Living Green Values Ep 3 – Laundry at Home

I haven’t always been good about taking care of my clothes. When I was a kid, it felt like clothes grew on trees—they just seemed to magically appear (thanks in part to the steady stream of hand-me-downs from three older siblings)—so why think too much about them?

Big huge reason one: buying new stuff all the time keeps you in a wasteful cycle (and keeps you sad, more on that later).

Big huge reason two: Keeping demand of cheap, hastily made “fast fashion” means companies are more likely to exploit their cheap labor, use cheap and gross chemicals and fabrics, and pocket all your money with one of those big fat cat moneybags laughs (I assume).

Laundering your clothes with care includes folding, using the right temperature (always cold, my dudes), and line drying the fragile stuff. Taking the time to fold well and hang what needs to be hung also gives you a chance to inspect clothes for tears and loose threads. And of course, always mend when you can versus throwing something out.

But there’s another big huge reason to look more closely at how you’re cleaning your clothes. Most detergents are terrible!

But why?

Commercial detergents often contain synthetic chemicals, dyes, and fragrances. Water from our washers and dishwashers gets dumped into the river, which ends up in the ocean. Detergent chemicals help overload water with nutrients that skew the balance in aquatic ecosystems and cause increasingly problematic dead zones for marine life. You want a non-hippie reason? Fishing and other river, bay, and ocean-related industries make up a lot of our region’s economic livelihood.

But it works so well on my clothes!

A lot of that is weird trickery. Many commercial brands of detergent use “optical brighteners” on fabric that makes our eyes see brighter colors. Repeat after me: synthetic chemicals aren’t good for your clothing, the planet, or your skin.

What does one do about this?

I got into biodegradable Charlie’s Soap Powder when I was using cloth diapers for my infant. You can’t use detergent on those because all those dumb chemicals make the fabric less absorbent. Not good for diapers. I eventually started using Charlie’s for every type of laundry and quickly figured out that my clothes felt better, got just as clean, and I saved money and reduced waste in the process.

Here are some solid reviews of other legit detergents or, and you knew this was coming, you can make your own!

Cheap, green, effective, and dead easy laundry powder

I found a million recipes for homemade laundry powder and they were almost all the same:

1 bar unscented castile soap

1 cup borax

1 cup washing soda (aka sodium carbonate)


Grate the bar of soap on a grater. Mix with other ingredients. Add a couple drops of essential oil for scent if you like (I prefer to let my perfume do the talking, thank you very much).

Mix it all up very well. Use a teaspoon per full load, and don’t be tempted to use more. You won’t need it.

I put mine in my old Charlie’s bag, with its existing handy scoop. Then I tried to do a cost analysis…but I’m not a mathematician and I had so much washing soda and borax left, that I can only say it was “extremely cheap.”

The only waste I generated with this particular batch (since I bought in bulk for the other two ingredients). No good, Kirk’s! Make it paper!

To the test

If you’re aware of six-year-old boys, you might be aware that they are constantly covered in dirt. I have one of those, so I tested out my new powder on his grimy clothes. Voila, it worked like a charm. Ditto for my delicates and towels.

I’m giving everyone homemade laundry powder for holiday gifts and I will lose a bunch of friends but save so many fish. You’re welcome, fish.

Next time: What to do about dry cleaning!