Last updated on April 29th, 2024 at 05:22 pm

plastic-free laundry: woman holding laundry basket

Tips for Doing Plastic-Free Laundry – Including One that Will Surprise You

Choosing plastic-free laundry products can save a significant amount of waste. Up to 1 billion laundry jugs are discarded in the United States annually, with 70% ending up in landfills, and many escaping to pollute oceans and waterways.

There are many great laundry products available for you to switch to in order to be completely free of plastic when doing laundry. And there’s one additional action you can take to decrease plastic pollution that you likely haven’t ever thought about.

Collect your Clothes in an Eco-Friendly Laundry Basket

woven laundry baskets

Admittedly, buying a plastic-free hamper or laundry basket made from natural materials will most likely cost you more than plastic. Plastic is cheap, right?

But as I’ll say a thousand times, cheaper isn’t always better. If you’re like me, you’ve tossed broken plastic laundry baskets or suffered through ones with broken handles, or those misshapen foldable hampers.

On the flip side, I’ve got a really nice rattan laundry hamper from Pottery Barn that I splurged on in the early days of being a poor newlywed, and that thing still looks new after over 20 years. (Yes, I got married when I was 8 years old.)

Look for hampers and baskets made from natural materials, such as rattan, wicker, seagrass, or bamboo. But make sure to pay special attention the material actually specifies it is indeed natural and not synthetic.

An additional challenge for a truly plastic-free option is the basket liner. The majority of these canvas liners are often a cotton-polyester blend, rather than pure cotton or linen, so be sure to check the label.

Here are some good options I have found.

Plastic-free hampers

Plastic-free laundry baskets

Choose Plastic-free Hangers

Luckily, there are a variety of metals and woods that make great alternatives to plastic hangers.

Use Eco-friendly Laundry Detergent, sans plastic

tin of Blueland laundry detergent

As previously mentioned, waste from plastic laundry jugs is significant. In addition, up to 90% of liquid detergent contains water. That increased volume, size, and weight leads to higher emissions in producing and transporting these jugs. Choosing other forms of eco-friendly, zero waste laundry detergent is a big part of achieving a plastic-free laundry room.

Learn more about what ingredients to avoid in laundry detergents and other household cleaners here.

Detergent Tablets

  • Blueland Laundry Detergent Tablets – packaged in commercially compostable packaging. You can also order a cute refillable tin to hold the tablets. This is a great product that I really like.

Liquid Detergent

These ecofriendly liquid detergent options are all concentrated, so a little goes a long way.

Laundry Powder

Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA): A deceptive ingredient?

Laundry detergent pods and sheets marketed as eco-friendly options have really come onto the scene as of late. On the surface, these popular products seem like the solution to end bulky plastic jug, but they may not be as eco-friendly as they claim to be.

Other studies found that PVA is not filtered out by wastewater treatments and is biodegradable only under specific conditions, which do not include the natural marine environment.

The Washington Post explores this controversy if you wish to learn more. For me, it comes down to this: PVA is based on petrochemicals, which alone have an negative environmental impact. I don’t want to use them if I don’t have to, and in detergent, PVA is an unnecessary ingredient used solely for convenience. Since debate remains on biodegradability, I’d rather err on the side of caution. And there are more than enough eco-friendly, plastic-free laundry detergents to choose from.

Try a Stain Remover Stick

Stain remover sticks dominate the plastic-free options. I have yet to try these but they are on my list as soon as I run out of my Puracy spray, which has recently become the only plastic-free spray stain remover option.

Skip the Dryer Sheets

Are dryer sheets bad?

Most dryer sheets are made from nonwoven polyester material (aka plastic) coated with softeners and other chemicals. These leave a film on your clothing in order to achieve non-static or softening properties. There are more eco-friendly dryer sheet options out there, made with plant-based, biodegradable materials, however, they are still single-use. Skip these as well and go ith a reusable product.

What can you use instead of dryer sheets? Wool dryer balls.

wool dryer balls

Wool dryer balls

Wool dryer balls are exactly what they sound like: round balls made of wool. These reusable balls are hypoallergenic and in my experience, they work just as efficiently as dryer sheets to decrease static cling and keep clothes soft. They work well to remove pet hair, too. I worried that hair would wrap around the ball and be a pain to clean, but this is not the case.

The balls can also help reduce drying time, saving energy.

If you prefer fragrance, you can add a few drops of your favorite essential oils to them. This does cause some discoloration (as seen in the photo), which is normal.

Wool dryer balls can be found in many stores, such as Target or Walmart. I own some that I purchased from Grove and Blueland.

For those who are allergic to wool or want a vegan option, there are several.

Tip: Using safety pins or a ball of aluminum foil can discharge static electricity if you find these balls do not do well enough alone.

Go for a Plastic-free Bleach Alternative

Everyone knows that burning feeling chlorine can create in your eyes and throat, right? Anything that creates those kinds of reactions are obviously not the healthiest chemicals to have around. By itself, chlorine bleach fumes can be harmful and exacerbate conditions like asthma, but mixing it with other cleaners or chemicals such as vinegar, ammonia, or rubbing alcohol can create deadly gasses.

So what are the natural bleach alternatives for laundry? You probably already have them in your house.

  • vinegar
  • baking soda
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • lemon juice
  • sunlight

Read more about how to utilize these ingredients from The Spruce.

If these don’t do it for you, there are some great alternatives to bleach you can purchase; however, there are only a couple truly plastic-free options that I have found. They are fantastic choices, though.

Try a Reusable Plastic-free Lint Remover

Say goodbye to those wasteful tape lint rollers and get yourself a reusable lint remover. There are a couple plastic-free lint roller/pet hair remover alternatives you can try.

Go Simple to Clean Your Washing Machine

I’ve used the Affresh washing machine cleaner tablets, but I don’t like that they are individually wrapped in plastic. The cheap and plastic-free option is to run a full load with hot water and 2-4 cups of vinegar. This also works amazingly for dishwashers too.

And the Unsettling Surprise…

The actual clothes you are washing create significant plastic pollution.

You probably didn’t know that each load of laundry releases up to 700,000 tiny microplastics from clothing made from synthetic materials like polyester, nylon, and elastane. These tiny particles are not biodegradable. It is estimated that 35% of microplastics in the ocean and 71% in rivers come from synthetic clothing. And by 2050, it is estimated that the amount of plastic in the ocean will outweigh the sea life.

So how do you combat this?

First, start paying attention to clothing labels when you are shopping, and only buy articles made from natural materials such as cotton, linen, wool, silk, cashmere, hemp, or bamboo. This can be a tough challenge as 69% of today’s clothing is made with synthetic materials, namely polyester. Click here to learn about sustainable clothing.

Unfortunately, if you’re like most people, including me, you’ve already got closets and drawers full of synthetic materials. There are several options you can use to trap microplastics and keep them out of wastewater.

  • Install a microfiber filter on your washing machine. The PlanetCare microfiber filter is a bit pricey, but third-party testing shows this filter catches 90% of microfibers. When the filter is full, you send it back to the company and they refurbish it to be used again. I just got this for my washing machine so I’ll update how it goes.
  • If you can’t install a filter on your washing machine or you use a laundromat or communal machines, you still have choices.
    • Wash synthetic fabrics in a washing bag from GuppyFriend. Testing showed it captured about 90% of particles.
    • Another option is the Cora Ball, a ball made of recycled plastics that attracts and traps fibers. You simply place in each load of laundry and clean it as needed. Testing shows it traps about 30% of microfibers, but also helps prevent them from shedding in the first place. The company will recycle them for you when they wear out.

Final Thoughts on Plastic-free Laundry

Are you super pumped for your next laundry day? I know I am.

Ok, so maybe laundry isn’t the most fun activity. But it’s something every one of us has to do, therefore making even one of these habit changes can have a pretty sizeable impact. I think it feels pretty good knowing how I can just about eliminate plastic waste in one area of my house, because in many other areas it feels impossible.

If you want to learn other ways you can save money and resources while doing your laundry, click here.

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