If clothes are a second skin rubbing against you all day long, how clean are they really? If the smell of laundry powder permeates your clothes, you could be snuggling up with surfactants, scents and salts from laundry detergent residue. Most Australian laundry detergents are thankfully not hazardous to your health (unless you suffer from eczema or skin allergies)…but they aren’t as kind to our environment.
As Lanfax Laboratories – who regularly test Australian laundry detergents – say, “the use of the term ‘environmentally friendly’ should not be used for laundry detergents or other household cleaning agents. Every powder and liquid carries some environmental hazard.”
Many laundry detergents contain phosphates, which can contribute to algal blooms in our waterways, and scores rely on petrochemical surfactants, which are not renewable.
What’s more, garden-lovers who want to use the grey water from their laundry to water gardens need to take extra care with their choice of laundry cleaners. Those detergents with a high pH or salinity level could easily kill plants or damage the organic matter in the soil.
Here are some more top laundry tips:
With most liquid laundry detergents containing more water than dirt-fighting cleaning agents, it makes sense to buy powders in concentrate form. Why pay for packaging and transport emissions if a laundry liquid is only 40 per cent detergent? More water means you also have to pay for more plastic to make the giant bottles that could end up in landfill once you’ve finished with them.
Most of us are too lazy to hang up our clothes at the end of the day, throwing things in the laundry basket that might be clean enough to wear again. Laundering clothes unnecessarily wastes not only time, but precious energy and water. Do a whiff test of that blouse or jumper before throwing it in the wash – you might be able to wear it again!
Up to 90 per cent of the energy used in the average washing machine is in water heating. The best way to save the planet in the laundry, then, is to use detergents that wash well in cold water, as opposed to those that rely on a warm or hot wash to work.
Appliances that use less water and electricity are always a good thing! Front-load washing machines use around a third less water than top-load machines, and the newer the machine, the more likely it is to be efficient. If you’re buying a new machine, look for high star ratings: a 7 kg washing machine with 1-star water efficiency uses about 210 litres of water per wash, compared to the 35 litres needed by a 6-star water rated machine.
Laundry detergents can easily be made at home by blending washing soda with soap flakes in a food processor and storing in an airtight container. A DIY detergent won’t make the same suds or have the heady scent of a store-bought version, but will save plenty of money. You can add a dash of borax or essential oils to your home-made laundry soap to add more power and scent to the clean.
GLOSSARY: A surfactant is short for “surface acting agent”. It’s the name given to a group of chemicals that lower the surface tension of water. You’ll know them as the bit of your detergent that makes suds.
AWARE LAUNDRY POWDER
Created by Planet Ark, this laundry powder is grey water safe and biodegradable. It has some of the best environmental credentials on the market, and comes in a low-allergy version for those with sensitive skin. See more here.
SONETT STAIN REMOVER AND BLEACH
Chlorine is one of the most damaging elements found in our water supply and anything we can do to reduce its use is good. This oxygen bleach certainly works well, but requires warm water to activate. Only one teaspoon per wash is needed. You can find it at selected health and organic food stores or see more here.
BOSISTO’S EUCO-FRESH LAUNDRY POWDER
Nothing smells better than the fresh zing of the Australian bush – and this powder concentrate is one of those laundry powders with a great essential oil-powered smell. Made without fillers, the powder comes in recyclable packaging and can be used in top- and front-loading machines. See more here.
ECOSTORE FRONT & TOP LOADER LAUNDRY POWDER
This New Zealand-made powder cleans well and is concentrated so you don’t need to use a lot. It’s plant-based and can be used in grey water (although Ecostore do recommend their laundry liquid over their powder). Get it at selected health food stores. See more here.
SEVENTH GENERATION NATURAL LAUNDRY DETERGENT
This one is a liquid, so it comes in a large, partly recycled plastic bottle, but the American manufacturer is known for its planet-friendly ingredients. In this case, the detergent is made with coconut-derived surfactants and has natural scents from petitgrain, neroli, bergamot, blood orange and nutmeg. See more here.
This was first published in G magazine.