The Dirt On Laundry


You know as well as I do the dirty laundry breeds in the hamper when we are not looking. Doing laundry can use up a lot of resources and add a lot of chemicals to our lives while costing a small fortune.  Here is what I know about doing laundry well and using less:

  • Make your own laundry soap for pennies a load. Here is the recipe: 1 cup Borax, 1 cup Arm & Hammer washing soda and 1 bar of Fels-Naptha soap shredded.  Mix the three items together and store in a jar. Use 1 rounded TEASPOON in each load of laundry. This is a concentrated detergent that gets clothes clean.
  • Use biodegradable detergents so that you can reuse grey water in the garden.
  • Use wool dryer balls in the dryer instead of dryer sheets. The wool balls speed the drying process while softening your fabrics. I made a few using felted wool batting but you could easily felt balls of wool yarn. Make sure you use real wool and not a synthetic fabric! There are many sites online explaining how to felt wool. Check them out!
  • Wash only full loads and make sure you set your water levels accurately. This seems like a no brainer but if you are not washing full loads you are wasting energy.
  • Use cold water. I find even with a powdered laundry soap my clothes come out perfectly clean using the cold water setting on my old washer machine.
  • When using powdered laundry soap, stop white residue on clothes by adding it  before you put clothes in and start the fill cycle, or mix the soap with a cup of warm water and add to wash.
  • Get stains out before you throw the clothes in the wash. It is easier to get stains out before they set in. Scrubbing a stain gently with dish soap and your fingers will get most stains out.
  • Pour hydrogen peroxide directly onto blood stains on fabric and watch the blood bubble right out. Throw item in washer and wash as usual.
  •  Do not buy clothes that need to be dry cleaned. Dry cleaning is not only expensive but it is not very environmentally friendly. I have had a few items that were dry clean only and I found that I could hand wash them and hang them to dry or dry them flat.
  • Use white vinegar or baking soda in the washer machine for extra cleaning, whitening, softening and deodorizing. You only need a 1/2 cup to 1 cup  of either or both to experience a difference.
  • Wash only clothes that are dirty. It is easy to pick something off the floor and wash it because you don’t know if it is dirty or not. If it smells dirty or is soiled, wash it, if not, consider wearing it again.
  • Use an apron when cooking or working in the garden. It is easier to wash a soiled apron than to wash a whole outfit.
  • Clean your lint trap on your dryer after every use. I Also like to vacuum out the lint trap once a month.
  • If you use the dryer, dry full loads but avoid overloading to maximize efficiency of the dryer.
  • Don’t leave damp items in the washer or they will begin to smell dank and possibly mold.
  • Always leave the washing machine lid open when not in use to allow moisture in the drum to evaporate.
  • Wipe down the washing machine inside and out with a clean damp cloth regularly to remove lint, spills or residues.
  • Hanging laundry on a line or rack saves money AND energy. The dryer is one of the biggest energy hogs in the house.
  • When hanging laundry hang them in a way that will dry nicely for folding them later. Don’t bunch them on the line.
  • Hang clothes early enough in the day to allow them to dry before evening. You don’t want the morning dew on your clothes.
  • If you are not hanging all your loads to dry but want to start hanging some, try washing two loads; separate clothes into a heavy load (bath towels, jeans etc…) and a light load (dish towels, socks, sheets etc…). Put the heavy load in the dryer, hang the lighter load on a line or rack.
  • If using the dryer, dry loads back to back so that you are using an already warm dryer rather than heating from cold.
  • Remove clothes promptly from the dryer to minimize wrinkles.
  • Hang shirts from the bottom rather than the shoulders to limit stretching.
  • When using the dryer, shake out each piece before it goes in the dryer; less wrinkles means faster drying time.
  • Make sure socks are not balled up before they go in the washer machine. They will get clean better and then they will dry faster in the dryer later.

When I was a baby my mom lived far out of town and had to use the laundromat. Often she hand washed clothes in the sink and dried them on the line. As winter came she would bring frozen clothes in off the line and in a pinch she was known to bake my baby clothes in the oven to dry them.

My mom saved up thirty dollars to buy a wringer washer when I first started grade school. Occasionally the mangle would “eat” clothes and I remember prying them free with a fork. She still has utensils with bent tines from those times. We hung all our clothes on a covered line outside and a few laundry racks strategically placed in the kitchen by the stove until we managed to get a used laundry suite. I remember thinking that dryers were the most magical appliances; clothes went in wet and only an hour later they came out dry and soft.

As an adult I have had to use a laundromat. I have had a portable washer and hung my clothes in the tiny apartment I lived in at the time. Now I have my own house and laundry suite I am returning to my roots and hanging more and more items on the line as weather permits. I am going to keep experimenting  with how green I will end up.


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