Smells Like Clean Spirit

Throwing in the Towel on Traditional Laundry Detergent

Breakfast, commute, work, lunch, work, gym, commute, shower, dinner, sleep, rinse, repeat. This is what my weekdays look like. Weekends are slightly more exciting—between baking and hanging out with friends, I squeeze in my chores, one of which is doing my laundry. Every weekend I wonder, “How does one person generate so much laundry?” While I’ve tried to pare it down, I always end up with stacks of clothing, towels, bedding, and area rugs. Unfortunately, as recommended by my allergy doctor, washing area rugs and sheets are a must at least once a week. So, for the time being, I share at least one thing in common with our first president, because I’m always Washing-a-ton.

Here’s the tally: two small-ish area rugs, one load with a comforter and two pillowcases, one large pillow, one load of towels, one load of lights, one load of colors, one load of darks, anything my cat throws up on, and a partridge in a pear tree. That makes eight to nine loads of laundry! Luckily, I have a newer energy- and water-efficient washer and dryer that (slightly) absolve me from my eco-guilt. It’s not just the water and energy though. I have to buy detergent, fabric softener, and dryer sheets, too! Both the detergent and the softener come in plastic containers, which are recyclable in my curbside bin, but those pesky dryer sheets are basically trash once they’re used up.

The dryer sheets were an easy fix—in fact, I didn’t even have to do anything but have a birthday. A few years ago as a gift, I received two plastic “hedgehogs” that go in the dryer to fluff and reduce static. My friend thought they were cute, and she was right. For the past few years, I have used my little hedgehogs on and off, and they seem to do the job. They don’t provide that oh-so-fresh fragrance, but for me, that’s a very small drawback far outweighed by the absence of harsh chemicals. If plastic hedgehogs aren’t really your thing, there are also other reusable alternatives like wool dryer balls(which can be found online or at a less-waste store like Refill Madness) or homemade fabric dryer sheets. The great thing about homemade reusable fabric dryer sheets are the all-natural ingredients. If you are sensitive to fragrances or harsh chemicals, you may want to try making your own with the help of this tutorial.   

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The next item to tackle would be the detergent itself. For years, I’ve used a popular brand that my grandma always had on hand. Nostalgia is what makes families brand-loyal! But, in my quest for a zero-waste laundry day, I stumbled upon soap berries. Yes, they are exactly what they sound like: berries from trees that grow in the Himalayas (at least that’s what the box says). When agitated in water, the berries release a natural “soap” that cleanses and softens your clothing without harsh chemicals. The brand (there are many to choose from) I purchased claims to be organic, cruelty-free, fair trade, reusable, and compatible with high-efficiency washers. They can be used roughly 10 times, so the box I purchased should last for approximately 100 loads for $10, while my box of traditional detergent lasts for only 80 loads and costs twice as much. 

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To use them, you place four or five berries into a small canvas bag and toss them in the laundry as you would a traditional detergent pod. They do not need to be dried, but if they are accidentally tossed in the dryer, you can still reuse them without any negative effects. You’ll know the berries are spent when they become papery and thin. Then you simply throw the biodegradable shells away either in your yard, compost pile, or trash.

How effective were they? I had LOADS of reservations at first. I’m a huge fan of that spring meadow fresh scent that comes with laundry day. I love that big whiff of fresh laundry smell when I pull warm blankets out of my dryer. You will not get that overwhelming clean laundry smell with soap berries, but rather a subtle natural clean smell. This is great for children, pets, people with skin conditions, those who are sensitive to fragrance, and individuals suffering from allergies, like me. I noticed no significant difference in softness or cleanliness, which was my main concern.

After my little laundry experiment, I’d say the TIDES have turned. Recognizing how much waste I was making before, and how much money I’m saving now, has converted me to a loyal soap berry user. Having done the math, I realized I have been taken to the cleaners when it comes to traditional laundry products. Using an all-in-one detergent/softener like soap berries, I can cut out liquid softener (approximately $28 a year), dryer sheets (approximately $28 a year), and detergent (approximately $102 a year), saving myself approximately $158 a year. If you’re still not convinced, see my laundry list of pros for less waste washing:

Pros  

  • Inexpensive
  • Reusable
  • Fair trade (except plastic hedgehogs)
  • Organic (except plastic hedgehogs)
  • Subtle fragrance
  • All natural
  • No harsh chemicals
  • Cruelty-free (plastic hedgehogs can stand the tumble)
  • Recyclable packaging
  • Biodegradable (except plastic hedgehogs)
  • Stores well
  • Wool dryer balls can be infused with essential oils
  • Soap berries are safe for those with nut allergies

Cons

  • You may need to keep track of soap berry washes (up to 10 loads)
  • No wave of fresh laundry smell will fill your home
  • Hot water is recommended for soap berries to activate (However, I used cold and they still seemed to work just fine)
— TC Clark
Posted on Jan 18, 2018

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