Sustainable Laundry: 8 Tips for Eco-friendly Wash

sustainable laundry
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If you aim at living in a more eco-friendly way, laundry should be one of the key areas to focus on. You may even give a higher priority to sustainable laundry after discovering the “dirty facts” behind our daily clothes washing routine.  Here are just a few pointed out by Oxwash, a sustainable laundry service provider in Oxford*.

The dirty facts of daily laundry

  • Use of water
    Washing clothes uses a lot of water – between 50-80 litres per wash cycle! A study by Oxwash, Vanish and The Prophets shows that washing machines in the UK use about 360 billion litres of water every year.  This amount is enough to drain Lake Windermere!
  • CO2 emission
    Washing a load of laundry at 60˚C, followed by tumble drying, produces the equivalent of 3.3kg of CO2. Lets assume we wash like this every other day. Each of us, then, would create 603.9 kg of CO2 in a year.  That is more or less the result of a return flight from Glasgow to London!
  • Plastic pollution
    One single load of laundry releases as many as 700,000 microscopic plastic fibres, which come from synthetic textiles such as polyester, nylon, or acrylic.  These tiny plastics are carried through wastewater into the sewage system and eventually find their way onto agricultural fields and waterways.  As plastic microfibers travel around, they are found in our food, bottled water, and the greatest depths of the ocean.
  • Chemical contamination
    Our planet is not only polluted by plastics but also chemicals brought by daily laundry. Traditional laundry detergents contain damaging chemicals including chlorine bleach, dyes, fragrances and optical brighteners which contaminate our waterways.  Dry cleaning is even worse, as it uses PERC (perchloroethylene), a colourless solvent derived from petroleum fractionation that can cause health issues ranging from respiratory failure to cancer.  Oxwash demonstrated in a live experiment that this cancer-causing substance could kill flowers in just two hours.  PERC is now still used by dry cleaners in the UK, despite being banned in the United States, France and Denmark.
  • Disposal of incorrectly-washed clothes
    Each year, as many as 350 000 tonnes of clothes end up in landfill, 56% of which are thrown away because of irreversible damage such as colour fading, stubborn stains, shrinkage or misshaping.  These are the results of improper washing.

8 Tips for sustainable laundry

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It’s certain that we need to do something in order to minimize the impact of washing on our environment. Adjusting to a sustainable laundry routine may be a certain inconvenience – and seems frustrating.  However, it is still worth doing.  These are some easy ways to start with.

  • Wash in full load
    Wait until your machine is full before washing.  Otherwise, you are just wasting water and energy. Besides, a full load of laundry could reduce the agitation experienced by the clothing and therefore, fewer plastic microfibres would be released.
  • Wash in shorter and colder cycles
    It helps save energy and care for fabrics – making your pieces last longer.
  • Use biodegradable detergent, and just enough
    Biodegradable ingredients will break down over time and will not pollute the environment.  Also pay attention to their packaging – whether it is recyclable.  Order a refill whenever possible.  In fact, you may consider making your own detergent using natural and organic ingredients.  It’s not as complicated as you think.
    Besides, avoid using too much detergent, which is one of the most common laundry mistakes. Using too much detergent not only wastes your money, but may cause damages to your clothes like excessive wear and tear, colour fading and even shrinking.
  • Know your dirt and pretreat your clothes
    Pretreating your clothes can help remove tough stains. Apply a small amount of detergent directly on the stain and rub it.  Let the detergent stay on the stain for a few minutes before doing laundry.
    If you know what that stain is, you can get it out more effectively with a more eco-friendly way.  For example:
Blood stainsUse cold water and soap. Never use hot water, which will only help the blood stains set in your clothing.
CoffeeSprinkle some baking soda onto the coffee stain. Then add a small amount of water. A sort of paste will be formed. Gently rub the paste into the stain and rinse thoroughly with cold water.
Red wine stainsFirst dilute the red wine with a small amount of white wine. Then pour a layer of salt on the stain area. Leave it ten minutes and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Repeat if necessary.
Oily food stainsClear dish soap can do the trick as it can dissolve fats.
LipstickUse baby wipes. Dish soap may also help.
  • Avoid using fabric softeners and dryer sheets
    They can contain harmful chemicals that pollute the environment.
  • Use a microfibre-catching laundry bag
    Synthetic clothing releases tiny bits of plastics during the laundry cycle. These end up polluting the waterways and possibly flowing into the ocean. Use a special laundry bag to catch them, or simply choose natural fibre clothing.
  • Hang dry your clothes whenever possible 
  • Sort clothes by weight and shape before tumble drying
    Mixing different types of clothes together in the dryer may result in one coming out dry while the others are still wet. It is more cost effective to do sorting before drying.

Looking for a sustainable laundry service provider in Oxford?

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In addition to washing clothes with eco-friendly ways at home, sometimes you may need the help of a professional laundry for more convenient services.  Oxwash, founded in Oxford in 2017, is a sustainable laundry service provider.  Positioned as “a green alternative to dry cleaning”, they achieve their sustainability goals through the following ways*:

  • Reclaiming water from the rinse phases to use in the next wash cycle.  They claim they use 32 litres less water in each wash cycle, saving up to 60% and 70% of water when compared with typical commercial washing and domestic washing respectively.
  • Installing “PlanetCare microfibre filtration” in their washing machines to capture more than 95% of all the microplastics shed during washing.
  • Replacing dry cleaning with their wet cleaning technology, which uses only water and biodegradable detergents, to process both wet and dry clean-only items and therefore, avoiding the use of chemical solvents for conventional dry cleaning.
  • Using biodegradable detergents, coupled with ozone integration, to achieve the results of the standard 40˚C-60˚C washing at only 20˚C. This saves 2kg CO2 emissions per 12 kilogram wash.
  • Collecting and delivering clothes with zero-emission vehicles – electric cargo bikes that are charged by solar energy or electric vans for large orders.

It may take some time and effort to switch to a sustainable laundry routine.  But once you have adjusted, you will find an eco-friendly clothes cleaning process can actually save your time and money in addition to saving the Earth. 

You can gain more ideas about how to live a more sustainable life from our Quick guide to permaculture for sustainable development.

*Refer to Oxwash sustainability report 2021