Ethical Living: Sustainable laundry

There’s no doubt there has been a huge increase in consumers looking to make thoughtful and sustainable purchases, particularly when it comes to clothing. This move follows recent TV documentaries that have brought the fashion industry’s ethical failings to the masses. This is great news for the planet, and it is pushing manufacturers to be more transparent about their production techniques and values. But, sustainability does not stop at the checkout. Giving your clothes the best care that you can will prolong their lifespan and help to reduce the volume of textiles that go to landfill. Slow fashion designer/maker Bridey Davies shares a few tips and ideas that are a step towards this goal, with the additional benefit of reducing the resources we use in the laundry process, as well as being economically savvy.

Photo: Bridey Davies

Photo: Bridey Davies

Prolonging Wear Between Washes

For a while, I developed a completely unnecessary habit of wearing an item of clothing once before putting it in the laundry basket. I didn’t check to see if it really needed a machine wash with detergent, it just became a routine at the end of the day. Undress before bed, throw everything in the basket. Then at the weekend, it would all go in the machine for a hot soapy wash. A hangover from the days when my children were babies and this seemed like the safest option. In fact, the simplest steps have made the biggest difference to curbing this habit.

Firstly, installing some hooks in the bedroom has given me a place to hang washed-but-still-clean clothes without them becoming creased by the morning. If any small marks have appeared on otherwise clean clothes, then the most effective way to remove them is to rub gently with the corner of a bar of soap. Rinse the area with a little water and allow it to dry before wearing again.  Finally, a homemade freshening spray can give your clothes a new lease of life before you put them on in the morning.  I mix four parts water to one part witch hazel, and add a few drop of essential oil for fragrance. A combination of eucalyptus and lavender is my favourite and I’ve even come to prefer this to a spritz of perfume in the morning!

Photo: Bridey Davies

Photo: Bridey Davies

Opting for alternatives to bio-detergent

A gentle detergent is the best choice for your clothes, your skin and for the planet and luckily, there are lots of alternatives to the harsh varieties in the supermarket. Some people like to use soap nuts, the dried fruit shells containing a natural soap called saponin. They are completely natural, non-polluting and compostable. I buy mine from a local greengrocers but you can buy them online from websites such as www.soapnuts.co.uk. Simply pop a handful of nuts into a cotton drawstring bag and throw into the machine. I use these for very delicate clothes and spritz with freshening spray afterwards for fragrance.  For all of their benefits though, I have found it is true that soap nuts are more effective at forty degrees than thirty, a cost that you might like to consider if you decide to try them.

Alternatively, you could make your own detergent using borax and traditional scented soap.  Combine two parts borax, two parts washing soda and one part grated soap to create a simple and effective washing powder. This mixture is more gentle on skin than a supermarket bio detergent but I would advise choosing soap according to known sensitivities in your family as scented soaps can be irritating. I buy the borax and washing soda from a local hardware store but they are easily and cheaply available online too - try Ethical Superstore.

Photo: Dan Gold on  Unsplash

Photo: Dan Gold on Unsplash

Harnessing the power of the sun

There is little better than the sight of freshly laundered clothes drying on the washing line on a warm, breezy day. Speedy, satisfying and sustainable. In fact, these days I would never machine wash either denim, canvas or woollen items.  A regular spot clean when necessary helps to remove marks, whilst a day spent airing in the breeze will freshen them up perfectly too.

But, did you know that the washing line is also useful to clean your clothes? UV rays from the sun can often be powerful enough to remove stains and bacteria from fabric. For best results, hang damp clothes in bright sunshine in the morning to see an improvement by the afternoon.  Wooden dolly pegs are the best kind to use here as they won’t leave behind rusty marks and are compostable too.

Of course, not everybody will be able to implement all of these ideas into their routine - you might not have a garden for a washing line or be able to screw hooks into your walls, plus nobody needs the pressure to be perfect all of the time. But hopefully, just some these ideas will help you to form mindful laundry habits, and your favourite clothes will reward you with years of joyful wear.