Getting Your Laundry Clean -- and Green

Having lived on my own and washed my own laundry for almost seven years now (two years of high school and five years of college), you'd think I have a system, a time-tested routine of some type. But no. That is, unless you consider waiting until socks and shirts begin to spill out of my hamper like foam from a shaken-up beer bottle a system.

That's what my hamper looked like coming back from spring break. But instead of throwing my dirty laundry into the washing machine and sticking with whatever setting the roommate before me used, I'm going to try to change my careless laundry habits and make them more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Tracking down these kinds of daily green tips was pretty easy, as sites like and Planet Green make for easy searching. And there's always Google, too.

First, I made sure that my first laundry load to go into the washer (there ended being about three loads altogether) filled the entire washing machine. At the most, this took two or three extra minutes, checking to see if I could fit in a few more socks or boxers here and there. Sure, my clothes didn't get quite as clean as they would in a smaller load, but I didn't waste any extra water or energy by washing only half of my dirties.

Next, I broke an old habit of washing everything on "warm" by switching entirely to the "cold" setting, no matter the colors of the clothes I was washing. I know some people like to wash their whites on a "warm" or "hot" setting to get them extra clean, but in my experience, your whites, and any others washed on a warmer setting, don't really get all that much cleaner on "hot" instead of "cold."

Plus, by washing all of my clothes in cold water, I'll save over 300 pounds of CO2 a year, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute -- a significant amount toward cutting my carbon footprint in half.

When it came to drying my clothes, my results were more mixed. I made sure to completely fill the dryer with my first load, so as not to waste any energy -- no problems there, just a couple extra minutes of loading wet clothes. However, if I had wanted to be really eco-friendly, I wouldn't have used the dryer for any of my clothes; it's best, when possible, to air-dry wet laundry on a drying rack or use a outside clothesline if and when the weather allows. Line-drying your clothes outside reduces your annual carbon footprint by nearly 800 pounds of CO2.

Like Kramer from "Seinfeld," I love the feeling of warm, machine-dried clothes, so I used my dryer anyway. I did put a couple of dress shirts on the drying rack next to the machine dryer, but almost 12 hours later they're still wet. While air-drying might be more efficient, I don't think I have the patience to wait around for every article of clothing to slowly dry like those shirts.

To make up for my reluctance to air-dry, I broke out a bag of homemade, all-natural laundry detergent that my parents purchased from a local vendor at the farmer's market and later gave to me.

For starters, the ingredients used in natural laundry detergent are far fewer than name-brand detergents.


My all-natural laundry detergent: Vegan cold process soap, washing soda, borax and fragrance

Tide laundry detergent powder: Fragrance/perfume, color protection/processing agent, sodium sulfate anhydrous, cleaning agent(s), fabric brightening agent, sodium silicates (unspecified), soil suspending agent(s), sudsing agent, water softeners (complex sodium phosphates/sodium carbonate)


The small bag pictured above cost $10 and contains enough power for 48 loads -- meaning one $10 bag could last almost an entire year if you did laundry once a week. So I'm injecting the water with fewer obscure chemicals and buying all-natural laundry detergent at the farmer's market also supports local businesses. And upon pulling my naturally cleaned laundry out of the washing machine, my clothes were just as clean as if I'd used name-brand detergent -- and they smelled better, too.

So am I going to continue washing on cold and using my natural detergent? You bet. These are two easy changes I can make every couple of weeks when I do my laundry which will cut a substantial chunk out of my carbon footprint.

Update: The other day I blogged about taking out those mountains of newspapers in my room. Well, I've been keeping at it since that post -- though I've only put a dent in the pile so far. I'll keep you updated on how that excavation is going in the coming days and weeks.