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Americans want to be clean. And apparently we go a little bit overboard in that department. Case in point, 53 percent of people use more than the recommended amount of laundry detergent, according to Adam Lowry, co-founder of Method Products. This overzealous usage pumps extra chemicals into our water supply and wastes materials. To curb your environmental impact and start detoxing your laundry room, follow these six steps:
1. Use Natural Laundry Detergent
Traditional laundry detergents generally contain phosphates that help kill germs and improve overall washing performance. However, phosphates also damage surrounding aquatic environments. Instead, opt for natural laundry detergents, like Method or Mrs. Meyers, which are at least 85 percent plant-based and biodegradable, perform well in cold water, and use less (if any) fragrances, dyes, and optical brighteners.
2. Use Natural Stain Fighters
Rather than using harsh chemicals to fight grease stains, opt for a common kitchen ingredient to remove stains. Rub some salt, cornmeal or cornstarch on a grease or oil stain. Let it sit while you do other laundry, then brush away and wash as usual. For an ink stain, wet the item with cold water and apply a paste of cream of tartar and lemon juice. Let it sit one hour before washing. Wine spill? No problem. Just pour club soda on the spot, then sponge up both soda and wine before laundering. For blood stains, douse spots with hydrogen peroxide or diluted ammonia before rinsing in cool water.
3. Soften Your Water
You can use half your usual amount of detergent, switch from hot to cold water and still get better stain fighting power with softer water, according to the Water Quality Association. Using less detergent means less environmental impact in the chemicals and packaging materials used, plus less cost to the consumer. Softer water also prolongs the life of washing machines and water heaters by causing less scale build-up.
4. Skip Dryer Sheets
Air-dry clothing whenever possible to reduce energy use. However if you must use the dryer, skip the dryer sheets (and their accompanying cocktail of “fragrant” chemicals). A research study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found 29 unique volatile organic compounds in dryer-vent emissions, which are hazardous pollutants and possible sensory irritants. Since most of the individual fragrance ingredients are not usually listed on a product, it is safer not use dryer sheets at all. Instead, create your own DIY dryer sheet using scraps of an old flannel sheet, white vinegar, and tea tree oil.
5. Unleash the Power of Vinegar
Vinegar has many versatile uses. In the laundry room, white vinegar is perfect to fight perspiration stains and urine. For perspiration, rub the stained areas with white vinegar before laundering. For pet urine, dampen the offending area with equal parts white vinegar and water and blot dry. And the cleaning uses of all-natural vinegar are almost endless, from sparkling silver to scuff marks on linoleum.
6. When in Doubt, Use Baking Soda
Baking soda is a naturally occurring non-toxic substance and helps to maintain an optimum pH balance. It can serve as a mild cleaning agent, deodorant, and abrasive to scrub, dissolve, and lift away dirt from tile floors, textiles, and appliances. Mix a half cup with a bucket of warm water to mop with, and add a half cup to regular wash loads to boost the laundry detergent’s cleaning power. Baking soda will also remove and neutralize odors (rather than masking them, like artificial fragrances). Sprinkle generously over a dirty clothes hamper to minimize offensive smells, and add to the load’s rinse cycle to combat persistent odors.