reducing waste in the laundry room

Clean laundry is a great feeling (and sometimes a mystical enigma hiding under the eternal pile of dirty laundry), but it can come at a very wasteful cost. Finding small ways to reduce waste during laundry will help save your money and the environment.

First things first. Detergent. Look for detergent with a minimal amount of useless packaging. Typically, large jugs of detergent use less plastic than the tubs of prepackaged detergent packs. But if you choose to go with the little detergent packs, make sure the plastic wrapper dissolves and doesn't need to be thrown away first. Either way, save the larger containers to reuse elsewhere. After properly washing all of the detergent out of a jug, use it as a garden watering can - it even has a spout for you. If you have the tubs of detergent packs, use the tubs for other laundry area needs, such as holding your recycled dryer sheets (oops! spoiler alert!), a collection bin of items left in pockets (in my case, 839 bobby pins and sometimes my Fitbit), or whatever else you might think of.

Eco-friendly laundry detergents, such as Seventh Generation, are free of the harsh chemicals that make up traditional detergents, and they work well in cleaning clothes (which is still the basic goal here). My clothes get clean, smell good, and don't leave me itchy. They are more expensive than traditional detergents, but you can stretch out the length so it will last. No matter which detergent you use, don't use too much! Use the measuring lines on the cup, or just pour a small amount into your wash and don't go overboard with the suds.

Now to drying. Look for an alternative method to disposable dryer sheets. You can make your own dryer sheets with cheap washcloths (or even old socks or cut-up t-shirts!) and a fabric softener/water solution, or use dryer balls that reduce static. Bog Berry wool dryer balls are another eco-friendly alternative to dryer sheets. The balls are reusable, chemical-free and made of wool, which lasts longer than yarn. (I haven't tried these dryer balls yet, but I plan to soon!)

But if you feel very loyal to those traditional boxes of good-smelling dryer sheets, you can still reduce your waste. For smaller loads, cut a dryer sheet in half and only use half. According to Gaiam, clothing made of natural fabrics don't get static cling - so if you don't have many synthetic fabrics in your laundry load, don't worry about putting a dryer sheet!

After your laundry has dried, check your dryer sheet real quick before you toss it out. Does it still have a fragrant smell to it? Use it again! If it seems to look barely used, save it for another load. If it's a little too worn for that, use it in a sock drawer or elsewhere in your closet to keep a nice, fresh smell. Once the smell is gone, you can save the dryer sheets to use as spare dust rags. The chemicals in dryer sheets that keep your clothes from getting static electricity also picks up dust on electronics.

Other ways you can reduce energy during laundry time:

  • Wash as much of your laundry on cold water as you can. Towels and sheets, of course, are better washed in warm water to kill germs, but most loads of clothing are washed perfectly in cold water. Plus, colors won't bleed as much and fabrics won't shrink quite as much.
  • Follow the wash directions to prevent accidentally destroying clothes (ahem). It's a bit of a waste to do laundry only to have to get rid of the shrunken, stained or ripped clothes. And it's just depressing if they're new clothes. 
  • Line dry delicate or hand-washed items. If you don't have a drying rack, just hang clothes on your shower rod or an empty space on your closet rod. No electricity needed, and you don't have to have a line set up outside.
  • Turn the dryer heat setting down a notch. It won't affect drying too much, and you won't be pushing out as much electricity.
  • Wash full loads so you can maximize the energy use of the appliances - but don't fill them so full that they overload and break. Running a small load takes the same amount of energy, but you don't have as much to show for it. If you only have enough for a small load, and need an item before laundry day, consider hand-washing it to save energy. (But I can already hear you asking who has small loads of dirty laundry for days…I know, I know…laundry multiplies itself. I'm just gonna say it anyway!)
  • Run the washer and dryer in the morning or evening, when energy use isn't at its peak - especially during the heat of summer. (Why am I reminding myself of this misery…?)

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