Detergents clean, but they also “pollute”. That’s because they can also contaminate sewage water and because, like everything else, they imply consumption of resources. The best thing to do to wash only a little dirty laundry (and dry, iron, fold…) is to dirty clothes as little as possible!

Clothes and underwear get dirty by sweat, dirt and body odours, the environment and the spots. The first thing we can do to reduce detergent is to get the wear less dirty.

How can we go about it:

  • To dress ourselves with different clothing on different situations (at home, outdoors…)
  • To protect it with coats or aprons when we are cooking, cleaning, or working at places with dusty or greasy objects.
  • To pay attention while handling some substances or if we are at places where we might get dirty.
  • Synthetic fibres make us sweat more.

By washing clothes they get worn out and their colours faded. The more aggressive the washing, the worse the clothes become. The warmer the water the better the cleaning, but only to a certain extent (some 60ºC). To extend the life of clothes; let us avoid washing them too much.

How can we go about it:

  • We should adjust the frequency and the intensity with which we wash clothes to our needs, without mixing up esthetics and hygiene. Maybe it is not necessary to be always dressed up to the nines. Sometimes, to aerate and brush clothes may be sufficient.
  • If we get a spot it’s not necessary to wash the whole wear. It’s better to take the spot off separately as soon as we can. Some of them will not disappear if we don’t hurry up. You’ll find some indications here.

Detergents cause water to penetrate more in the clothes (they are tensioactives) and thus they sweep away dirtiness. The movement of the washing machine also helps to clean. Conventional detergents generally use petrol derivates and some pollutant ingredients. Phosphates, followed by phosphonates or percarborxylates, are most harmful to lakes and rivers (they cause eutrophication). Some whiteners are toxic for aquatic life. Moreover, detergents often contain optical whiteners (artificial colours which make laundry look more brilliant and white) which nowadays are petrol derivates (formerly a blue dye extracted from a plant was used). Let us look for detergents with less pollutant ingredients.

How can we go about it:

  • We should check the labels of detergents whose main ingredient are not phosphates or phosphonates, percarboxylates. Now they are being used less and less even in conventional detergents. It is also convenient to avoid EDTA and NTA ingredients (nitrilotriacetic acid). On the label of any washing powder all the ingredients contained have to be mentioned if they account for at least a 0.2% of the weight of the detergent.
  • We should give priority to those we can find at shops dealing in ecological products (even there is no stamp which identify them as so yet). Those which do not contain (or contain little) phosphates and substitute those petrol derivates with vegetal oil such as palm or coconut oils, which ,nonetheless, usually come from industrial monocultures which have a negative social and environmental impacts.
  • To wash white clothes it is better to use washing powder without whitener (many of these will be found at ecological shops) and to add sodium percarbonate to the washing machine. Some ecological manufacturers are selling them and we also can find them at some drugstores. The label of the detergents with at least a 0.2% of whitener should mention Oxygen-based or chlorine-based whiteners, the last ones being less advisable.

Many washing powders contain superfluous ingredients, perfumes, antibacterial… or stuffing: in the non concentrated detergents, up to half of their contents only serves to increase its volume. Let us look for the detergents with fewer ingredients.

How can we go about it:

  • Let us use only concentrated detergents and preferably in powder, especially in bars. Liquid ones are recommended for delicate clothes.
  • Ecological detergents use very few superfluous ingredients and if they contain perfumes, they are natural ones (essential oils). Some brands are: Almacabio, Eco Lino, Ecover, Lympha, Sodasan, Ulrich.
  • A big cardboard packaging is better. Let’s not use in any case monodose bags.

The washing machine comes in the second place after the refrigerator in terms of household appliances electricity consumption. 90% of the energy is destined for heating water. 20% of the water we consume at home is used for laundry. Let us use the washing machine properly to minimize the consumption of resources and also to have our clothes quite clean without damaging it.

How can we go about it:

  • Let us wash a full load of laundry, but without pressing it, because thus, it would not be properly cleaned. Or let us use a washing machine which measures the water load according to the weight of the laundry.
  • Normally, using less detergent than that recommended by the manufacturer is enough, especially if it is concentrated. If we use too much, it might make cleaning more difficult and clothes rough. If laundry is not that dirty, we can wash only with water.
  • We’ll be able to see that a low temperature is enough for normal dirtiness. Temperatures over 40ºC will not remore protein spots (blood, meat, fish…).
  • Let us set separate light from dark clothes, and dirty one from very dirty clothes. Let us adjust the detergent and the temperature to the dirtiness. Let us leave the laundry soak when it is very dirty before washing it.
  • The ecoballs or ceramic pearls have a cleaning action that allows to use little or no washing powder at all, reduce wash cycle (since rinsing is reduced) and wash at lower temperature. They can last up to 1,000 washes. They also soften clothes. There are different types and probably different qualities, but we have not carried out any specific research in this respect.

Fabric softners ruin clothes and produce pollution. The softer the water (containing less lime) the less the amount of detergent needed to wash and the softer the clothes. Let us avoid stiff clothes without using softners.

How can we go about it:

  • By using ecoballs.
  • Pouring in the washer white vinegar with some drops of some essential oil to provide perfume, or mixing up bicarbonate with the detergent.
  • To perfume clothes we can put little bags with aromatic herbs at the wardrobe.
  • The installation of decalcifying devices also lengthens the life cycles of taps, pipes and household appliances.

Tumble dryers also damage clothes and they consume a lot of energy. Let us avoid them as much as possible.

How can we go about it:

  • In our Mediterranean countries we have lots of sunshine all the year round. Let us hang out our washing facing the sun, whenever possible. This will also make it whiter. If it is coloured don’t let it for a long time, so that its colour doesn’t fade.
  • At towns where it is not permitted to hang out laundry in places visible from the street, we should look for houses with a balcony where it is possible to hang it, or place drying racks in well ventilated and sunny rooms.