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  • Writer's pictureAtiqah Nadiah Zailani

Zero Waste Laundry

Eliminating, substituting and/or reducing the waste from handling our dirty linens.

We have come a long way from the days when our great grandmothers had to carry dirty clothes to the river and scrub each one on a washing board. Now, all I need to do is dump everything into the washer, push some buttons and leave for an hour before returning to fresh-smelling, clean clothes - which is nice, and definitely waaaaay easier.

What's not so nice is the (literal) scum that comes out of this activity in the form of waste - from the unknown chemicals we're dumping into the drain to the packaging waste from the obnoxiously bright plastics that detergents come in.

Luckily, there is a super easy solution to both the chemical and packaging issue, plus much better alternatives!

Soap nuts

Here’s an easy win-win solution to choosing the best zero-waste laundry detergent ever: soap nuts!

Soap nuts are shells of berries that contain a cleaning agent and surfactant that do what the chemicals in your regular store-bought detergents do, except more naturally. They are easy to use and are gentle on both clothes and skin, making them really good for baby clothes and cloth diapers. Soap nuts also don’t produce foam or scum, making the waste water from the laundry safe to be disposed into grey water systems and can even be used to water plants!

To use, put a few soap nuts into a cloth bag (usually included in your purchase of a box of soap nuts) and throw it into the washer with your stinky clothes. The same soap nuts can be used for a number of cycles (refer to instructions on the packaging), and after, the nuts can be chucked into a composting bin. As for packaging waste, soap nuts typically come in paper boxes that can be easily recycled after you’ve used them all up.

Soap nuts come in paper boxes,

and a free cloth bag to toss in the wash with

DIY Detergent

If you’re inclined towards DIY-ing and want to play around with your own brand of detergent, you can make your own with a mixture of borax, washing soda, baking soda and grated bar soap. For scent, you can add your favourite essential oil.

Ingredients for a DIY detergent. source

However, do note that some people find homemade detergents ineffective due to the lack of surfactants (the thing that actually traps dirt and suspends it in water for it to be carried away during the washing process).

And if making your own DIY detergent means buying ingredients that create even more waste, then it might not be that good of an idea.

Recyclable Packaging

The next best option to the above is to buy wisely, that is: purchasing detergent in bring-your-own-containers store, and in bulk.

Alternatively, pick a detergent in recyclable packaging, like this conceptual non-existent one:

Somebody make this already, please.

Bleach Alternative

Bleach, as we know, is a nasty chemical, just from the awful smell alone. Luckily, there is an easy alternative with ingredients you probably already have: Lemon and hydrogen peroxide (also a featured ingredient in other cleaning supplies!) are both whiteners, and when added with soap and water can be an effective bleaching agent.

Yummier and nicer-smelling alternative, surely.

Fabric softener

Ditch the pricey, multi-coloured, multi-scented fabric softeners and switch to the ever-useful vinegar (also super useful for other cleaning purposes!).

The strong vinegar smell does not stick to your clothes and goes away immediately, but if you want, you can add drops of essential oil for your preferred scent.

Dryer balls

Living in Malaysia, I don’t use the dryer (despite having one in the apartment from the previous owner) - it doesn’t make sense to because the whole country itself is a big dryer in action.

The sun does all of the drying in my part of the world.

However, if you do use a dryer (in what I assume is a cold, wet and dark country like Iceland or the North Pole), then forego the wasteful dryer sheets in favour of dryer balls. Dryer balls work just as well to reduce static cling, fluff your laundry up, and reduce drying time - plus they are totally reusable!


Achievement Award: Eliminate waste altogether by switching to soap nuts or DIY your own detergent!

Points For Effort: Switch to less chemical-ly, biodegradable detergents with recyclable packaging

Um, Maybe Not: Love your citrus-smelling store-bought detergent as is? That’s okay, continue as you do, and find some other waste to eliminate! Check out other recommendations here.

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