way of life.
|1||Francesca, D., Mariacristina, C., Maurizio, A., and Richard, T. (2020). Microfiber Release to Water, Via Laundering, and to Air, via Everyday Use: A Comparison between Polyester Clothing with Differing Textile Parameters Environmental Science & Technology 54 (6), 3288-3296 DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.9b06892|
|2||Henry, B., Laitala, K., & Klepp, I. G. (2019). Microfibres from apparel and home textiles: Prospects for including microplastics in environmental sustainability assessment. The Science of the total environment, 652, 483–494.|
|3||Texas Agricultural Extension Services, 1984. STAIN REMOVAL CHART FOR WASHABLE CLOTHING by Becky Saunders·(sourced from The OAKTrust Digital Repository)|
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.