Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

Going green in the Laundry Room–3 Easy Steps + MORE September 1, 2009

This article is from my Green Living column on

With a busy family of four, the laundry certainly piles up. I’ve always used eco-friendly products, and I have a front-loading HE machine (which uses at least 40% less water and up to 65% less electricity compared to a top loader), but I still feel a twinge of guilt every time I load up. There are certain unalienable laundry rights everyone should enjoy: clean, unstained clothes, whiter whites, and the (relative) absence of wrinkles. It’s time to freshen our perspective on this dirty chore.

First, there are 3 easy steps for cutting down on the energy and water waste attributed to doing the laundry:

  1. Set your machine to the cold setting and leave it there. 90% of energy used by a typical washing machine is to heat the water; only 10% is used to power the motor. If every American household used only cold water for washing clothes, 34 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions would be saved.
  2. Select a phosphate-free, cold-water detergent, and try roll-on pre-wash stain removers, rather than squirt or aerosol options. Our waterways and wetlands will thank you, and you’ll use less product in the long-run, saving you money.
  3. Don’t run the washer unless you have a full load. If you have a “Half Load” setting, use it if absolutely necessary. Remember, it is OK to wear things a few times before washing. Well, maybe not undies.

In the spirit of protecting the Earth, we’ve all tried that green detergent that left our clothes stiff and maybe a little drab, causing us wonder whether Tide might be onto something. Don’t be tricked by false advertising, and don’t give up the fight! The truth is that petrochemical detergents like Tide or Gain contain optical whitening agents which attach themselves to the laundry during the washing process. According to my friends at Ecover, “These are synthetic substances that make no contribution whatsoever to the cleaning process and only produce an optical illusion. Tests have shown that while optical whitening agents do reflect light, they also make an irreversible chemical bond with the skin which can lead to skin problems.” While Ecover doesn’t use optical brighteners, I’ve noticed that the company’s “Ultra” Laundry Wash HE does make my clothes seem whiter and brighter—and is safe enough to use on baby clothes. (See below for a list of recommended laundry detergents. Please comment if you have a recommendation.)

Making your own HE detergent and fabric softener is a cost-effective, eco-friendly alternative to commercial laundry products:
1. Using a regular cheese grater, grate a bar of pure soap – Ivory, Kirk’s Castile, or Fels Naptha soaps. One 5.5 ounce bar will make about one cup of flakes.
2. In a large, resealable container, combine 1 cup soap flakes, 1 cup baking soda, 1 cup washing soda (sodium carbonate, and 1/2 cup borax. Washing soda is caustic to the skin and you should wear rubber gloves. (Arm & Hammer manufactures this product.)
3. Mix ingredients well. Keep dry. Use 1/2 cup of mixture per load of laundry. 

Fabric Softener
1. In a  one gallon container, add 1 cup baking soda and 1 cup water. Slowly add 6 cups distilled white vinegar (the baking soda will start to fizz.)
2. Add 7 more cups of water, swirling around, covering the top, and venting occasionally.
3. Add your choice of 10-15 drops essential oils or lemon essential oils (optional).
4. Add 1 cup in your final rinse cycle for each load. (If you’ve added essential oils, give the bottle a good shake at each use).

Eco-Friendly Product Recommendations:

A natural laundry detergent should use only biodegradable ingredients, be phosphate-free, and contain only plant-derived surfactants. Keep in mind that some natural detergents are fragrance-free or use only naturally-derived fragrances, others may contain synthetic perfumes. Always read the label.

Ecover Ecological Laundry Wash

Mountain Green

Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day HE compatible


Bi-o-kleen Laundry Liquid

Seventh Generation Free & Clear

Cot’n Wash

Melaleuca EcoSense 6x Concentrated MelaPower Laundry Detergent )

Ecover Stain Remover works on everything, even old stains; It’s great on pet stains in your carpet too.

For more info: Read Green Living 101: How do I give my laundry routine a green makeover?Laundering clothes with natural products rather than petrochemical detergents can help extend the life of clothes, and contribute to a cleaner… Keep Reading »

To learn more about the chemicals in the products you’re currently using, or to find additional recommendations for natural household products, check the Household Products Database.

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Green Living 101: Chemicals to avoid in beauty products Whenever possible, it is important to choose organic products—especially soaps and body-washes. Keeping in mind that our skin is…Keep Reading »

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3 Responses to “Going green in the Laundry Room–3 Easy Steps + MORE”

  1. daneil Says:

    Rejuvenate floor cleaners are also biodegradable

  2. Lindsay Says:

    Wow, that is a great way to go green in the laundry room. I usually buy my detergent from whole foods, but that is an excellent way to not only save money but cut back on detergents. I just wonder if it would work with my daughter having sensitive skin?

  3. rjlacko Says:

    Hi Lindsay!
    Making your own detergent at home to protect your daughter’s skin is a great, cost-effective idea. Just be sure to skip the fragrance–or use it sparingly, testing her reaction.
    Method makes a decent baby detergent, and you can usually find it at Target. Ecover’s Ecological Laundry Wash is very good, and while it does have a fragrance, I’ve noticed it does not seem to irritate skin. Lastly, I know plenty of moms who use Melaleuca EcoSense (and selling Melaleuca is an earth-friendly way for SAHMs to make extra cash), so you may want to look into that line of products. I personally feel their products are well-made and effective.

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