To walk through the washing aisle of the supermarket is to be bombarded with chemical scents and a staggering array of stain removers, whiteners, brighteners and sanitisers. I push my trolley away from this aisle all heady with fumes and questions. Why can’t I just buy something that will clean my clothes? I find myself romanticising my Grandmothers’ era where soap was soap. Now not for a second do I want to imply that returning to a time of boiling coppers, wooden tongs and wringers is necessary. But as home makers we hold the key to reclaiming more sustainable ways of going about our days. Here are some ways that you can challenge the status quo and bring a greener mindset to the humble task of washing.
- Wear clothes more than once. The washing process not only uses an incredible amount of resources but also reduces the longevity of our clothing. Shake off the robotic routine of “dress, wear, take off, wash” and make mindful decisions about each garment. Did I wear it for long? Does it smell? Are there spills and stains that could be attended to without washing the whole item?
- As your plastic peg collection inevitably succumbs to the weather and much use, invest in more sustainable alternatives. Bamboo and stainless steel pegs will stand the test of time and save hundreds of broken plastic pieces from landfill. If you like to leave your pegs hanging on the line between washes, perhaps you could try removing them into a peg basket for a time. Keeping them out of the weather will increase your pegs’ longevity regardless of what they’re made of.
- Just like with a greener kitchen, embrace secondhand when it comes to replacing wash baskets, ironing boards and clothes airers. More often than not, these items are simply surplus to someone’s needs and are in perfect working condition. If your aesthetic calls for something more earthy, hunt out a beautiful old wicker basket and ponder those who used it before you as you hang out your washing.
- Wash in cold water. Hot washing can also set protein stains e.g. blood, sweat, food and can cause dyes to share precious hues with all their fabric friends.
- Step away from chlorine bleach and instead make a paste of vinegar and baking soda for stains. Stubborn stains can be soaked in washing soda and hung on the line in the sun (without rinsing) before washing again as normal. Father Sun’s heated stare does wonders on all manner of food related stains.
- Avoid dry cleaning. The term “dry” implies that no water is used and yes, that’s correct. But what’s not obvious is the ghoul’s share of solvents that items are drenched in in order to “treat them gently”. Nasty for our skin, our lungs and our precious atmosphere. And there are very few items that wouldn’t respond to a gentle hand washing instead. Submerge your delicate items in warm water laced with a froth of natural soap, agitate the water and leave to soak for a few minutes, squeeze (not wring) out the water then roll in a clean towel to press out more water. Lay flat in the shade to dry.
- When buying clothes, choose natural fibres. In a nutshell, synthetic fabrics are plastic fabrics. They retain smells far more than natural fabrics and with each wash, tiny shreds of microfibres are trickling out into our oceans.
- When the time comes to replace your washing machine, consider an energy efficient option. Front loaders will always trump top loaders as far as water consumption is concerned as the horizontal drum doesn’t require clothes to be fully submerged in order for washing to work. The absence of a central agitator means that more clothes can fit in the machine meaning fewer loads.
- Fabric softeners are expensive, heavily (and chemically) scented and full of toxic ingredients. Use up what you have left then replace it with a bulk bottle of white vinegar. A quarter to a half cup per load will soften and brighten fabrics without any harm to your health or that of the planet’s. A few drops of essential oil dropped on an old washer (I keep one aside for just this job) and dropped in each load will bring a fresh scent that might take a sliver of drudgery out of the chore.
- Explore eco washing powder/liquid alternatives or make your own.
- As much as possible, embrace line drying. Nothing quite compares to the scent of air-dried sheets and take up the opportunity to kick off your shoes and earth yourself; skin to ground.
- The promise of an empty washing basket can lure us into throwing just a few items at a time in for a quick wash. Instead, surrender to the fact that the washing basket will indeed never be empty and consider the resources – the water, electricity, washing powder, and only wash when you have a full load.