Creating a laundry routine that is zero-waste and toxin-free is totally possible. Doing laundry in a more eco-friendly way was one of the first things we tried on our sustainable living journey - with amazing results! From natural DIY laundry detergent to cutting our dryer time down to save on our energy bill to even finding a zero waste solution for a lint roller - you can easily do laundry with your health and the earth’s health in mind.
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Why go zero-waste and toxin-free with your laundry routine?
When it comes to cutting down on contributions to your landfill, food waste has definitely taken center stage, but there are other habits we keep in our home that contribute to landfills. Instead of trying to tackle them all at once, I think it’s best to shift the easier habits first. How you do laundry is one of those easier habits to shift.
Let’s start first with how you wash your clothes. Typically, laundry detergent bottles are made from #2 plastic or HDPE, which the safest and most recyclable plastic out there. In our home, we are okay with recycling #2 plastic knowing that it doesn’t leach harmful chemicals and our recycling center can accept it. Unfortunately, I have seen a few bottles of detergent that are made from non-recyclable plastics so be sure to check the plastic number on the bottom (to learn more about the different types of plastics and if they are recyclable click here).
Many conventional detergents and fabric softeners contain harmful chemicals that come in contact with both your skin when you wear your clean clothes as well as the environment when they are rinsed away. While there are quite a few chemical offenders in laundry detergent and fabric softener, I don’t want to overwhelm you. One of the most prevalent and dangerous ingredients is phthalates. These are in every single bottle of conventional detergent and fabric softener I’ve come across.
Phthalates are used to help prolong the “smell-life” of a fragrance because they help bind chemicals to fiber and skin. Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors. Men with higher phthalate compounds in their blood showed reduced sperm counts, according to a 2003 study conducted by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Harvard School of Public Health. Another 2003 study cites how phthalate exposure in pregnant women can disrupt endocrine function and induce reproductive and developmental toxicity. What this boils down to is that phthalates disrupt our reproductive systems, which in turn disrupt our hormone levels. Although exposure to phthalates mainly occurs through inhalation, it can also happen through skin contact with scented detergents and softeners, which is a significant problem.
Phthalates are often hidden under the guise of “Fragrance” or “Parfum” when listed on ingredients for detergent. This is a common loophole that many companies use regarding not having to list an ingredient, or rather an amalgamation of over 3,100 ingredients disclosed by the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) to be more exact. The term “Fragrance” on a label legally enables a company to hide the specific mix of chemicals used, deemed a “trade secret” or “proprietary information.” The list of possible ingredients used under IFRA are regulated by, guess who, themselves! What makes this whole strange situation worse is that IFRA has not even tested the majority of the chemicals on this list. Thus, a company could combine any number of chemicals (tested or untested) in their fragrance recipe and not disclose the list, it would be legal, and the FDA could not do anything about it. It’s right on the FDA website.
What this translates to is that companies are responsible for regulating themselves, not the FDA, and when checking under the ingredients when you see the word “Fragrance," the FDA knows just as much as you - which is technically nothing.
Then let’s think about how you dry your clothes. Using things like dryer sheets to help prevent static and make clothes smell better poses a handful of issues. From a waste perspective, they are not recyclable and wind up in the trash. From a non-toxic perspective, they are doused in phthalates that bind fragrance to clothing and then to your skin, exposing you to endocrine disrupting chemicals.
Finally, how about the way you make clothes presentable - i.e. ironing and getting lint and/or pet hair off of them. Store-bought ironing sprays contain a host of nasty ingredients including GMO cornstarch, propane, polyethylene glycol, and that dreaded word fragrance. Lint rollers are more than likely made from non-recyclable plastic with non-recyclable plastic sticky sheets that wind up in the garbage.
Luckily, there are a host of laundry routine options that nix the nasty ingredients and cut down on waste. Let’s go over the zero-waste and toxin-free options you have when it comes to laundry.
How To Wash Your Clothes Naturally
My go-to for washing clothes is a homemade recipe that generates no waste. I love using baking soda and borax not only because they are effective cleansers, but they come in a cardboard box that I can easily recycle.
DIY Natural Laundry Detergent
⅓ cup borax
⅓ cup washing soda
20 drops essential oils of your choice
Turn the water on before you load in your clothes, add your borax, washing soda, and essential oils and let them dissolve for a minute, then pile in your dirty laundry.
Add ½ cup of white vinegar as a fabric softener.
If you don’t want to DIY, below are the non-toxic detergents I’ve used and trust.
Conscious Consumer Approved Products:
7th Generation Laundry Detergent
ECOS Laundry Detergent
Greenshield Organic Laundry Detergent
Rebel Green Laundry Detergent
Speaking of what washes down the drain during the rinse cycle, It’s important to talk about polyester fabrics. When these fabrics are washed, they shed small microfibers that get rinsed down your drain and wind up in waterways, severely affecting aquatic life. Take a mindful moment and check the tags of your clothes to see which are made with polyester so you can stash them in a Guppy Friend washing bag when you wash them. This prevents small microfibers from entering waterways, granted you do need to gather them from the bag after washing and throw them in the trash. In the future, consider shopping more natural textiles, like organic cotton and hemp, to cut down on this issue.
How To Dry Your Clothes Faster And More Safely
The obvious way to dry clothes that will cut down on energy and toxic fabric sheets is to line dry them. Can I get an amen for the smell of line-dried sheets?! Though as I write this in the dead of winter, I realize that’s not an option for everyone or year-round.
So how to cut down on drying time to save on your energy bill? Wool dryer balls are the best answer. I was gifted a pair of wool dryer balls from a fellow farmer last winter and I don’t know how I’ve lived without them. The wool absorbs up to 30% off its weight in moisture as it tumbles around in your dryer with your wet clothes, cutting down on drying time by nearly one third.
Since I had mine handcrafted for me, I’ve asked around as to what wool dryer balls are the best that you can buy. Everyone gave Smart Sheep’s Wool Dryer Balls the thumbs up.
If you want to add some yummy smells to your drying cycle, much like a fabric sheet would but without the nasty chemicals, you can add a few drops of essential oils. I tried this with lavender and eucalyptus with so-so results. The organic essential oils evaporate fairly quickly with the heat of the dryer, leaving you with a very faint smell when you pull clothes out to fold them.
The added bonus is if you have cats, they will think you’ve gotten them an amazing toy to play with every time you fold the clothes. Oh - and these wool balls help to remove unwanted pet hair during the drying cycle. This crazy cat mom is in heaven.
How To Naturally Remove Pet Hair From Clothes Without A Lint Roller
After going through hundred of lint rollers and sticky sheets that wind up in the garbage, I am so excited to share a zero-waste solution with you that actually works.
The Redecker Lint Brush is the absolute best way to get pet hair and lint off of your favorite garments while generating no waste. The rubber bristles pick up pet hair and lint easily and accumulate in a way that you can pick them off and toss them in your compost pile. The wooden handle is beautiful and durable. This brush is seriously the answer I’ve been waiting for thanks to our three very hairy cats.
DIY Ironing Spray Recipe
I use vodka in a ton of my cleaning recipes from my ebook, The Holistic Home, and this ironing spray is no exception! My fiance’s mother is an avid quilter and she swears by this homemade recipe to crisp up her quilts for quilting shows.
⅓ cup vodka
1 tsp lemon juice
⅔ cup water
Combine in a glass spray bottle and shake.
That wraps up this post on how to start a zero-waste and toxin-free laundry routine. From here, check out my post on What Toxins Are In Your Trusted Kitchen Cleaning Supplies and How To Make Your Own Kitchen Cleaning Supplies!
Thanks for stopping by Green Willow Homestead! From chicken rearing to composting, we've got our hands full and we love sharing what we've learned along the way. Follow along as we strive to live sustainably and turn these five acres from just property to a fully functioning small-scale homestead.
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