I still remember the time my Dad pulled out an absolutely minuscule jumper that had shrunken down so comically in the wash it looked unreal.
Had it been washed too high? Yes it had. But it was so small it could fit in your hand.
Could the fate of the planet also rest in your hands or maybe inside your washing machine? Well, probably not, but you can do your bit to cause the least harm possible. Let's explore the world of eco-friendly laundry together!
Here's How to Wash Your Clothes and Save the Planet
1. Reduce the Amount of Microfibres your Clothes Shed
Loading up your washing machine is a whole artform in itself. Not only do you need to think about what colours you're putting in, you also need to think about the way you're putting it in.
It's better to run a washing machine towards full, rather than empty. Three quarters full is plenty so that your clothes actually get washed properly. Also, it's important to mix up your loads with different sized items. This also helps with ensuring clothes get well washed the first time.
Beware of microplastics! Much of our clothing is made from plastic-based materials. And guess what? They shed microfibres in the wash which end up in our oceans and eventually get eaten by fish. It's not good for them, our oceans or for us. Guppyfriend are leading the market when it comes to microfibre wash bags. Do they work? Yes, according to an swathe of blogs, Reddit users and also through tests ran by independent sources which rate the bags at around 90-100% effective at catching microfibres.
Search for Guppyfriend alternatives online and you'll get results like the Cora Ball, but not a whole lot else, apart from some DIY ideas like using a pair of old tights (which reduces the friction between your clothes = less shedding).
The other alternative is to fit a microfibre filter on your washing machine. MPs in the UK have called for new washing machines to be fitted with their own microplastic filters.
Of course, another way to avoid microfibres being shed in the wash is to not buy any new plastic-based clothes. Instead, aim for clothes made from totally natural materials including cotton, linen, silk, wool or bamboo.
2. Lower the Temperature, Reduce Spin
Washing clothes in cold water drastically reduces the amount of energy needed to wash your clothes. That said, you could still put on a 20c wash for a bit of a boost in cleaning power.
The added benefit of running a cooler wash for a shorter programme is that your clothes will last longer. This is because they are simply not being subjected to so much heat and friction. Putting on a cold wash is great for preserving your favourite T-Shirts with transfers or bright colours. Plus you don't have to worry about those shrinking jumpers!
As mentioned, shorter programmes in an eco mode can save time, money and energy. Have a look at your washing machine manual (a great way to spend a Saturday night ;) ) and see how long each programme takes.
Please note you can't always wash your clothes on a cold setting, especially when you have a sickness bug in the household. Over time it is worth washing your clothes, bedding and/or towels on a hotter wash at 40c or 60c in order to kill germs, as per the NHS guidelines.
3. Wash Less
So how often do you need to wash your clothes? It's probably less than you think
|Gym gear||1 wear|
|Shirts, tops, blouses||2/3+ wears|
|Jeans||1 month of wearing|
|Jumpers, Sweatshirts||3+ wears|
|Suits, Blazers||3+ wears|
Use your nose! If you can, it is worth giving your clothes the sniff test before you decide to wash them. We've put up a handy table based on how often you might need to wash clothes. But these are guidelines. There are all sorts of reasons why you might need to wash your clothes more or less often.
Jeans are one of the most overwashed clothing items, though. You can look after your jeans and the planet by trying to wash them just once per month. Some luxury jean brands recommend even longer periods to keep the jeans from fading.
In general, if you want to wash clothes less, you should also just do bigger, less frequent washes.
There are ways to tidy up clothes in between washes, especially if you struggle with pet hair. Lint rollers are usually a bit wasteful due to the disposable bits of sticky paper. But you can get all kinds of reusable lint rollers which are effective at removing pet hair and other debris from your clothes. Bare in mind that depending on the material, lint rollers can affect the surface of your clothes. Another method is using rubber washing up gloves to rid your garms of any pesky hairs.
4. Switch to an Eco-friendly Laundry Detergent
By switching to an eco-friendly laundry detergent, you can help reduce your environmental impact in many ways.
There are now lots of choices and places where you can get a refillable laundry detergent. This means you don't have to keep buying a big plastic bottle or a cardboard box.
Eco-friendly laundry detergents like Ecoleaf are non-toxic, plant-based and free from nasty chemicals. This is much better for our waterways and also for your skin. Most formulations will be non-bio, too.
Did you know that are secret plastics hiding away in some detergents containing all kinds of abrasive materials, forming agents, silicone, acrylates, cross-polymers. These can further contribute to the issue of microplastics and microfibres. And they can contribute to damaging your clothes, too.
Opt for eco-friendly laundry detergent brands like Ecoleaf or OceanSaver.
5. Air Dry Rather than Tumble Drying
Again, this sounds like a simple one, but if you've been putting off putting up that washing line, get it done!!
Air drying is essentially free in that no extra energy is required to spin and dry your clothes.
Hang your clothes outside. The ultraviolet rays in the sunshine are great for brightening up clothes and killing bacteria.
Drying clothes inside is less than ideal, especially during the wintertime. Make sure you ventilate your house properly if you're doing this. Worried about damp? Invest in a hygrometer to check humidity levels. You can use things like dehumidifiers to help clothes dry off inside but this costs even more energy and cost. Instead you could try to air dry clothes indoors using the residual heat after your oven is turned off, or by placing them by a window, upstairs if possible.
6. Use a Natural Alternative to Fabric Conditioner
You could try using natural ingredients like white vinegar. It's cheap, effective and you can get it at your weekly shop.
White vinegar is great for stains and brightening and is naturally hypoallergenic.
There are also eco-friendly alternatives to fabric conditioner. You can get refills for these at your local refill store. Where is my local refill store?
7. Always Check the Label
Not everything can go in the washing machine, surprisingly. So before you ruin your favourite garment it is always worth checking the care label. When buying second hand clothes this may be difficult when a previous owner has removed the label. If it is a relatively known brand you might be able to track down some care information online. You might be able to feel the material to work out how to wash it. If you have delicates like wool, velvet or cashmere proceed with caution!
8. Let's Talk about your Washing Machine
Let's face it. This probably won't be an option for many people, especially if you're looking to tighten your budget with the looming increase in energy bills.
But you could get a new, more efficient washing machine that uses less power, can take bigger loads and run faster.
There's a lot to consider when buying a new washing machine. Which have a good guide for finding a new washing machine, including calculations on how much each machine costs to run over a year (some mid-range washing machines are actually more cost-effective than the really expensive ones).