Reducing Waste in the Laundry Room

By Carrie Chauhan

Working toward a zero waste lifestyle doesn’t happen suddenly. One way to make consistent progress towards zero waste is to go room by room. In this blog, we’ll try to zero waste the laundry room or area. In the process, you’ll also eliminate chemicals and synthetic fragrances.

There are three areas to limit plastic and waste: washing products, drying products, and the process of drying clothes.

First up, and possibly the easiest, is changing laundry soap or detergent. As I walk through the local Target, their only detergent options are liquids (read that as: lots of water included) encased in a huge plastic jug. Other stores, like Lucky’s, offer laundry powder in cardboard and Seventh Generation’s liquid that comes in cardboard packaging.  

Source: http://www.dizolve.com/us/

I used cloth diapers with my son when he was born, and I began using Planet Earth brand laundry soap. It comes in cardboard boxes, which I recycled, and is free of fragrances and chemicals. This is an easy option, as powdered laundry soap is sold locally and online. However, both laundry soap and the jugs of liquid are heavy, requiring a lot of energy to transport them. In looking for the most economical option, I found Dizolve. I am incredibly excited about this brand! They are a Canadian company with a US site that ships in the US. They claim (and I believe them) to be the most eco-friendly laundry detergent out there, because their product is concentrated into a tiny strip. And it’s true--when my box of 160 loads of laundry detergent came in the mail, it came in a USPS cardboard mailing envelope. I’m not kidding! It was in front of my door, and I thought, who mailed me a big envelope? Nope. This detergent is so concentrated it weighs a fraction of powdered laundry soap.  

This is great for two reasons: 1. Less CO2 is used for transport and 2. The compact, soft cardboardy-feeling strip eliminates the sprinkles of laundry powder that dribble and mist everywhere with a boxed product. (Does anyone else get that? Maybe I’m just messy…) For the same reason that buying a bar of shampoo is better than a bottle that contains a LOT of water, Dizolve has made the same happen for laundry detergent. A note about Dizolve: you can’t get it wet, because it will dissolve into laundry soap. (Hence the name Dizolve!) So for shipping, the cardboard mailer came inside one of the bubble wrap mailers. While this is waste, it is something that can be reused many times, and it is just impossible to only mail in cardboard. If your package got caught in the rain, it would be ruined.

I haven’t found a solid fabric softener available without plastic (have you? Let me know!) however, having moved from Michigan to Florida, I rarely use liquid fabric softener here. When I do use it, I use a fraction of what is recommended. With humidity levels in this part of the country so much higher than elsewhere, static and static cling have never been much of a problem. White vinegar can also be used to soften fabrics, and you can find that in a glass bottle. If you are accustomed to using lots of fabric softener, start to cut down on the amount to see how little you can use. I bet in the rainy season, you’ll need very little or none.

To zero waste laundry drying, an easy swap is a set of dryer balls. They come in plastic or wool, and I chose wool. Instead of fabric softener sheets, you keep these in your dryer. Instead of a product to make your laundry softer, the wool balls bounce around with your laundry, softening the fabric and cuts drying time by creating space and moving the fabrics around.  

In making the change to dryer balls and cutting out name-brand fabric softeners, you are reducing your chemical exposure. Fragrance sensitivities are becoming more common, and fabric softeners can be a major trigger. When I walk my dog in the evening, I can smell the houses with laundry drying--that’s a lot of fragrance in those dryer sheets, making it all the way to the streets.

And this brings us to the topic that makes me pile up those laundry soap boxes before I recycle them, stand on them and say: My fellow Americans--why are we ashamed of our laundry??

 Air-drying laundry between Lisbon and Sintra, Portugal.

Air-drying laundry between Lisbon and Sintra, Portugal.

If you’ve traveled, well, anywhere outside the US, you know that nowhere else are tumble dryers a given and a necessity. Houses and apartments all over the world will have a washer and no dryer. Less than 5% of Italian households own a dryer. Catch any episode of House Hunters International, and you’ll see Americans wandering in confusion, looking for a dryer as a patient real estate agents explains that people use laundry lines or drying racks. My sister-in-law visiting from Australia wasn’t sure why we had two washing machines in our laundry room until we explained it. The picture here is from my trip last month to Portugal, seeing people in apartment buildings hanging laundry out windows. Compare that to the US, where apartment buildings and HOAs ban line-drying clothes. Why would you do that?  Technically, our right to solar energy, which includes air-drying laundry, is protected by Florida statute.

Here’s how to take back the power of the air to dry laundry for free. And I hear the objections--but, I have allergies!  But, if I work, how do I dry my laundry? I can’t leave it outside all day. Just give it a try, for six weeks, and see how it goes.

Why would I want to do this?

 Outdoor umbrella dryer

Outdoor umbrella dryer

  1. It’s cheaper--Your dryer uses 3 times the energy your washing machine does. An estimate of how much you’ll save is individual, depending on whether your dryer is gas or electric, how many loads you do, how efficient your dryer is, etc. Some say that you can save about $25 a month on your electric bill. Americans are 5% of the world population but use 24% of the world’s energy.  

  2. Running a dryer is adding heat that your air conditioning then has to cool. So in addition to that extra energy expense, now your AC is running more to counter that heat.  For example, when I lived in Michigan I capped the end of the dryer vent with a filter and let the warm, humid dryer air empty into the house, to help heat it. But most of the year in Florida we DON’T need more moisture or heat in the air.

  3. It’s better for your clothes.They will shrink less and line drying is much gentler, especially for sweaters and delicates.

  4. I don’t have scientific proof, but so many people swear that the sun brightens whites.

Here are some tips on how to line dry your clothes. There are lots of options out there! The price ranges from dollar store laundry line and clothespins to an umbrella clothesline or retractable multi-line indoor drying line.  So what are the options?

  1. Permanent laundry line outside, either parallel lines or an umbrella style that collapses down. Check HOA covenants before putting in the work.

  2. Drying racks you put up as needed, but fold flat and are portable. These bypass HOA covenants (not permanent!). The wooden ones sold to college students are notoriously short-lived. I have all metal ones from Ikea, one of which is over 7 years old and still going strong. They fold out for lots of space and two levels of drying space, and fold flat so you can stand them on a porch or by the washing machine.

  3. Retractable lines inside or out that give temporary drying space. I’ve used these on porches, decks and laundry rooms.

  4. Indoor lines that go over the shower/in the bathroom or laundry room. You can get anywhere from a single line, the open-out circular kind with built-in clothespins (great for delicates) to a four-line retractable option.

  5. Over-the-door options for college students or those in smaller spaces.

A few weeks ago a friend and I were commiserating about how easy it is to have musty, stinky clothes if you line dry here in the swamp. I also know that, like many things our grandmothers did, many haven’t had first-hand experience air drying laundry. So, I thought I’d share some of my workarounds and tips to keep clothes fresh and fully dry here in the swamp.

  1. Put them directly in the sun. Many days we don’t have breezes or dry air, so the sun is drying the clothes with no air movement to help out. If you are putting them outside, opt for any sun you can find instead of shade if at all possible.

  2. Spread them out. I purchased two laundry drying racks so I could leave space for circulation.  

  3. Turn pockets out so they dry quicker, and for boys/men’s underwear, put the fronts up to the sun so the extra seams dry quicker. Hanging on a laundry line, I pin the bottom seam of a t-shirt to the line, but on a drying rack I put the sleeves on top to get the most surface area in the sun’s direct rays.

  4. During the rainy season, clothes will dry quicker over concrete or stone pavers than grass or plants. It is also worth it to make room for the drying rack or laundry line inside during the rainy season. I use the dining room or bedroom where there’s space that doesn’t see a lot of traffic.

  5. If you have outdoor allergies, then use one of the indoor options.

  6. Don’t leave them out overnight. Once you’ve lost the sunlight, bring them in so the dew can’t make them wet again.

  7. Often I can get my clothes about 90% dry, but pockets or waistbands are still damp. I put them in the dryer for a few minutes. Use the sensory setting on your dryer or limit it to five minutes, just to make sure clothes are 100% dry and don’t mold or get musty.  Clothes can feel different after being line-dried, so a few minutes in the dryer can help them feel the same.

  8. Turn dark colors inside out to prevent fading.  

  9. Business casual shirts with buttons and collars: I like to dry these on the hanger, inside out. Why inside out?  You don’t want bumps from the hanger drying into your shirt. I also like to iron while they are still damp, which finishes drying them and helps with wrinkles.

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