Zero waste laundry detergents are difficult to find, because to clean clothes, you obviously need some kind of ingredients to remove grease and oil. So most brands on the market use ingredients that harm aquatic life, once the suds wash from the machine or sink, and go into the sea.
An added complication is that many clothes, nappies, washable sanitary pads and microfiber cloths are made from polyester, and most people also own synthetic fibre clothing. So microplastics break off in the machine when laundering and go back to the sea. This is good reason for not using recycled plastic towels on beaches (plastics will deposit on the sand and go back to sea when the tide comes in).
If you do have synthetic clothing, then launder in a microfiber catch bag to catch microplastics. However, you can only use this bag on small loads, and it doesn’t catch everything. And even what’s caught goes to landfill, and could wash away if it rains. The only ‘perfect solution’ is to only choose natural fabrics like cotton, hemp or linen.
You’ve likely heard to ‘wash at 30’ to save energy. In fact, babies and people with weak immune systems need clothes to be laundered at 60 degrees for safety, so ignore that advice. NHS has good tips on how to wash safely, especially during a pandemic (including people who are working on the frontline,).
Choosing a Washing Machine
You don’t have to stick with a big cumbersome washing machine if you can’t afford one, or it needs replacing. If you do buy new, QuietMark ranks good washing machines (if you are on a budget, Furniture Reuse & Emmaus sell safety-tested donated ones).
One idea is to use an ‘updated washboard, for a machine-quality wash in around 3 minutes. Although invented for travel and camping, they are good for anyone on a budget. If you are using them outdoors, pour the water away at least 30ft (100m from any water source), and only use biodegradable detergents. Buy from Scrubba, Laundreez & Allurette (for delicates like lace and hosiery).
You Don’t Need Fabric Conditioner
You hardly ever need fabric conditioner, and most brands are made with oil or palm oil or both. They also can increase fire risks, if you use a tumble drier afterwards. You should never use fabric conditioner for washing cleaning cloths, cloth nappies or menstrual pads. Instead, use 1/2 cup of white vinegar in final rinse (use 2 cups on empty hot cycle to clean machine). Add 1/2 cup of baking soda to the drum to remove smell, then wipe inside with damp cloth.
Biodegradable Laundry Detergents
Avoid scented laundry detergents (or using essential oils or Borax/alternatives for baby and pet bedding, and if you are pregnant or nursing. If you use soapnuts, never compost them, the natural insecticides will kill garden ladybirds.
- Bide is a box available on subscription that contains laundry powder, washing up liquid, cleaner and toilet bombs. All made from natural ingredients (the laundry powder is made with sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate – aka baking powder), sodium and lavender oil. All items are made at home by women with convictions, refugees, addiction, homelessness or other issues, with employment charities to get people back on their feet. In plastic-free packaging, a tree is planted for each order and the filler is made from starch, which can be dissolved in water. One pack does 35 loads.
- Mangle & Wringer Laundry Soap is made with coconut oil, natural minerals and water softeners. Good for delicates, also makes oxygen bleach.
- Friendly Soap’s Laundry Powder (Yorkshire) is made with washing soda and oils of lavender, tea tree, lemongrass, peppermint and rose geranium.
- Planet Detox Laundry Powder is handmade from biodegradable ingredients and lavender oil, sold in paper bags (25 washes).
- Bio-D is packed in recycled plastic bottles. Sold with a refill box, also makes natural bleach.
How to Dry Your Clothes (naturally)
- Wild & Stone Laundry Pegs are made from bamboo and stainless steel in zero waste packaging. Each pack has 20 pegs that can be composted just remove the spring, store in a ventilated storage basket or cloth bag and store inside, to prevent mould.
- Laundry Mac is like an overcoat for clothes on rotary driers, only works for ‘vertical rain’ (store rotary driers away after use, for safety).
- Inside, avoid drying clothes on radiators or in dry rooms, as it could cause mould. Use a Radiator Airer in wet rooms (good airers are John Lewis dryer & Lakeland heated air-dryers (use with dehumidifier).
- Morus Zero dries at lower temperatures in less time than tumble dryers.
- Avoid clothes that need dry-cleaning. London’s Blanc. uses steam (instead of toxic Perc chemicals) to professionally clean clothes.
If you use one, register tumble dryers to be notified of faults and never leave unsupervised. Check filter after each load, and call for help if it feels hotter, takes longer to dry or the flapper on vent hood remains closed. Never put rags used for flammable liquids in driers (soak linseed rags in water).
Greenscents is one of the best cleaning and laundry ranges sold in the UK. This family business in Somerset makes vegan and biodegradable products, using organic and ethically sourced ingredients, either unscented or with essential oils, in recycled plastic packaging, including bulk.