Though laundry is a regular and mundane part of life, it has significant environmental impacts. Residential washing machines on average use 41 gallons of water per load, and a clothes dryer is responsible for approximately 6% of a homes energy usage. Multiply that by an average of 300 loads of laundry per year per family!
To reduce your laundry footprint first consider what you are washing. Towels from showering can be hang dried and used multiple times, I use mine for a week before washing. Do you wash every article of clothing you wear just because you wore it? Jeans for instance do not need to be and should not be washed after every wear. I generally get 3-4 days of wear out of my jeans before washing. Same with tops, give them a smell test before you just throw it in the washer. I also try to get two days out of my gym clothes, wearing my outfit from arm day again on leg day. Of course no one likes the to smell their partner at the gym so proceed with caution. You might surprise yourself how much laundry you can cut down on!
There are a few companies offering clean and biodegradable detergent, but even fewer companies are tackling the challenge of plastic free laundry including Dropps, Sheets Laundry Club, and TruEarth. Dropps are eco friendly pods of detergent which are packaged in a cardboard box and include free carbon neutral shipping. TruEarth and Sheets Laundry detergents are plant based biodegradable portions that look like thick dryer sheets (in fact my sister put one in the dryer). Sheets Laundry also makes fabric softener dots similar to Downey Unstoppables but power packed and packaged in cardboard instead of plastic.
First and foremost when choosing a detergent, it has to work for you and your family. I have a toddler and therefore many messes end up in the washing machine, so I need a tough and easy to use detergent. Second is packaging, traditional liquid detergent wastes so much plastic. If you are not ready to let go of your Tide, at least get the pods that come in a bag or even better, powder in a cardboard box. There are many other things to consider including ingredients, testing practices, and cost of the product which I take into consideration. After testing these things at my house we have landed on Sheets Laundry Club. Using their sheets and fabric softener was the first time my husband liked the way his clothes smelled since I started testing eco friendly detergents. Also, I would suggest always washing with cold water, long gone are the days that detergent requires hot water to work. About 90% of energy used in running a washing machine goes to heating the water, using cold water saves energy and helps retain the colors and shape of your clothes. Lastly, only run your washer when you have a full load and select the appropriate load size.
Now let’s talk about the dryer. The golden standard is to hang dry as much as possible to avoid the energy usage, but I know that does not always work for us. Set your dryer to medium heat and, if it has it, use auto-sensing for dry time saving you energy and money.
Traditional dryer sheets are made of polyester (aka plastic) covered in chemicals and artificial scents. Wool balls are a great dryer sheet substitute, they reduce drying time and static, and add essential oils as a scent booster. Make sure you always empty your lint trap between every dryer load. Not just for the obvious fire hazard risk, but it also requires a lot more dry time and energy if the air cannot flow easily out of the dryer vent.
Reducing plastic and energy usage reduces your bills and carbon footprint, win win!