Laundry might keep your clothes immaculately clean, but it vehemently sullies the Earth also.
On average, the US performs 35,000 laundry batches per day. This equates to 105,668.82 gallons of wastewater. Typically, laundry wastewater contains detrimental water pollutants, including suspended solids, salts, nutrients, organic matter, and pathogens.
Instead of adding to the increasing water pollution, you can try to mend the problem from the source. Start with this eco-friendly laundry cheat sheet to reduce the environmental impact of having clean clothes.
Why you should switch to doing laundry the eco-friendly way:
Wastewater from doing laundry is very tasking for the environment. Laundry products, including detergents, fabric softeners, washing pods, or bleach, contain high levels of phosphates and some surfactants, mostly nonylphenol ethoxylates, or NPE. These chemicals are what make dirt flow out of your clothes by forming micelles around the dirt. This can suffocate fish when discharged into the environment.
Energy poses another sustainable issue. A common washing machine needs about 500 watts per hour to run for a 30-minute cycle. Similarly, a dryer requires 1800 to 5000 watts per load. Because electricity comes from coal and gas burning, your laundry batch is leaving a heavy carbon footprint.
Microplastic pollution can increase if you do too much laundry. Frequent washing of your clothes causes them to deteriorate much faster. This releases more microplastics into the environment. Your clothes, especially those made from synthetic materials or fast fashion, are responsible for 35% of microplastic pollution.
Shopping for eco-friendly laundry products
Due to the environmental impact, it might be time to switch to a more sustainable way of doing laundry, don’t you think? Thankfully, each of the sustainable issues mentioned can be improved by changing your laundry routine.
What are eco laundry products?
Eco-friendly laundry products typically use organic and non-polluting chemicals as ingredients. Any harmful chemicals present are under 5% at most. This makes minimizing pollutants in your wastewater possible.
Non-eco-friendly chemicals and ingredients to avoid
Due to the chemicals in your laundry products, laundry is the main source of domestic waste. Avoid these ingredients to lower the pollutants in your wastewater:
- Phosphates: Chances are, if a detergent is advertised to repel any stains, it will have a high level of phosphates. Phosphates help soften the hard water, which leads to a spike in your detergent’s cleaning power. When entering the waterway, it causes a mineral poisoning to aquatic life called eutrophication.
- Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde is used in embalming and preserving bodies, due to its antibacterial and preservative abilities. Laundry products also use formaldehyde for the same reason. However, the chemical is a notorious carcinogen, so releasing it into the environment is a no-no.
- Chlorine: Chlorine is usually present in bleach. It isn’t harmful to the environment, but it can rapidly form toxins when it comes into contact with other chemicals, such as chloride and hypochlorous acid. So, use these chlorine-contained laundry products with caution.
- Fabric brighteners: These chemicals aim to absorb UV light, making your clothes seem brighter. Being nonbiodegradable, this sustenance stays in the water for a long time, prolonging water pollution. Instead, a cup of vinegar can balance out the pH in your laundry batch, leading to softer fabrics.
- Benzene sulfonates: An extremely toxic substance for aquatic life. When released into the waterway, they are deadly. It is typically present in hard detergents.
- Nonylphenol ethoxylate: Nonylphenol ethoxylate is still used due to its effectiveness. Another toxic for aquatic lives, EPA strongly advises against using the chemicals for any purposes.
- Sodium laureth sulfate: Yet another common ingredient that enhances their cleaning power. They are deadly enough to enhance the power of herbicides. When released into nature, this kills off aquatic vegetation.
- Dichlorobenzene: Used in toilet deodorizers and insecticidal fumigants, this ingredient is used mostly to repel moths and keep mold and mildew from developing on your clothes. But when broken down, it becomes toxic to the ecosystem.
Note: For US shoppers, look for eco-friendly laundry products that need to have an EPA Safer Choice seal. The seal proves that the product is safe to use.
How to identify eco-friendly products?
Due to a rise in environmentally conscious consumers, more laundry product branches are shifting in a greener direction. To make sure you are shopping for eco-laundry products, here are certain rules you need to consider:
- Look for biodegradable and phosphate-free ingredients: Biodegradable ingredients can decompose into less or nonpolluting chemicals in nature, and they are crucial in any eco-friendly detergent. Phosphates, as mentioned above, are very toxic and should not be released into the water in any circumstances.
- Skip fabric softeners: fabric softeners contain many harmful chemicals to the environment. Many contain non-biodegradable chemicals and additives, with glutaral being the most toxic to marine lives. Bonus: Your clothes don’t need fabric softeners. So, avoid using them, as fabric softeners are known for wearing down fabrics.
- Go for concentrated detergents: Concentrated detergents delivered have smaller packaging. This means less littering for the environment, and less fuel needed to transport them. Also, this leads to a smaller carbon footprint.
- Avoid laundry soaps, aka oils and fats: Lots of eco-friendly detergents are washing soaps, unfortunately. Laundry soaps contain oils and fats. These can trap lots of dirt in your clothes during and after washing. This leads to more washing, using more energy, and releasing more wastewater into the environment.
- Consider detergent tablets, capsules, and pods: detergent tablets, capsules, and pods are designed so that they dissolve slower than liquid, powder, and gel detergents. This way, you will need less detergent as they won’t get washed down the drain too quickly. Plus, they minimize wastage due to each capsule/pod/tablet being enough for a laundry batch.
- Synthetic fragrances are not that important: To keep your clothes smelling fresh, detergents usually include synthetic fragrances, many of which are composed of petrochemicals. Made from fossil fuels, these chemicals are the main contributors to climate change, as well as soil, water, and air pollution. Opt for natural fragrances instead. Also avoid benzene derivatives, phthalates, synthetic musks, and parabens.
Other eco-friendly laundry tips to follow
If you aspire to live more sustainably this year, maybe opting for a more sustainable laundry routine is a good first step. Nonsustainable detergents are not the only thing you should change for a more eco-friendly laundry routine. Other tips include:
Air dry instead of using a dryer
Typically, a dryer uses a lot of energy, between 1800 and 5000 watts, with most loads needing about 3000 watts per load. Unless you are using sustainable energy, opt for air-drying to reduce energy use and your laundry carbon footprint.
Wash in cold water
Hot water causes clothes to deteriorate faster into microfibers, especially synthetic fibers. Because microfibers are too small for water treatment plants to filter, up to 85% of them end up in the environment. This worsens current plastic pollution.
Also, 90% of the energy used per wash is for heating the water. So wash in hot water only when necessary.
Hand wash if possible
This one is easy to understand. A common washing machine uses 250 Wh, or 2.25 kWh, to run for 30 minutes. Thus, handwash what you can, like socks, underwear, and delicates, to lower energy use.
Buy a newer washing machine or dryer
Older washing machines and dryers require much more water and energy to operate. For example, a 1990-5-kg washing machine model needs an average of 0.6 kWh more than a 2001 model. This number improves with each new model, as brands are becoming more aware of environmentally conscious consumers. This applies to dryers as well.
Whether you wash or dry, do full loads
Whether washing or drying, doing fuller loads decreases your number of laundry batches. This increases washing efficiency, as well as reduces your electricity and water use.
For your dryer, clean out the linen to improve drying efficiency, thus lowering energy use. Avoid dryer sheets as they are filled with chemicals and carcinogens, which reduce the longevity of your clothes.
Wash heavy and light clothes separately
Light clothes take less energy to dry. By separating your heavy and light clothes before washing, you are avoiding over-drying your lighter clothes by mistake. In addition, always set for less time per day, then add more if needed to save the most energy possible.
Tip: Run back-to-back loads to make use of the leftover heat from your dryer. This way, your dryer doesn’t need to be re-heated to operating temperature.
Wash your clothes less often
Unless they stink too much or are too stained to wear, each piece of clothing is good for at least two or three uses before going into the washing machine. Most importantly, try not to wash your clothes too much. With each wash, your synthetic clothes break down a bit, sending microplastic into the environment.
If you machine-wash, the more laundry batches you do, the more water and energy you use. This increases your carbon footprint even more if you also have a dryer.
A money-saving rule of thumb when buying eco-friendly detergents and other laundry products is to redeem your coupons. Conveniently, Tenere has plenty of those from our partnered stores.
As a tree-planting initiative, Tenere is proud to work with eco-friendly detergents and laundry stores. Not only are they contributing to more sustainable laundry practices, but they also endorse our reforestation efforts. For each purchase made via Tenere, a donation is made to a tree-planting project. Check out our progress right here.