This is one of the areas I think I have made the most progress in and one of the areas that I think it is the easiest to make progress in – and it is really easy to quantify how much money it can save you!
There are two super simple steps you can take to reduce your waste and consumption when it comes to your laundry routine, and they are the part that have big money savings impacts. 1) Wash your laundry in cold water and 2) line dry your laundry. Now I have to admit that I don’t do this for everything, when I wore scrubs I washed them in hot water (and separately from my normal clothes, you never know where you could have had feces) and I was more vigilant about that after the start of the pandemic and I tumble dry my sheets and towels. If I had a clothing line outside I wouldn’t, but I just have a drying rack and there isn’t room for them on there, they also feel a lot better tumble-dried. Everything else however, gets washed in cold water and dried on my clothing rack. Also I am a big believer that heat is hard on your clothes in the same way that it is hard on your hair. So using cold water and line-drying can also make your clothes last longer! I also fell in love with line drying when I was on exchange in Spain, nobody had a dryer there, so on a Saturday morning you could look up and down your courtyard and it would just be lines of clothes across the courtyard all the way up to the top floor and all the way down to the bottom (almost all buildings in Spain have courtyards, it’s not fancy it’s just the way things are in warm places).
In addition to not using as much energy to clean your clothes, washing in cold water can also reduce micro-plastic shedding from clothing made of man-made fibres. Basically, every time you wash an item little teeny tiny bits of the fibres get shed off the clothing and go down the drain with the water. For natural fibres this isn’t a big deal, they will decompose, however these microscopic bits of plastic just hang out in the environment and get eaten my sea creatures and can end up back in our food system (you can read more about microplastics here in this National Geographic article). Cold water doesn’t completely stop microplastic shedding and you can also use items like the GuppyBag, Cora Ball, or a microplastic filter to help stop them from reaching your water system (although you do have to throw them in the garbage, so it’s possible they still could depending on how your community manages it’s solid waste/what condition your landfill is in).
The other big no-cost method to reduce your laundry footprint, reduce wear-and-tear on clothes is to simply wash them less often. Obviously wash them when they smell, but often a good air out before you shove them back in the drawer or cupboard can be enough to help with that. Jeans, sweaters, and hoodies, especially can handle not being washed every time you wear them (I would suggest washing underwear every wear though, but I think that’s obvious). Even activewear I don’t wash after every wear. This is mostly because I don’t have enough activewear to get through a week without doing laundry, but even when I went to the gym I can get away with doing 3-4 workouts in a set before washing it (if you don’t wear underwear with your leggings maybe don’t do this?)!
The next steps are the areas that cost money. But you are likely already buying detergent and dryer sheets anyways so it’s more of a transition of money than a new expense. But plastic free laundry detergent, stain remover, and swap your dryer sheets for dryer balls. And these are swaps that don’t have to be made as soon as you read the suggestion, when you finish your bottle of liquid detergent or your tub of pods consider a low waste option. I love these TruEarth laundry strips AND they don’t aggravate my eczema. They were a little pricey, but they work the best out of every low waste option I have tried (I do NOT recommend soap nuts, they didn’t get smells out, my clothes didn’t feel very clean, and their harvesting/over-farming is potentially causing issues in northern India/Nepal where they are indigenous). They have a very light scent, so great if your workplace has a scent policy or you have a scent sensitivity. I also really like the Nellie’s Wow Stick stain remover, there are a lot of stick stain removers out there, this is just the first one I saw when I finally used up the bottle of Shout that my mom sent me to university with in 2011. I do still have some plastic in my routine through the bleach tabs, however it is a lot less than liquid bleach and they seem to work really well! I don’t use bleach very often (honestly I’m scared I’ll ruin something, but if I have a load of only completely white things I’ll put one of these in the bleach compartment just to boost the bright white we have all been taught to love).
Also, you can get dryer balls anywhere and everywhere now. They also help to fluff up and create air spaces in your laundry as it dries, helping to reduce the amount of time that you need to run your dryer. And if you want to add a scent you can apply a few drops of an essential oil to the ball and it will scent your laundry (I don’t do this, but I’ve heard it works really well).
Laundry is a big way we can have an impact on our footprint and our bills. Have you made any changes to your laundry routine?