Eco-friendly laundry tips

Photo: iStock/Sandralise
From green laundry detergent to energy-efficient appliances, here’s how to green your laundry room.

The art of getting your clothes dirt-free and fresh-smelling sure has come a long way since beating them on rocks or scrubbing on a washboard.  Supermarket shelves carry a dizzying array of detergents, softeners, stain treatments and more, and you can spend a bundle on top-of-the-line washers and dryers.

But take note: Washing clothes uses 20 percent of household indoor water, and often the products we rely on are loaded with environmentally unfriendly chemicals. If you’re taking steps to green your home, the laundry room is a great place to start because, as you’ll find, the solutions are simple and often money-saving. And you don’t have to sacrifice the lovely feeling you get from clean, just-washed clothes.

Laundry prep

Pass on traditional stain removers, which can contain toxins such as hydrogen peroxide and sodium hypochlorite, both linked to cancer. Instead, research your own homemade stain-busting recipes using stuff you probably already keep in your pantry. For instance, fruit or red wine stains should be treated with salt or soda water, then soaked in milk before washing. A coffee or chocolate stain can be rubbed with a mixture of egg yolk and warm water.

Before you load your clothes into the washer, don’t forget to fight the fuzz and empty the lint trap! Dryers with a full lint trap are 30 percent less efficient. And before you toss the lint clump in the trash, remember that lint is compostable.

Product knowledge

Consider cooking up a batch of homemade laundry detergent. We like this recipe from the Significance in Simple Things blog. If you’re not ready for DIY detergent, look for cleaners free of chlorine. Seventh Generation and Eco-Max both make good laundry products.

Nowadays you can buy biodegradable dryer sheets, but even if they will eventually decompose, synthetic sheets still create a lot of unnecessary waste and end up costing you more cash. Nellie’s All-Natural makes Dryerballs, which resembled little blue, spiky footballs and soften clothes without chemicals. A two-pack will last up to two years and run you $20 on Go Green Baby.

Believe it or not, there is an even cheaper option for getting your favourite pajamas their fluffiest — ordinary white vinegar acts as a natural fabric softener and reduces static cling to boot. Add half a cup during the wash cycle. And don’t mind the smell — after your clothes have gone through the wash, they won’t come out smelling like fish and chips! Or sub baking soda — a half a cup will do the trick.

Cleaning machines

When your old, inefficient washer and dryer conk out, look for earth-friendly options when you’re shopping for replacements. Opt for front-loading instead of top-loading washing machines, as they require less energy, water and detergent. And select models that are Energy Star-qualified, as they use up to 35 percent less water than conventional machines. The LG SteamWasher exceeds Energy Star requirements by at least 94 percent, and its roomy design means you can do fewer loads. As it uses steam to smooth wrinkles in fabric, it may eliminate the need for ironing altogether.

Fight for your right…to dry

Fabric softener commercials like to boast that their products will make your clothes smell as if they’d been blowing in the wind on a fragrant spring day. Why not just capture that heavenly scent by actually hanging your clothes out to dry? And if you reduce your dryer use by 25 percent a year, you could find an extra $30 worth of energy savings in your pocket.

There is a wide variety of lines and drying racks to choose from, like this $40 foldable model from Ikea that offers the equivalent of 40 yards of clothesline. Hang or place your line under a covered area to protect your garments from rain, or worse, birds doing their business.

Sadly, clotheslines are still considered an eyesore by many. Who knew the sight of one’s just-washed clothes flapping in the breeze could be so offensive? The Right to Dry movement is sweeping the country, with ordinary citizens trying to overturn bans on outdoor clotheslines.  Green-minded people of Ontario were successful: in April 2008 the ban was lifted, granting home-dwellers the freedom to dry their clothes in the sun.