Laundry is a reality of life for all of us, especially when you are living Zero Waste and have cloth napkins and reusable cotton rounds and paper towels that also need cleaning. I’ve recently delved into the world of zero waste laundry care and, like with many other zero waste alternatives, I’ve found that switching to a zero waste alternative does not mean you have to compromise on quality. There are also plenty of options online and at stores like Whole Foods, so there are plenty of options depending on your laundry preference.
1: Soap Nuts
Soap nuts (or soap berries) are a member of the Lychee that contains saponins, a handy chemical compound that lower surface tension (which is just what your typical laundry detergent does to get clothes clean). Soap nuts are by no means new, having been used by washing for Native Americans long before the invention of Tide.
To use soap nuts, you simply place a handful of the berries into a cloth drawstring pouch and toss it into your washing machine. You can reuse the same bag for 5-7 washes and then simply compost the nuts when they’re brittle and no longer usable. I found my soap nuts at a local shop that sells them by the pouch, but you can also easily find them online. I’m glad I initially bought mine in a smaller quantity (in case I didn’t like them), but plan to buy them by the pound in the future since it is cheaper per load.
2: The Simply Co. Laundry Detergent
Lauren Singer started making The Simply Co. detergent when she transitioned into the zero waste lifestyle, now selling her detergent and a number of other items in her Brooklyn shop and on her website. I haven’t used The Simply Co. detergent, but I think it would be a great option for people that want to transition away from traditionally packaged goods and don’t want to make their own detergent or don’t want to use soap nuts. My one gripe with The Simply Co., is that they use the “eek chemicals” line very heavily in their marketing. But since Lauren Singer is a member of the Zero Wast Community, you have the added bonus of knowing the packaging will be sustainable. The detergent is sold in a glass jar and on their website they say that they ship everything in recycled cardboard using paper tape.
I haven’t attempted a DIY detergent yet, but there are plenty of recipes, like this one, online. The standard ingredients I’ve seen in DIY recipes are solid castille soap, washing soda, and Borax. I haven’t made the DIY plunge because I am 1) lazy and 2) don’t like to buy products for a DIY project if I will only use it for one purpose.
4: Better packaged, conventional detergents
On a recent grocery trip, I spotted a bottle of Seventh Generation detergent that is sold in a compostable bottle with a recyclable spout. I’m glad that a company that claims to be earth-friendly is offering better options when it comes to packaging since most of their products come in plastic. I haven’t used this version yet, but I think it would be appealing for people that don’t want to live a “granola” lifestyle but still care about excess plastic.
A good laundry routine is important not only because it keeps your clothes clean, it can extender their life cycle so you can shop less frequently. I hang dry a good chunk of my clothes (which is how I’ve managed to make shirts from Forever 21 last for 4+ years) but I’m not a fan of letting jeans air-dry so I still embrace clothes dryers. Until recently, I wasn’t using fabric softeners in my laundry routine, because they seemed like a waste of money for a product I wasn’t entirely sure I needed. But then, I spotted these wool fabric softener balls at my local drug store. They claim to cut down on dry time (a claim I haven’t scientifically tested) while reducing static and wrinkles (a claim I do find to be true). You simply toss the three wool balls into your dryer and let them do their thing (the only drawback is a slightly noisier load of laundry). For my dry clean only clothes, I use the Dryel system, which is relatively low-waste, effective at cleaning, and way cheaper and easier than going to a dry cleaner.
I love that I have plenty of options for zero waste laundry that keep my clothes and the planet clean and happy, I hope you will check some out too!