Smaller Footprints
Just one girl's dream of changing the world -

one smaller footprint at a time.

Laundry: The Never-Ending Story

Love it or hate it, laundry is always part of the story of our lives. One of those necessary chores, that unless you choose to live in a nudist colony or are wealthy enough to pay some other person to handle your delicates, you will have to do...weekly, biweekly...or, if you're some "genius" college guy once a month, because you bought enough socks and boxers to tide you over for 30 days.

My own personal laundry story starts a couple decades ago, when I first remember sorting my clothes into lights, colors, and darks. My mom trained us well, requiring us to sort our dirty clothes into piles in the laundry room, a task we often completed by haphazardly throwing articles of clothing into pretend basketball hoops on the floor and then dashing away to do more exciting things, leaving the heaps for mom. I never was very good at throwing or tossing things, so I'm afraid the piles usually had quite a bit of blending - sorry mom.)

My mom got smart after years of putting up with our laundry when she finally got sick of telling us to take things out of our pockets, and after finding a $20 bill in my jeans, donated it without telling me. When I found out what she had done, I was quite enraged ($20 was a lot back in my day, kids!) and from that day on, I did my own laundry. Okay, maybe not exactly that day on, but I am pretty sure soon after that mom gave us laundry lessons and retired from doing half the household laundry load.

Since then, I have been doing my laundry more or less successfully (except for that one time when the dryer caught on fire...that happened). However, when looking at ways to be a greener tree hugger, I realized laundry was an easy way to score some low-impact points.

The first area to make less of an environmental impact within the laundry story is to, of course, do less laundry. Less laundry means less wear and tear on clothes, less work, and less water, soap, and electricity. Cutting down on loads of laundry can be done by simply wearing clothes that aren't really dirty more than once. Especially in the winter, when sitting at my desk all day thankfully doesn't make me break out in a sweat, clothes can be re-worn. It's hard to measure if I have successfully cut down on my laundry loads by doing this because I don't actually keep track of how much I do laundry. But I do think about whether I really need to throw an article of clothing in the laundry basket or if I can leave it out to wear again later.

The second area, which is more measurable, is to cut down on laundry detergent. I know what you're thinking - laundry detergent? Is it really that bad for the environment? Well, yes. According to the EPA, laundry detergent can be both a health hazard to humans and wildlife - and can even increase acidity in water bodies. Unfortunately, water treatment plants don't always remove all the chemicals from the treated water before it's returned to our rivers and lakes. On top of that, the carbon footprint of using detergent for a load of laundry is approximately 1 to 2 pounds per load, or equivalent to driving an average car 1 to 2 miles. And that's just the carbon footprint for the detergent - not including the water or electricity used. With all this in mind, I wanted to eliminate my need for the chemical laundry detergents. I considered looking into more environmentally friendly laundry detergents, but to also reduce my plastic use, I decided to go even greener and make my own.

Turns out making my own laundry detergent is exceptionally easy, and also cheap! The recipe I found online mixes up a gallon at a time, but I cut the recipe into fourths and generally just make a quart. It takes me about two months to go through a quart.

Recipe (for a quart):

1/4 cup Dr. Bronner liquid soap (you can pick the scent, I love the citrus one)

1/4 cup baking soda

1/2 cup water

1.3 tablespoons salt

Mix water with salt and baking soda until dissolved. Pour into quart sized container/jar, add soap, and fill remainder with water. Use 1/4 cup per load, or more if needed.

The third way I decided to minimize my laundry impact is by hanging up my clothes to air dry instead of using the dryer. This has been one of the easiest ways to reduce my negative environmental impact. Not long after I moved into my apartment, I bought a small foldable clothes rack for about $25 that can handle most of my laundry load (after I hang up my shirts on hangers and hang them from the shower bar in the bathroom - just gotta plan out my showers...). Since then, I have only used a dryer a hand full of times - mostly when traveling. In addition to reducing my electricity usage, it has also saved me money. In my apartment building the dryer is $0.75 per load, so I have more than paid for my clothes rack and am now keeping the change!

The last way I am changing my laundry habits (or at least would be changing my laundry habits if I used the dryer) is by using a dryer ball instead of dryer sheets. Since I hardly ever use the dryer, my dryer ball has not had much of a chance to work its magic, but I have it for when I need it. Dryer balls are wool tennis-sized balls made to replace dryer sheets and fabric softener. Dryer sheets and fabric softeners can have harmful chemicals with some nasty side effects, and create more garbage than dryer balls, which are natural and can be used for years. Dryer balls also improve the efficiency of dryers and help clothes dry faster, saving electricity. I was even able to purchase my dryer ball from a local craft shop that gets them from a local farm!

Laundry may be a chore considered a necessary evil, but unfortunately most of us will be putting it on the weekly to-do list for our entire adult lives. Thankfully for me, I've never really minded doing laundry since those early days when mom handed over the knobs to the washer and dryer, and now that I've found a greener way to get the job done, I feel a happy satisfaction along with the task.

This Posts Products

Dr. Bronners soap: $18.05 for 32 oz at Greatest Grains (Fresh Thyme also sells it)

Salt: $0.45 for 26 oz at Aldi's

Baking soda: $0.55 for 16 oz at Aldi's

To make one quart of laundry detergent I only use a fraction of each of these products. I calculated my total cost for one quart of homemade laundry detergent is $1.25. Can't beat that price!

Clothes rack: $25

Dryer ball: $6

Fun Facts!

-The average American family does 300 loads of laundry per year, a carbon footprint of approximately 450 pounds just from the detergent!

-Running the dryer for 200 loads of laundry produces nearly half a tonne of CO2!

-Top load washers use 7,000 more gallons of water a year than front-loading ones.

-90% of the energy used running the washing machine is for heating water. Washing clothes in cold water significantly reduced the energy used (I have been proudly washing in cold since my early days. Mom taught me well.)