Let’s Talk Laundry

laundry pileLaundry – it just keeps piling up! It truly is one of the most relentless tasks around the house.  Once the last load is done and the basket is empty, it seems to instantly be overflowing again.  Whew!

All this laundry takes a lot of resources, time and energy.  It rates up there as one of the most expensive things we do in our home.  What’s more, the detergents we use have a big impact on our health and environment.   With a bit of thoughtfulness though, we can make the chore of laundry a much less expensive, healthier, and environmentally-friendly proposition.  It just takes a couple of swaps, and you are on your way.


Swap out hot water for cold.  With the advancements of washing machine technology and improvements in detergents, cold water does a perfectly thorough job getting clothes clean.  Depending on the type of washing machine, that’s about 30 gallons of water per load you won’t need to heat.  Making this simple change can save a typical family $40/year.

Wash full loads.  It costs the same amount to wash a small load as a large load, about $1.18 per one source.  If you cut down two loads per week a year, you’ll pocket $100.

Pull out the drying rack.  A clothes dryer accounts for a whopping 12% of electricty use  in a typical household.  Air drying is a favorite in my house, and not just to save money.  It’s my answer to ironing!  I’ve got to admit, I’m not big on it.  Maybe it was burning my hand a few times doing the ironing as a teenager…  So now, clothes get a quick fluff in the dryer (cotton shirts, tops, and pants) to loosen most wrinkles; hanging the damp items on the rack usually takes care of the rest.  It’s a blessing that I have boys, no one really seems to notice the difference.  Just be sure to put the drying rack and wet clothes in a well-ventilated area of your home (during winter months, air-drying actually lends some much-needed humidity in your living space).  Another upside:  air drying takes less of a toll on fabric, extending the life of most garments.  Line drying half the typical weekly laundry loads saves electricity or gas dryer energy and ironing time.  For a family of four, that can add up to about $100/year.  To get the job done, I have two of these bamboo racks.

laundry productsChose unscented, concentrated, plant-based laundry detergent. We have been taught to think that clothes aren’t clean unless they’ve been washed in foamy detergent that smells like ocean breezes or fresh meadows.  Scientific health studies are helping us see quite the contrary.  Surfactants, synthetic fragrances and additives (to help the fragrance stick to our clothes longer and remove stains) are not beneficial to our health at all.  Here’s a handy chart showing what laundry chemicals to avoid.  Rather, many studies have shown that these chemicals are disrupting our normal endocrine system function, causing respiratory reactions and gut inflammation, and eliciting neurological problems, to name a few.  Since over 80,000 synthetic chemicals are not regulated in the United States, companies are free to use them legally in laundry soap and all sorts of consumer products.  Biodegradable, unscented, concentrated detergent helps you steer clear of these very real health hazards.  Here is what I use for my family’s laundry.

Skip the fabric softener.  For much the same reason we need to avoid scented detergent, we also need to stay clear of scented fabric softeners that are full of synthetic fragrance, phthalates and synthetic chemicals.  One study showed that when laundry was washed and dried with scented detergent and dryer sheets, over 25 volatile organic chemicals, including the carcinogens acetaldehyde and benzene, where found in air discharged from the dryer vent.  Go for unscented dryer sheets made of recycled, bio-degradable materials or wool dryer balls to soften your towels and sheets.  Our bodies are in contact with our clothes and sheets 24×7, so making swaps in laundry room eliminates absorption of cancer-causing ingredients through your skin.

Washer or dryer bites the dust? Buy Energy Star.  If you have to invest in new, spend a little extra for Energy Star rated equipment.  Equipment with the Energy Star label is built to use 10-50% less energy than conventional equipment.  With lower energy costs, you’ll reap a solid return on the investment of the premium price tag.  For example, replacing a pre-1994 clothes washer will save you as much as $110 a year, which will pay you back in a few short years of use.

Swap out dry cleaning and opt into wet cleaning.  Work clothes, dress shirts, suits, silks, and fine washables are often best left to the professionals.  That said, dry cleaning chemicals are bad for our health, and linked to cancer.  Exposing our bodies to these dry cleaningtoxins is not worth looking like a million bucks.  Perchlorethylene (PERC) and other petroleum-based dry cleaning chemicals are the main culprits, with risks including liver and kidney damage, irritant impacts and possible carcinogenic effects.  Be wary of dry cleaners who advertise as organic or natural.  The cleaning agent might likely be petroleum-based as well and thus another potential health hazard.  Wet cleaning is a green alternative to dry cleaning, using less energy and safe detergents. Wet cleaning equipment is a significant investment so only a few dry cleaners have made the switch.  Bright Star Cleaners in my area provides wet cleaning and is our go-to cleaners.  If you can’t avoid dry cleaning, unwrap and air out your dry-cleaned clothes in a well-ventilated space (say, the garage) for a few days before you bring them into your closet or wear them.

If your laundry piles up as quick as mine, I bet you can get started on these tips today.  Happy washing and folding…and washing and folding…!




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