Down the laundry rabbit hole

My laundry process needs fresh eyes.

For maybe 50 years, I have done my laundry exactly the same way every week. Gather clothes. Throw in washer. Turn on. I don’t even separate unless my clothes include something new like jeans.

My detergent is Arm and Hammer in a jug. Not because I care, but because Keith does. He says he likes it because it doesn’t have scent (but it does). I think the truth is he likes the baking soda in the product. Arm and Hammer seems old fashioned but natural and is very budget friendly since it costs about $.10 a load compared to Tide’s $ .25 cents per load.

Sure the spout drips, but no matter, I just pour the product into a dripless Tide jug. Works great.

Anyway Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast “Laundry Done Right made me rethink our process and sent me down a rabbit hole of research that has taken up much of my weekend.

The trigger wasn’t whether my clothes are clean enough. It was two statistics.

25 billion loads of wash are done every year in the U.S.

(Our contribution is about 156 loads a year. A drop in the bucket, but when it comes to taking action in favor of the environment we can only control our own behaviors and this is something we can control.)

In a cradle to grave study by Proctor and Gamble, the biggest contributor of to the carbon footprint is the temperature of the wash water.

According to P&G, using cold instead of warm water results in a 70 percent reduction in the use of energy. Using hot instead of cold is a 90 percent reduction.

The only laundry that needs to be washed in hot water are items that need to be sanitized. Sheets, towels, cloth diapers, maybe underwear. Everything else can be washed in cold.

P&G’s research center in Ohio has about 200 scientists working on what Gladwell calls the “Holy Grail” of laundry — making detergent effective with cold water. Cold water has a lot of benefits (less clothing shrinkage and color fading) but it’s harder to get clothing clean as the temperature drops.

According to P&G there is a lot of tweaking that goes on to optimize detergents’ effectiveness in cold water. There are surfactants that make the dirt roll off the fabric. Enzymes are important for dealing with protein-based stains like blood or eggs. Anti-oxidants help deal with oxidation that can damage clothing in storage. And polymers make sure that the dirt in the water isn’t reintroduced to the fabrics.

So now that my awareness has been raised, what do I do that will both improve the environment AND keep my marriage harmonious.

Good news is Arm and Hammer can be used in cold water. I would love to use pods, but they are expensive and that might be a bridge too far for Keith.

Even though those bulky plastic jugs have to be a problem for landfill.

How do you do laundry? What is important to you? Would you consider switching to cold water? Do you find pods expensive?

8 comments

  1. We do use Tide pods. We wash in cold except for the “whites” – sheets, towels, underwear, socks. I do wear my tops twice before washing, and I wear my pants usually 4 days before washing. My husband does about the same thing. This makes a huge difference for us. We probably do 9 or 10 loads a month. We are tall people, so our clothes are big. We also have a HE washer which conserves water as well. Nice post. It’s good to think every so often about things we do routinely. Maybe we find a way to improve in one way or another.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. No hot water here unless it’s heated by the sun…I wash every day)I’m) sure one’s grandson puts stuff in the wash which hasn’t been worn-sigh- I make my own fabric conditioner and use Tru earth eco strips …I reevaluated what goes down the drain about a year ago and changed hair products, toothpaste and washing powder….

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  3. I try to find a balance in all things. I use Eco laundry detergent from Costco. It’s environmentally friendly and their plant runs on 100% renewable energy. The liquid jug is very big and heavy. I’m going to have to start pouring it into a smaller container for my 12yo to use. He does his own laundry but if the jug is more than halfway full I have to pour it for him. I use warm water. Maybe it’s psychological, but I just feel like some warmth in the water helps clean better. We re-wear the same clothes for 2-3 days depending on our activity level which is usually low, but I do get really muddy in the yard sometimes. especially this time of year.

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