Laundry challenge 4 – Laundry Detergent or Poison?

One of the great things about the environmental mini-challenge is that I now have a reason to look into things that I knew I wanted to research, but never got around to doing. Today’s topic is detergent and when I started nosing around on the Web I found this: The Laundry Alternative. I feel downright giddy!

They had this page on eco-friendly laundry detergents. They had info on the ingredients found in detergents. Hmmm… looks like the site isn’t fully baked – some of the articles are missing. Oh well… it did get me thinking about my dry-clean-only clothes.

To Dry Clean or Not to Dry Clean — The Real Question Is, Why Did I Buy Those Clothes?

I usually don’t buy dry-clean only clothes. Occasionally I find something at a consignment shop or garage sale that is just so great — and cheap — that I go against my better judgment and buy it anyway. Then I try to wash it.

I have hand-washed or gentle cycled some clothes that say dry-clean-only with no ill effects but there are a few where I use a home dry cleaning bag, which obviously has to go in that energy-sucking clothes dryer. So I have two questions: a) Is there a non-toxic way to wash those clothes, and b) is there a way to not use the dryer?

  • This laundering delicates article gives some tips on washing silk, rayon and wool – notoriously difficult fabrics that people usually dry clean. This avoids both toxins and the dryer.
  • Quite a few articles recommend professional “wet cleaning” as a good environmental solution. Here’s a list of places that wet-clean in Minneapolis. Looks like boiled wool (my clogs) cannot be wet cleaned.
  • Dryel, the home dry cleaning bag I use, says it’s perc-free – that’s the toxic stuff in professional dry cleaning. Does anyone have any info on the environmental safety of Dryel?

Back to Laundry Detergent

TLC, yeah, the TV network, had this article about alternatives to detergent. I haven’t tried them yet, but I will. To bleach clothes, they suggest lemon juice in very hot water (but not for silks, see article above).”mix 1/2 cup lemon juice with 1 gallon very hot water. Soak the clothing in it for at least one hour, though it can soak as long as overnight.”

Sorry I haven’t tried these products yet so I can’t report on effectiveness or ease of use, but it’s next on the list. Please comment if you have any suggestions for me about safe laundry soaps to try.

3 thoughts on “Laundry challenge 4 – Laundry Detergent or Poison?

  1. Peter Foster

    Phil – Thanks so much for the ideas. That’s the kind of “radical” thinking that inspires us! Some other thoughts: If you manage your clothes, hanging them back up instead of automatically tossing them in (or near) a hamper, or hang up bath towels to dry, you really don’t need to launder them so often. I am ashamed to admit that I sometimes just wash and dry to remove wrinkles! And if a single spot can be wiped clean – that’s enough. Considering detergents, I also think about the packaging – big plastic bottles for liquid soaps vs cardboard boxes, vs. containers that can be refilled at the coop. (I also like refilling commercial packaging. Ex. If the big orange Tide bottle is your iconic symbol of laundry, keep the bottle and refill it with something more cost effective and environmentally friendly.)


  2. Phil Grove

    Great discussion of laundry in last 4 posts. Here are some suggestions for greener laundry, all of which I have implemented in my own life in various degrees. (1) Get rid of as many of your clothes as possible. This is the most important suggestion of all. A person only really needs two sets of clothes — one to wear, one to be in the laundry. Anything more is gravy. (Some people get by with only the clothes on their back by washing them when nobody is around — a little much to ask, in my view.) Like most people, I have extra clothes for different weather, and different clothes for work and home, etc. — but I try to minimize it. The amount of time and energy you use for laundry is directly related to how many clothes you own, more than anything. (2) Don’t use detergent, or minimize it. You really don’t need any detergent unless you work on an oil rig. Try it! Do a load with just water, and another load with scent-free detergent — see if anybody can tell which load was laundered without soap. (3) Don’t use a dryer. I’ve heard that nobody in Europe even owns a dryer, it’s totally an American thing. Hang everything outside in summer — yes, direct sun can fade bright colors so maybe hang those in the shade, but if you’re getting by on only a few clothes, they probably are neutral colors for versatility anyway. Direct sun bleaches whites, totally disinfects everything and makes everything smell wonderful! In winter, the indoor air is super dry, so it’s no problem to hang clothes indoors on racks. Another very fast way to dry clothes is to put them on wet and wear them until they dry. It’s fast because your body heat drives the water right out of your clothes. I’ve tried this a couple of times — not as uncomfortable as you would expect. (4) Wash stuff by hand. A lot of delicates, wools, etc. can just be soaked for awhile in water with a little vinegar, then maybe agitated a little with your hands, and rinsed. Nothing to it! Hand washing is easy if you don’t have too many clothes. A compromise I use a lot is to hand wash clothes and then spin dry them in the washer before hanging them up to dry. So those are my suggestions! I don’t follow my own advice to the max yet — only to some degree — but have experimented enough to know I could get by with only a few clothes, and without a washer or dryer, with little real difficulty. Thanks for your posts — maybe they will inspire me to act on my own beliefs.


    1. Leslie MacKenzie

      I love your ideas, Phil. We agree that having too many clothes is part of the problem. One of our sons came over to do his laundry last weekend. It took him a whole day. He had been storing it up since September! Now THAT’S too many clothes.

      As for spinning clothes in the washer – the laundry alternative website has a laundry spinner that reviewers said used very little energy and got some clothes downright dry and others nearly there. That might be a good option instead of a washer and dryer. You are inspiring me.

      I’m not hardcore enough to wear my clothes dry – unless its July – but more power to you.



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