Sustainable Laundry Swaps
Laundry is a natural place to move towards swapping for the better if you've worked at swapping your home cleaning products. Plus, most of us are buying this stuff pretty regularly. While it has taken me over a year to use up the makeup I'd stocked up on to get to the point of making a switch, I feel like I'm steadily buying laundry items. It's just one of those things that is never done, that's for sure.
Why make the switch?
I always have a tough time writing about the reasons for switching from a traditional product on my blog posts. I just feel like it sets the bar for fear and that’s not what I’m trying to do here. But, like many other consumers, I find it’s so hard to un-know something after you know, and then there’s a bit of anger thrown in there too for how toxic and detrimental a lot of what we are paying our money for and putting on our bodies, within our homes, day after day. There is a loss of trust in the integrity of the companies that were the go-to’s of the “before knowing” phase. How could they not know the health effects, and how is this information something I need to research and “uncover”?! But, that’s what this journey is all about, being more conscious in how we spend our money, because ultimately all of those little choices add up to equaling the world we will live in one day.
Issues with Regular, Synthetic Detergents:
- Massive, thick plastic jugs that constantly need to be thrown away and repurchased
- This thick plastic is typically not washed out (for some dispenser styles, they are impossible to wash out, even if you always took that step), which increases the likelihood of the detergent leftovers contaminating whole recycling batches and increasing plastic waste as a result (the whole batch of plastic added to the landfill)
- Chemical Content - firstly, what's with the neon blue syrup? The colouring needs to be added to this stuff, so why add extra chemical ingredients to just make it blue? What is the point? In the first two months of the consumer life of Tide Pods, poison control received 700 calls (this is in America though, by the way) due to exposure to children - mostly eye and ingestion concerns. The proposed reasoning? The colouring was too “fun” and interesting for the kids.
At the Environmental Working Group, half of Tide products scored a D, the other half an F. Concerns are distributed across the following categories: asthma/respiratory concerns, skin allergies + irritation, developmental + reproductive toxicity, cancer, and environmental concerns.
- Not biodegradable – quite a lot of the composition of laundry soap isn’t fully or immediately biodegradable. This means that these chemicals end up washed out of the washing machine and onward into the water table and beyond.
- Many popular detergents work by ‘coating’ clothing fibres over time. This is how fabric softener works; and a lot of fragranced detergents. It’s not necessarily cleaning everything, it is coating it. Picture a bag of hand-me-down clothes that you’ve received – ever had it take forever to wash off the smell of their detergent? Ever had a towel that used to be absorbent, and is now almost slick-feeling? That’s buildup of chemical product.
- Artificial fragrances – this is the part I have the hardest time with. I’m not even going to get into artificial fragrances, but now, many of us associate faux scents with our clothes being “clean.” That was me for a long, long time. Fragrances don’t need to be listed on ingredients within detergents into their separate ingredients and can simply be listed as ‘fragrance’, so they can really be whatever chemical make-up that the company desires. These fragrances (just look up their effects if you’re curious) coat our clothing and our bedding which adds up to breathing this in 24/7, 365, to the point that most people’s olfactory systems adjust to that scent and they can no longer identify how strong it is (think of that heavily perfumed lady that has no idea). The largest organ we have is our skin, and we absolutely always have this fragrance laying against it.
“Clean” doesn’t actually smell…. Like anything.
Stain Removal Swaps
- Stain Stick: my favourite is the Bunchafarmers Stain Stick. It’s so well priced, can be kept in a little mason jar, and is safe enough that your toddler could chew on it (not that you’d let him, but that’s my measure of whether I want something in my home). I was introduced to these by Go Green Baby when I started my cloth diapering career and have used them beyond the baby poop phase – this worked so well on grass stains, lipstick, and anything else my boys have tried to challenge me with! You just wet, rub, and rinse.
- Stain Spray: if you like to spray and leave, just grab a spray bottle and combine water and some Sal’s Suds (about 1/4c Sals to 1 and 3/4c water). Just shake, spray, leave, scrub and then throw in your washer. Sals can also be directly applied to stains (or used as a laundry booster or laundry detergent).
- Sunshine ! Let the sun fade those stains when you've got time to hang your clothing out.
- DIY Laundry Soap: for at least two years when I first started swapping items out in my own home, we made our own laundry soap. It was 1 part borax, 1 part washing soda, and 2 parts soap flakes; ½c was used per load. This is an Eco Pioneer recipe, and the items are all available from this Canadian source. I adore this recipe and continue to make it if I can get the ingredients in bulk for a great price! This worked far better than any pre-made Method or Seventh Generation soap for me (especially on cloth diapers and heavy workwear) and my brief stint with soap nuts.
- Unscented Co Liquid Soap: I know there are a lot of families out there that just love the liquid stuff, there isn’t quite anything like it! Unscented Co. is Canadian, a woman-owned company, a B-Corporation, and their products are free from everything you’d rather keep away from your family. You can still get it in a plastic jug, and then have it refilled. This reduces your plastic use by a ton if you’re hoping to continue using liquid soap.
- Tru Earth Laundry Strips: these guys are a real innovation. There’s no more measuring, and it’s amazingly simple for minimizing the space that you need to store laundry items if you’re reducing and decluttering. The strips are made in Canadian factories by a Canadian company, and the ones that I order in are made in New Brunswick. These are also good if you’re looking for a safe fragranced option for your clothing while you make the swap to natural!
- Wool Wash: we also keep Euclan for any delicates/blouses that I have, and for doing the occasional wool soak.
I remember reading a pretty funny article that said millennials were responsible for the death of fabric softener. I guess there’s a whole generation of people questioning whether it is really needed, and it definitely isn’t! Very clever invention on the part of companies, but it’s a little bit like bottled water – the need is perceived by the customer, and the money made.
- Vinegar: vinegar is an excellent option for rinsing and softening fabrics. You can make an infused vinegar if you’d like it to be scented; but you can also just use the regular. Try it out and see – your clothing won’t smell of vinegar after, and it is great for softening when you have hard water.
- Borax: I add Borax to any load that is full of heavy workwear to boost the power of my detergent. I just add about a half cup to my detergent dispenser (for a front load HE, for reference).
Clothes Drying Swaps
- If you need to use your dryer, wool balls are an excellent alternative to the throw-away, fragrance-coated dryer sheets. Many dryer sheet brands are made of a plastic synthetic, and the tiny fibers that break off inside the machine turn into micro plastics waste. Wool balls are biodegradable, and work by naturally bouncing around to aid in the drying of your clothing. You can add a few drops of essential oils to the balls before throwing them into the dryer to add a scent, it’s magical!
- Wooden Clothes Pins: what’s with the old-fashioned pins? The sustainability behind these guys is in the production/start and end of life cycle – they are just wood, so they will return to the earth and breakdown fully. The other clothes pins involve production of additional metal parts, and usually VERY cheap plastics, and they break so fast that they are meant to be continuously replaced.
A Simpler Life
Honestly, the swaps in my laundry routine have made for a much simpler life. I have no plastic broken pegs to pick off the lawn that went through the lawnmower. If one of these pins goes through or I lose one... they can go in the compost (or stay on the lawn, for all I mind, they are basically just a stick at their core!). I don’t have to wash baby clothing separately because all of my detergent is safe, no matter how old the family member is. By doing a refill option, I cut the plastic recycling stage completely out of the routine.
My laundry section is now just a mason jar with a stain stick inside, a detergent bottle, a mason jar back up (or two, depending) in the basement, a bottle of vinegar, and an essential oil bottle. The wool balls stay in the dryer, and my pins are beside my clothesline. The stain sticks, vinegar, detergent, and pins can all be bought without packaging or in a bulk fashion. It took me a little while to use up everything I had and get to this stage, but the simplicity is so freeing. I think back to the blue syrup and mega jugs we had to hoist around from my teen years helping with laundry for our family of seven, and there’s a bit of happiness I can find in my laundry room in comparison. As if laundry could ever make a mama happy before it’s done, right?!