Laundry Tips
 greener ways for your washday!

drier balls and towel

Here are some laundry tips to help green-up your wash day.

There are many ways in which you can make your laundry activities cheaper and greener.

The focus here at Greenfootsteps is to find greener ways which also help you to save money.

Picture, right: Drier balls can save you some money if you have to resort to the tumble drier. But one of the best laundry tips is to dry most of your stuff outside.

What's here?

Here's a collection of tips for using your washing machine and tumble drier more efficiently and for avoiding harsh chemicals.There are also tips on hand washing, air drying, ironing and scenting clothes.

First up is getting the most from your washing machine, both for economy and for a quality wash. Most of these laundry care tips don't add to your work load, either. A very important consideration!

Green laundry tips:
Using your washing machine efficiently

If you haven't already tried laundryballs or washballs, give one a try.

Soap nuts are another eco-friendly solution to washing. They are surprisingly good.

Otherwise try to find a washing powder or liquid which is lower in phosphate and which does not use artificial scents. Ecover do a good one. The co-op in the UK now sells their own brand of low-phosphate washing powder, which I like very much.

No stuffing!

Make sure that you only put on a wash when there is enough dirty laundry to fill the drum of the machine. Don't over stuff the drum though, as you are more likely to cause damage from excessive wear and tear.

Also make sure that the wash is reasonably evenly distributed so that heavy items do not cause undue pressure during the spin cycle. (When the washing machine is spinning, the sound should be fairly even - you can even hear a wobble when things are badly distributed!)

It's important from a green living perspective to get as much life from your laundry equipment as possible. All manufactured goods such as washing machines have a carbon footprint - so anything we can do to extend the life of our machines is good for the planet.

However, old inefficient machines are better replaced as some of them use far more energy than modern equivalents.

Hot washes

Only use very hot washes for things that really need it.

Traditionally, towels and flannels, sheets, handkerchiefs and underwear have been washed at high temperatures to kill bacteria. Low-temperature detergents may help, although some of them contain large quantities of chemicals, some of which can be harmful for the environment. The new compact washing powders are generally more environmentally friendly.

Hanging your washing outside in sunshine to dry will also help to kill bacteria.

Many modern fabrics are suitable for washing at low temperatures.

Pre-soak any really dirty or stained items. Washing soda is great for that. This will help remove grease and other stains. It makes doing the laundry at a low temperature a lot more effective without super powerful detergents.

Keep your washing machine efficient by running a cleaning programme about every month. Do this by putting washing soda in the drum and running the machine on a hot wash cycle. This helps to remove soap scum and prevents pipes from blocking.

Vinegar can also be used this way.

Washballs also reduce the need for added softeners.

Laundry tips: 
Drying clothes outside - the greenest way!

blue sky and white clouds

Clothes dry most economically in the fresh air. Sunlight and fresh air have a natural deodorising and purifying effect.

If you can’t hang them outside (I’ve heard that at some apartment blocks in towns it can be a condition of residence that you don’t hang anything outside!) see if you can organize your laundry so that most of it can dry on hangers and clothes horses. This is so much more environmentally friendly and it saves you quite a bit of cash too.

The National Geographic Green Guide estimates that if you even dried even half your washing in the open air you would save 723 pounds of CO2 from being pumped into the atmosphere!

Clothes last longer when they are dried naturally and if you dry them in the shade, they won't fade and there is less need for fabric softeners. Sunlight does tend to fade clothes and other fabrics, so only leave them out as long as needed for drying.

Natural bleaching

On the other hand, if you want things to dry quickly and get a bit of a bleaching, hang them in full sunshine. Sunlight also has a cleansing effect in that odours disappear. If you wash sheets and towels at low temperatures it's a good idea to give them the benefit of sunlight and fresh air for a few hours.

Clothes dried in sunlight will have a more starched feel to them so they will be more likely to need ironing. Leaving clothes to dry in sunlight does tend to fade most colours.

Laundry tips for hanging clothes

You can now buy a little device called a "Linehanger" which makes it easier to hang things such as jumpers and jackets on the line. These inexpensive little clips come in packs of 10 and are available in the UK.

Just clip them to the washing line and hang your favourite garments from them with a clothes hanger. The ones with swivel-tops are best so that the clothing can swing in the breeze.

Using a Linehanger or similar device lets you dry clothes without the clothes peg digging into your precious cashmere sweater! 

Green laundry tips:
Drying clothes inside

Here are some laundry tips for drying things inside the house.

If you have to dry things inside, try to use the air power of an open window, or other source of draughts.

Even if you have the window open only a crack, if there is another one open in another room or passage close by, there should be a bit of a through draught to help the clothes dry.

Just as a windy, dry day gets clothes dry fast outside, a bit of air movement inside helps speed up drying. Putting a clothes drier near a door propped ajar can work well. Position the drier so that the air moves well though the clothes.

Laundry tips - get a rack!

If you have the space, buy or make an overhead hanging rack. These can be great in winter, especially if you have room for one in the warmest part of the house.

The best ones have a pulley system for lifting and lowering the clothes. They can then sit well above peoples' heads, taking advantage of the warm air rising from the room.

You really need to live in a house with a high ceiling if you want to install an overhead clothes rack - otherwise you'll just be banging your head!. Overhead racks are very user-friendly and effective, as they use wasted heat from near the ceiling. 

Laundry tips for airing clothes

It is not a good idea to dry wet clothing on central heating radiators. You are likely to make them rust as most of them are metal. But you can finish off nearly dry clothing.

Buy a radiator hanger for airing or finishing your drying. If you are using a washball or other eco-friendly washing method the indoor air quality will not be compromised. In fact, it may be slightly improved, as one of the problems with central heating is that it tends to dry out the air too much for health.

Never hang clothes over an electric radiator; there is a danger of the radiator over-heating and causing a fire.

Laundry tips: using an electric drier

Tumble driers are the most expensive and least environmentally friendly way to dry your laundry.

Save the tumble drier for when all else fails! If you keep enough wearable clothes and usable linen and towels that you don't run out it should be possible to avoid using driers for most of the year. (Teenagers excepted of course. Most teenagers have only one pair of jeans from their extensive collections which they could possibly be seen in!)

It's very fashionable to de-junk your life, to throw out everything you haven't worn in three months and to de-clutter your linen cupboard too. But if you want to never run out of clean, dry clothing and still be environmentally conscientious, it's actually rather easier to have plenty. That way it doesn't matter too much if the rains set in and your natural drying programme takes a little longer than expected.

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Laundry tips for using the tumble drier 

  • Spin dry everything well first to remove excessive moisture. If you are using a washing machine, use as fast a spin as you can for the clothes. Check the labels for any delicate items and remove them if you don't believe they will withstand the process!
  • Try to avoid tumble drying heavy items such as towels.
  • Use a drier ball in with the clothes to make the process faster and more efficient. These should save money and pay for themselves quite quickly.
  • Use the timer programme on your machine so that items don't keep on tumbling when they are already dry.
  • Take things out when they are still slightly damp and air them. Residual dampness will soon go in a warm, dry room.
  • Only tumble the items you really need; it will be quicker and cheaper than tumbling the whole wash.

Green laundry tips:
Scenting clothes for freshness

You can scent your own laundry very easily. You don't need expensive products with lots of chemicals in them.

Here are a few methods.

If you are using a tumble drier, add a few drops of your favourite essential oil to a dampened flannel and put it in the drum with the laundry when the washing is practically dry.

For more on using essential oils as air fresheners please see here.

Add a few drops of essential oil to the water reservoir of your iron. Be careful if your iron is something very sophisticated and hi-tech! I’ve done this with my iron now for several years with no problem, but I can’t vouch for yours. If you have an iron where you have to use only distilled water, this may prove too much for it.

Instead, you can keep a spray bottle of your favourite essential oil in water and spray it onto the clothes when you want them to smell nice.

If you are hand washing, you can use a drop of oil in the final rinse water.

Essential oils used in this way are very economical - they last for months and months. Of course some, such as rose are pricey but lavender and geranium are both quite inexpensive. 

Safety and essential oils

In all these ways of scenting your clothing, be aware of the particular properties of each essential oil and use it in a way that only benefits you and your family. There are some essential oils which may not be suitable to use in this way. Consult a qualified professional if you are in any doubt about the suitability of a particular essential oil for use in your laundry.

Use organic, 100% pure aromatherapy oils if you can, as they are the best for you and the best for the environment.

Green laundry tips:
Airing rather than washing

Sometimes you may be able to get away without washing altogether!

If you have outer garments which are stale smelling from travelling or sitting in a smoky environment you can freshen them up without washing or dry cleaning by hanging them outside for a couple of hours.

Alternatively, you can put them in a tumble drier for 10 or 15 minutes with a damp flannel soaked in water with a drop of essential oil in it. Lavender is good for this.

Vinegar is also good for removing smoke and other stale smells from items.

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