My laundry room is ‘zero waste’ and essentially ‘plastic free’ because I use resources wisely. I seek out second-hand items, support local businesses and products, use objects till the end of their life, repurpose materials I already have to fulfil needs, use natural materials, avoid packaging, recycle or compost unsalvageable items, and am mindful about how often I wash my laundry. I’ve outlined all the details below but I’ve also put together a short video (3mins 45sec) to show you what my choices look like in real life. Warning: this isn’t an overproduced video designed for entertainment. This is just me on any given day, talking you through the items in my laundry. It’s authentic, and I hope it helps in some way.
Washing / laundry baskets
I use second-hand cane baskets, one of them is lined with linen. These natural materials can be composted at the end of their life.
I bought the most energy and water efficient washing machine I could afford. I only ever wash when I have a full load and with cold water to ensure we are not using more energy and water than we need. The machine will be repaired until it needs to be recycled.
I only wash clothes when they need to be washed, which can be less than people think. I remember my year eleven chemistry teacher opening my mind to the idea that most people wash their clothing too often. Of course, items like jocks and undies are changed and washed every day but other garments like jeans and jackets can be worn several times before they need to be washed. I might also wear something like a t-shirt for an extra day if I’m not leaving the house and I let the kids know it’s okay to not wear fresh clothes if they are playing outside all day at home. It’s all about using your judgement based on what you’re doing.
The benefit of all this is that you save energy and water, you save time and effort, you prolong the lifespan of your clothing (it’s a rough process being washed in the machine), and you limit the amount of fibres shed from the garments – especially important if your clothing is made from plastic fibres like polyester, acrylic, and nylon, because these microfibers are a significant source of plastic pollution. If you’re feeling nervous about washing your clothing less, try reading this: Exactly How Often Should You Wash Your Clothes – According To A Stink Scientist, and this Here’s How Often You Should Wash And Dry Clean Everything In Your Closet.
Related reading: How To Compost Your Clothing
Washing machine powder
I bought my laundry powder in bulk. There are brands in the supermarket that are completely plastic free if you don’t have bulk supplies near you. Or, you could make your own laundry powder to reduce waste and save money. Packaging can be reused or recycled.
I use sunlight, eucalyptus oil, soap, bicarb soda, or washing soda for stains on clothing, carpet, and other fabrics. I buy bicarb soda package free in bulk or buy it in a box. I’ve only ever seen washing soda in plastic bags so I started making it myself. I aim to buy Australian, organic essential oils with as little packaging as possible. I’m hoping I’ll be able to get essential oil refills somewhere by the time I’ve emptied these bottles, if not, the glass will be recycled and a solution sort for the plastic tops.
Our entire household water supply is harvested rain water which is stored in above ground tanks beside the house and sheds. We are also not connected to the sewerage system, so the grey water from the washing machine is fed into our home sewage treatment plant to eventually be irrigated into the gardens and lawn.
We do not have hot water connected to the laundry.
We line dry using bamboo pegs and stainless steel pegs. In Winter we finish off the clothes drying beside the wood heater on a wooden rack.
– saving the clothesline and all the resources that went into making it
– not buying anything new
– connecting with my community to make it happen
– caring for our property, and…
– doing it myself!
Moral of the story: if you need anything, look for it second hand and just ask. Someone is bound to have something you can use. And if you have unwanted things lying around your house, it doesn’t matter what it is, someone somewhere is bound to be looking for it.
I only iron clothing for special occasions or if an item desperately needs it. I don’t use any additional sprays or products, just the settings on the iron, like steam. The pad for the ironing board and the cover are made from our old flannel and cotton bed sheets. These materials are compostable at the end of their life.
My laundry also contains a few items I use for cleaning around the house. Two of these are my plastic bucket and plastic mop which I have used for many years and will continue to use until they need replacing, the same with the plastic scrubbing brushes which I use for tough jobs like cleaning the grout between tiles. It is wasteful to throw out items you already have if they are still useful. I reduce the plastic and waste associated with my mop by making my own sponges from repurposed materials like old socks, t-shirt yarn, and scrap yarn. I use our old towelling nappies and rags for cleaning and drying surfaces. I usually don’t use any gloves but on the odd occasion that I do, I use a pair made from natural rubber and cotton.
There are a two things I have been thinking about doing but I need to investigate further.
The first is that for my next batch of laundry powder, I am thinking about making it myself to save money as well as packaging. I’d love for you to share recipes that work well for you.
The second is that even though we have a heavy focus on natural fibres in our home, I am wondering if I should get a microfiber catcher for the washing machine to lower my guilt about the few non-natural fibre items in our home (e.g. blanket, polar-fleece jacket). I need to do more research to find out the impacts of microfibers in home sewage treatment plants and septic tanks. Also, there is soooo much second-hand clothing made from synthetic material that I think should be reused rather than dumped. What are your thoughts? Has anyone used a microfiber catcher before?
I’m looking forward to reading your eco-friendly laundry tips and tricks too, please share them in the comments below.
Great tips. I buy an environmentally friendly washing powder in an 18kg bucket which lasts for about a year. I then use the bucket as storage or pass them in tk ithers who can use them. My biggest waste is i use vinegar as fabric softener. This comes in 2L plastic bottles which are recycled. I can get vinegar in glass bottles but only 1L ones and they are quite a bit more expensive. Wondering what other options there are.
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Hi June, I’m assuming you use white vinegar. Do you think it’s possible to use other types of vinegar that can be made at home, like ACV or kombucha vinegar?
I’ve never ever used fabric softners, so maybe it’s something you can go without.
I discovered I can get 20L containers of white vinegar from a bulk food distributor if I want, but I don’t think I need white vinegar anymore. If you happen to be near Korumburra, it’s PFD.
Yes white vinegar. I also use it for some cleaning. I’ll check out larger wholesale orders. Thanks.
Vinegar also removes all residual traces of soap etc from clothes so it is great for those that have sensitive skin. I think kombucha vinegar would leave a smell.
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I am also wondering about the synthetic fibres I have already in my possession. I now only buy second hand clothes and natural fibres as much as possible/practicable. I do wonder if the fiber catcher would really help? Would the fibres not end up in the environment and potentially water course and sea eventually anyway? Would we just be adding to it by adding the synthetic fibre bag to the mix? I’d be interested on others thoughts on this too. I read about another blogger who rounded up all her families synthetic fibre clothes and used them for cushion padding. The thinking was that donating them to charity just pushed the problem on to someone else rather than dealing with it. I am not sure about that as surely whoever would have bought them would have bought synthetic fibres anyway if that is what they were looking for.
Have you thought of using soap nuts/berries for clothes washing? They do come from India or nearby countries but then I am not sure where the materials in washing powder come from around the world. They are a raw product (just stone removed and then dried). They sometimes come in a thin plastic bag that I reuse. I bought 1kg and am still using them but then I don’t have children to wash for. I am going to look in to buying in bulk and splitting with friends in future. It may be possible to source them in a paper bag and I know some do come in a cotton bag. I started using them last year after I helped a friend that uses them bring her washing in. It was white load and it was all clean and smelled clean. She had used a few drops of essential oils (citrus or rosemary work well) as the soap nuts have a slightly vinegary smell. Although this fades when dry and I think it smells clean. For cold washes it is best of pre-soak them in hot water. They go in a little cotton drawstring bag in the machine so I just pop this in a jam jar with some hot water for 5-10 mins before pouring the water and the cotton bag in to the machine drum. It is important not to over fill the machine for best results but this is case with traditional washing powder too. I think that manufacturers recommend we use a lot of washing powder/liquid than we actually need so means overfilling the machine isn’t such an issue. I do add a few drops of essential oils when I remember, either on the cotton bag itself or in the conditioner draw of the machine. I put approximately 6 berries in the cotton bag at a time and they last for 3-4 washes but I understand that it can vary depending on water quality, wash cycle etc. You just leave them in for the entire cycle, no need to remove them. If using a wash/dry cycle then it wouldn’t harm them to stay in and be dried, although they are best used moist for the next wash. I know this isn’t an issue for you but thought it was worth mentioning for those that may be interested.
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Hi Clare, Sorry it has taken a while to get back to you. I am sceptical of the fibre catchers too and do not want to buy a Gupie bag. I would be looking more toward a washing machine filter attachment. I am also not connected to the sewerage system and I haven’t been able to find information about the impact of microfibers in this situation. I think they just end up polluting the soil and then stormwater runoff would cause it to end up in the waterways. If it is collected it would have to go to landfill or be incinerated (in a proper facility).
I have used scraps of synthetic material as stuffing for some projects too, as I needed stuffing and I needed to find a way to not landfill the scraps, so I get what the other blogger’s thought processes but I also see your point. I also think that finding a use for synthetic material that reduces it’s environmental impact is very important, while we look for bigger scale answers.
Soap nuts haven’t really appealed to me. I have had mixed feedback about them and the plastic bag put me purchasing them, though I have since seen them in bulk. You’ve got e thinking about using them again.
Thanks so much for your really in-depth contribution to this post! 🙂
I have since read that horse chestnuts can be used in the same way as soap nuts. I was going to say that this is good news for us in the UK but just googled it and they grow in Australia and the USA as well. So if you have them nearby they could be a a very sustainable local laundry soap alternative. If you google horse chestnut laundry the first two blog posts that come up have detail instructions on how to use them. I used to see conker trees as we called them as children a lot when I lived in England but can only recall one here in Wales. It isn’t that close and is in a council car park but I’m going to seek it out when I next visit the area and give it a try.
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I have this recipe for washing powder that I haven’t given a try yet but I know a few people that swear by it, simple and non-toxic.
500gms bicarb to 50ml of eucalyptus and 50ml of water. Mix it together and store in an airtight container. Use a heaped tablespoon for each wash.
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Thanks Rachel, this sort of simple recipe appeals to me! I will see if I have enough eucalyptus oil and give it a go.
Can old pillow cases be used as lingerie bags?
I’ve never tried it. I don’t use any lingerie bags, but let me know how it goes if you try it. It should work, especially if you add a zip or something to hold the garments in.
I use pillow cases to wash my woollen garments so they don’t lose shape. I tie them off with large rubber bands.
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That’s a good idea, thanks.
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Tammy you mention that washing machines are hard on clothes, and in another post you say you don’t use lingerie bags. I recommend lingerie bags as I find they really do protect clothing – I use them for not only bras, pantyhose and camisoles, but also larger bags for hubby’s work shirts, any of my ‘better’ clothes, and knits that you don’t want to get pulled out of shape. It means I can do a full load on a normal cycle rather than waiting for a full load for a ‘handwashing’ cycle. As well as protecting the clothes it probably also helps reduce the fibre shed too. I guess lingerie bags are usually made from synthetic fibres – I wonder if you could find any cotton ones (or use a pillowcase as someone else suggested). Also if the lingerie bag ‘dies’ eg zip breaks, I reuse as a fresh produce bag at the supermarket.
On another note, I always use less detergent than recommended by manufacturer and my clothes wash perfectly well and I never have problem of towels becoming hard which I think might be due to accumulation of soap in the towels – do you know if that’s right? Wearing clothes multiple times is the way to avoid endless washing. In our family of 4 I usually do a load of washing twice a week plus a load of sheets/towels if necessary. I’m sure I am not telling you something you don’t already know! Thanks for your blog.
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All great suggestions, thanks for this. I’m not really sure what can make some towels hard, but I agree that we can use less detergent than manufacturers recommend. I’ll keep my eye out for plastic free bags. I have an idea about where I might find one.
I can’t seem to find zero waste laundry hampers. Where can these be found?
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I often see cane baskets in secondhand stores like op shops or online places like Marketplace. All of mine were passed onto me but I know people who have bought them new from homewares stores.
What are your thoughts on zero co? It comes in a plastic bottle that has been made from plastic collected from the ocean and bags made of the same and when the bag is empty you return it to be recycled and continue using the plastic bottle with each new refill you buy.