How and Why You Should Green Your Laundry Routine

Laundry is one of those chores people like to get done quickly. But however mundane the task, it’s worth reassessing your cleaning routine. A few simple changes can improve your health and make a positive dent in your eco-footprint.

Why should you care about greening your laundry? For starters, many of the chemicals found in common laundry products are hazardous to both humans and the environment (and many more have not been thoroughly tested for safety). Any product that clothing is exposed to – including detergents, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets – coats the fabrics in residues that inevitably come in contact with skin. Effects of direct or airborne exposure to these pollutants can include headaches, dizziness, respiratory issues, and even cancer. Chemicals from these products can also contaminate soil and groundwater after entering the sewer system, and are toxic to marine life.

Scented laundry products are of particular concern. One study found that scented products emit more than 100 volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including some that are recognized as toxic or hazardous. Disappointingly, products labeled “green,” “natural,” or “organic” have been found to emit just as many dangerous chemicals as standard consumer goods. Many of these chemicals are considered carcinogenic and contribute to air pollution. "The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns that indoor pollution from cleaning products is likely to be hazardous to health, but there are no federally enforceable standards for their use in the home."

Chemicals aren’t the only concern when it comes to laundry’s effect on the environment. Simply running washers and dryers uses up a tremendous amount of electricity and water. Tally up all the loads you do in a week (or a month, or a year): All that laundry adds up to a major energy drain.

Convinced it’s time to make some changes in the laundry room? Reduce your impact on the environment (and improve your health) by making any or all of the following changes to your laundry routine.

Green Laundry: Why You Should Switch

So Fresh and So Green: Eco-Friendly Laundry Tips

Green Laundry: How You Can Change

Do Laundry Less Often

Unless they’re stained or stinky, most articles of clothing can be worn several times before washing (but stick to one wear for most undergarments). Filling up the laundry basket more slowly saves water and energy. When it’s time to run a load, be sure to fill up the machine for maximum efficiency. (Don’t go beyond the fill line, though, which can reduce cleaning performance.)

Choose Greener Machines

Don’t toss a machine until it’s fully dysfunctional: Disposing of appliances before they’re used up just adds to landfill waste. But when it is time to replace a broken machine, choose an eco-friendly version. When choosing a washer, look for a low water factor, which determines the number of gallons used per cycle per cubic foot. The lower the water factor, the more eco-friendly the machine. Also, choose a front-loading machine, which can use half as much water as top-loading machines.

Wash in Cold Water

Up to 90 percent of the energy used for clothes washing is gobbled up when heating the water, which is costly for both your wallet and the environment. Virtually all clothes can be washed in cold water – even when the label calls for warm.

Green Laundry: Hot vs Cold Water

Line Dry

Hang clothes to dry on an outdoor line or a clothes rack indoors to save energy. If using a clothesline, practice smart strategies for line drying clothes: Keep the line clean (so it doesn’t leave marks on clothes), choose clothespins that won’t leave imprints on delicate clothing, and keep the line taut so clothes don’t drag on the ground.

Dry Right

If you choose to use the dryer, get the most energy bang for your buck by drying multiple loads back-to-back. The dryer will already be warmed up, which requires less energy than going from cool to hot for each load. Clean the lint filter before every load, which helps the dryer work more efficiently. And take advantage of the moisture sensor, if your dryer has one: the sensor shuts off the machine when the clothes are dry, which saves energy on useless tumbling.

Skip the Iron

Here’s one more excuse to skip ironing in the morning: It uses up electricity and is tough on fabrics. If you’re worried about looking rumpled, hang up clothes the minute you take them out of the washer: The weight of the water will help pull out most wrinkles. Once the clothes are dry, fold them where you want the creases to be.

Ditch the Dry Cleaner

Most dry cleaners use a nasty chemical called perchloroethylene (PERC), which is harmful to both humans and the environment. Exposure to PERC can negatively affect the central nervous system, kidney, liver, and reproductive system, and cause mood or behavioral changes. The chemical is also a source of toxic air pollution and hazardous waste, and has been shown to contaminate soil and groundwater near the businesses where it’s used. PERC can even affect indoor air quality for people who regularly bring home dry-cleaned clothes.

Purchase clothes that can be washed either in a conventional washer or by hand. Many delicates, including cashmere and lamb’s wool, can be safely washed by hand.

Avoid Bleach

While some experts consider most household applications of bleach to be safe, the popular disinfectant can provoke respiratory issues (particularly in people with asthma) and create toxic chlorine gas if mixed with acidic products such as vinegar or ammonia. Bleach byproducts have also been shown to be toxic to birds and fish. For a nontoxic alternative, add some lemon juice to the washing machine’s rinse cycle. It’s a natural disinfectant that kills germs without hurting anything.,,20411040,00.html

Remove Stains With Bar Soap

Remove tough spots before running clothes through the washer by using a nontoxic bar of soap as a stain stick. Wet a corner of the bar, rub it on the stain until it’s completely covered, toss the garment into the washer, and proceed as usual.

Make Your Own Dryer Balls and Sheets

Dryer balls decrease drying time by separating clothes and letting hot air circulate more easily; this cuts down on the energy used to power the dryer. The more dryer balls you add to a load, the more effective they are. Wool dryer balls also eliminate the harmful chemicals and perfumes found in most conventional fabric softeners and dryer sheets. Plus, they’re made from a renewable resource. The wool balls reduce static and soften clothes the natural way. Follow these handy guides to make your own wool dryer balls or DIY dryer sheets.

Make Your Own Laundry Detergent

Even so-called “green” detergents can contain potentially harmful chemicals, because there are no regulations requiring them to disclose their ingredients. You can ensure eco-friendly washing by making your own detergent at home. This simple recipe calls for glycerin soap, washing soda, baking soda, citric acid, and coarse salt.

Not up for DIY? Avoid these ingredients when shopping for store-bought detergents. Or try soap nuts, which release saponin, a compound that helps water remove dirt and stains from clothing when agitated in the washing machine. Compost your used soap nuts for extra green points.

Make Your Own Fabric Softener

Skip the liquid softener and keep clothes soft and cuddly without added toxins. You can make a large batch of DIY fabric softener by adding 20 to 30 drops of your favorite essential oil to one gallon of white vinegar. To use, shake the mixture and add approximately 1/3 cup of the mixture during the rinse cycle.

Scent Laundry the Non-Toxic Way

Add a fresh scent to laundry without exposing your house or our waterways to toxic perfumes and fragrances. Stuff a sachet with dried herbs and flowers such as lavender or peppermint and toss it in the dryer with your clothes.

Whether you adopt all the tips on this list or pick and choose your own eco-friendly laundry regimen, you’ll be doing a service for the health of your household and the environment for years to come.

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