Zero Waste Laundry

Zero Waste Laundry

Lets talk about zero waste laundry. Everyone has to wash their clothes at some point, am I right? But how you do it matters: The average American runs anywhere from four to five loads a week. That’s a lot of water to waste on laundry. Wastewater is also a result of the washing process and a big environmental concern. Wastewater refers to the additional energy, lint, soil, dyes, finishing agents and chemicals from detergents that leak into our environment and contaminate waterways. This wastewater is toxic to wildlife and also causes unnatural overgrowth of plants and algae that leads to oxygen depletion in the water. This process is known as eutrophication, and when this happens, animals die. When we use conventional detergents loaded with harsh chemicals, we contribute to this cycle of environmental harm. Plus, the traditional laundry routine generates lots of waste (think about all those plastic detergent bottles, single use fabric softener sheets, etc.). Lets agree to make the switch to a more zero waste laundry routine, shall we? Not only will it help the environment, but it will also save you money in the long run as well.

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Zero Waste Laundry 

Zero Waste Laundry
Ready to create a zero waste laundry routine? It’s not that hard. Everyone’s will look a little different, and that’s completely okay. These are simply my suggestions, what I prefer, and what I do. I hope it helps inspire you to create a routine you’re absolutely happy with! Lets get washing, shall we?
Zero Waste Laundry
Soap nuts
I really love soap nuts. They’re basically an all-natural (compostable) detergent! Be sure to check them out here.
As someone who doesn’t have a washing machine in my apartment, I appreciate how lightweight soap nuts are. Carrying my laundry to and from the laundry mat is more than enough work in and of itself.
To use soap nuts, you just place 4 to 5 soap nuts into a mini cloth bag, then toss it into the washer with your clothes. They’ll suds up naturally and also double as a natural fabric softener in the rinse cycle.
When the clothes are done, simply remove the little cloth bag and let the soap nuts dry. You can reuse the same soap nuts up to 10 times, making them super budget friendly. When they reach the end of their life, you can compost them.
The best part is your clothes will come out clean and fresh smelling! It does a surprisingly great job.
I can imagine college students and elderly people loving this – you won’t have to lug a big bottle of detergent up and down stairs with this! Definitely give them a try ASAP.
Zero Waste Laundry

Natural laundry detergent

If you don’t mind carrying a glass jar with you to the laundry mat, making your own homemade laundry detergent is an option too! You can use it in combination with soap nuts, or on it’s own.
I have two DIY laundry recipes I like to whip up – (powdered) zero waste laundry detergent and DIY liquefying laundry gel. Both work amazingly well, and I really recommend them.
Pictured is my liquefying laundry gel – I’ve already turned it into liquid at this point. I used baking soda, washing soda, castile soap, essential oils and hot water to make it. Pretty straight forward – you can probably find most of those ingredients package free at the bulk food store too.
To use it, I just use about 1/3 of a cup per load. It’s HE and standard safe too.
You can use both these zero waste laundry detergent recipes to hand wash items too. Just 2 to 3 tablespoons should do the trick.
Essentially, these are just homemade laundry soaps, but they’ll still clean your clothes brilliantly!
Zero Waste Laundry
Wool dryer balls
Forget those wasteful single use dryer sheets. Wool dryer balls are where it’s at! These don’t have any harsh chemicals or fragrances – plus you can reuse them several times. Definitely check them out here.

These reusable alternatives will help your laundry dry faster, reduce static, and act as a fabric softener.  You can also add a few drops of essential oil to them to make your clothes smell a certain way.

To use them, just add a few drops of essential oil to three wool dryer balls, then place the three balls in the dryer with each load. Simple as that!

I really like using lemon, lavender or orange essential oil with my wool dryer balls – it leaves the clothes smelling so nice. Also, my clothes always feel so. damn. soft. after using these. Ugh, it’s heaven.

I’ve heard wool dryer balls can help knock off unwanted pet hair from your clothes as well, making them ideal for people with cats or dogs. I don’t have any furry animal friends so I can’t verify that directly. Still though, worth a shot!

You can use one dryer ball in over 1,000 loads – it can last you 2 to 4 years. That’s certainly a worthy investment, if you ask me!

Another thing I love about wool dryer balls? They shorten dry time. This helps save on energy, but it also helps reduce the time you have to sit around and wait for your clothes to dry! Who wouldn’t want that?

And, at the end of their life, you can simply compost them. Gotta love a product that takes end of life into consideration. Give them a go!

Zero Waste Laundry
Stain remover stick
I really hate stains, but they happen to the best of us. Instead of conventional stain removers (often packaged in plastic and made with harsh chemicals), I use an Ethique laundry bar and stain stick.

Ethique’s laundry bar and stain stick is mighty impressive – it’s great for hand washing clothes and removing stains. As a zero waster, I love two-in-one products, so I truly appreciate this one.

This stain stick is vegan, all natural, cruelty free, plastic free and palm oil free. What’s not to love? When I ordered it, it came in a simple little cardboard box, making the packaging easy to compost.

To use it as a stain stick, I simply rub it into a stain and let it sit a few minutes or overnight (depending on the stain). Then, I hand wash it in the sink. So simple!

This bar is also perfect if you travel a lot – it’s easily portable and you can actually wash clothes with it in the sink, as well as remove stains. You should totally check it out.

I recommend storing it in a little tin or Ethique’s storage container that’s specifically designed to extend the life of their bars.

Ethique’s storage containers are also made from compostable, plastic-free ingredients which is super innovative – you can literally bury them in your garden at the end of their life because it’s made from bamboo and sugar cane. Amazing right?

Also, here’s a cool zero waste stain removal chart that teaches you which natural ingredients remove specific stains (ex: blood, cosmetics, chocolate, etc.). Great for reference purposes.

Another free option is to make your own laundry whitener/stain remover using egg shells and lemons. Just put your empty eggshells into a muslin cheesecloth or mesh laundry bag with a few slices of lemon.

Throw it in the wash with your load of whites. You can also put it in a bin, fill it with water and the item you wish to whiten, and let it soak for 1 hour.

Wash less
You don’t need to wash your clothes as often as you think. This goes for denim especially.

Washing less saves a ton of water and it’ll actually help your clothes last longer in the long run.

This doesn’t mean I think we shouldn’t wash our clothes – it just means we should rethink how often we’re doing it.

For example, it is really necessary to run four to five loads a week? That’s apparently how much laundry the average American does. Perhaps we can cut it down to two or three and still smell clean and fresh.

I don’t have access to a washing machine and dryer in my apartment. In a way, it’s a good thing! It means I’d have to take a trip to go wash my clothes, which prevents me from over-washing them.

Generally speaking, my folks and I do laundry once a week and we’re in the clear. Of course, if something smells funky, I recommend washing it – don’t want you to be stinky! You can also hand wash your delicates to cut down on loads.

Wash in cold water
Another eco tip? Wash in cold water. Hot water can actually do more damage to your clothes, plus it takes more energy to heat water.

Save energy, and make your clothes less likely to fade or shrink, by washing with cold water! It can even help reduce wrinkles in your clothes.

I will say, however, if you plan on using cold water and soap nuts, you should soak the nuts in boiling water for 5 minute prior to placing them in the washing machine. I say this because soap nuts work best when used or activated in warm water.

Line dry
I don’t have access to this option unfortunately, as I live in an apartment. However, when I wash something by hand, I do hang it to dry using clothing hangers with clips. I like to do this with my delicates, produce bags, cloth napkins and cloth pads. It’s a simple way to air dry items and use less electricity.
You could also invest in a wooden clothes drying rack. I don’t have the room for this in my apartment, but if I did I’d totally get it. It’s perfect for those who like to hand wash and machine wash items. Plus you can put it outside if you have a balcony or backyard. Give it a look-see here.
That said, if you have the option to (and the space), I seriously recommend line drying your clothes outside. It’ll save energy and brighten up your whites! Nothing gets out stains quite like the sun’s rays.

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Zero Waste Laundry

What does your zero waste laundry routine look like?

For more zero waste cleaning tips, be sure to check out my lavender vinegar cleaner and my zero waste air freshener.

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By Ariana Storniolo (Palmieri)

Ariana Storniolo is the founder of Greenify-Me, a blog dedicated to zero waste and sustainability. Her work has also been featured on Going Zero Waste, Green Matters, Mother Earth Living and several other online publications.


  1. These are awesome. Looking forward to trying some of these out. I have a small dog who uses indoor pads when he needs to go to the bathroom in between walks. I switched from disposable ones to reusable ones months ago, but an annoying side effect is we're doing laundry every day, sometimes multiple loads in a day. Using a dryer rack helps, but we could definitely use some gains on the washing side of things.

  2. Oh boy! That's definitely an annoying side effect for sure. But I definitely think using reusable ones is much better than disposable, so don't get discouraged! 🙂 I hope these tips and tricks help you make your laundry routine a little more eco-friendly. Which products are you eager to try?

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