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The Clean and the Dirty of Doing Laundry

Being ethically dressed usually focuses on making sure our garments aren’t made in sweatshops, don’t promote unsustainable farming, don’t fill landfills with fast fashion, and making sure we are more mindful of global supply chains. Another thing to consider, that is often overlooked, is in each clothing item’s life cycle post purchase - everyday washing usually damages the environment more than actually making a garment.

I honestly didn’t think about it much until recently. I started buying natural and eco-friendly detergents when I was pregnant with my first child, thinking if it’s important for sensitive baby skins, why isn’t it important for all of us? I go to an organic dry cleaner’s sparingly to try to lesson my environmental impact. Although, the idea of not having fresh from the laundry clothes didn’t seem civilized. I mean, cleanliness is next to godliness, right? Although, the more I began to think about our cultural perceptions on cleanliness, the more I started to question whether our obsession with being squeaky clean isn’t actually the healthiest lifestyle — for ourselves and for our planet.

Your laundry room is probably one of the most polluted rooms in your house. The EPA considers the air in your home five times more polluted than the great outdoors. Eeks! The danger mostly comes from the scents that are used in most detergents. They may have natural sounding names like “Mountain Spring” and “Lavender Fields”, but it’s actually a cocktail of chemicals that destroys those very places they describe.

For healthier garment care, follow these tips:

1. The first change is super simple - wash with cold water. 90% of the energy used in a washing machine is from heating the water. Plus, cold water is often better for your clothes. The temperatures given on care labels are often the highest temperatures the fabric can stand, not necessarily what’s best for the garment. If every household used cold water, 34 million tons of CO2 emissions would be saved.

2. Don’t go crazy with too much detergent. It doesn’t take much to get clothes clean.

3. Don’t use dryer sheets and softeners. It's wasteful. Use recycled wool dryer balls to help with static, wrinkles, cutting down on drying time, and fabric softening. They last for years, so there’s less waste compared to dryer sheets. You’ll need 4-6 balls for a large dryer. If you’re one of those people that feels like something isn’t clean until it has a scent, dampen a small cloth and put a few drops of your favorite essential oil on it to put in your drying cycle. A way to eliminate static is to not overdraw your clothes - it wastes energy and causes more static. Also, synthetic fibers such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic. Try separating your synthetics to keep the static at a minimum. Another trick is to spray the dryer balls with water to up the humidity level in the dryer because the clothes will dry faster than the balls.

4. Wear your clothes for longer between washes. This is a big one. We have somehow been brainwashed into thinking we need to wash our clothes after every wear. Levi’s CEO, Chip Bergh, admitted that he never washes his jeans (insert link to article) since it’s really unnecessary. Washing clothes are actually really bad for the garment itself. Instead, spot treat stains until people start moving away from you in crowded spaces, then maybe it needs a wash. Household products make up a big industry and there is a lot of money to be made. Marketing is a powerful thing that can also be disastrous for the environment.

5. If you’re washing fabrics that contain plastics, like polyester, acetate, and rayon, put them in specially designed bags that catch the micro plastics and keep them from getting into the water system. Patagonia sells a version for $30.

6. Detergents contain chemicals that seep through your skin, your largest organ, and can be harmful to your hormones and cause cancer and infertility. Use eco-friendly natural soaps. Here are some favorite brands that we’ve come across: Biokleen, Moly’s Suds, Betterlife, Seventh Generation (easy to find), Simply Clean’s Pure Soap Flakes, Dr. Bronner’s Sals Suds, Swedish company Tangent.

There are a lot of things we can do to reduce our carbon footprint and make our clothes last longer at the same time. Sometimes, it doesn't take much to make a difference.


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