5 Spot: How to Deep Green Your Laundry

When I was pregnant with my son and adjusting to impending motherhood, I quested after answers to a question all parents face: how to make sure no harm of any kind approaches my child, ever. This, for brand new mothers, can quickly boil down to laundry, and our first world, 21st century conundrum: disposable diapers, or cloth? Which choice does the least harm to a child and his or her world? And what about the rest of our laundry dilemmas - what can all of us do to make greener choices?

For help with the disposable versus cloth diaper dilemma, I called my friend Janelle, who in addition to being an awesome mother is a Harvard-trained economist and one of the smartest people I have ever known. “What to do, Janelle?” I asked. She replied, “Well, if we factor in [all the things Green Economists/Mothers factor in], all things considered, it’s basically a wash.”

My son is five now, and I have time again for things like research. I’ve found many ways to remain clothed while doing least harm to our children, our planet, and ourselves. Here are five of them:

  1. Buy less toxic clothing. We all know conventionally produced foods can be highly toxic, tainted with pesticides, chemicals, and genetically modified ingredients. But the textile industry is also a huge polluter. Textile production involves chemicals, from pesticides used on cotton–2.4% of the world’s crop land is planted with cotton and yet it accounts for 24% and 11% of the global sales of insecticide and pesticides respectively–to dyes, and to the formaldehyde finish most garments receive before they leave the factory. Cotton production uses enormous amounts of water. And then there are the reports of some clothing manufacturers treating their workers badly. Fortunately, we now have some choices: shop only for used clothing, buy organically grown cotton garments, and frequent websites like Appalatch.com for U.S.-sourced, small batch, and fair labor woolen garments. Repair and repurpose your old clothes, by yourself if you’re crafty, or by local tailors like Altered Ego in Moscow (AlteredEgoMoscow.com). Also, know your fibers: silk and wool can be washed by hand and do not need dry cleaning.
  2. Less frequent washing. Not all clothes need to be washed after each wearing. Undergarments and sweaty shirts, yes; but you can wear most pants, skirts and sweatshirts two to three times before they need cleaning. By reducing laundering, you use less water and prolong the life of your garments.
  3. Use ecofriendly laundry soap. Make your own. (Here’s a website with a recipe: http://www.mnn.com/your-home/at-home/stories/homemade-laundry-detergent). Or buy greener laundry detergents. Ranked among the top seven out of 271 laundry detergents that The Environmental Working Group rated for safety, Dr. Bronner's 18-in-1 Hemp Pure-Castile Soap, in Peppermint or Baby Mild, does a great job. Or try soap nuts. Instead of chlorine bleach, use a cup of lemon juice to brighten whites.
  4. Replace fabric softener with vinegar for softer, static-free laundry. Simply add ¼ cup white, distilled vinegar to the final rinse cycle.
  5. Say goodbye to dryer sheets: Dry your clothes on the clothesline, indoors or out. If you prefer to use the dryer, you can reduce wrinkles, static, and drying time without dryer sheets. Felted wool balls placed in the dryer with your clothes are economical, chemical free, and also cool! You can purchase a set (like these, here). Or use up your knitting project leftovers to make your own (try the Crunchy Betty website here for instructions). Infuse dryer balls with an essential oil of your choice for fragrance.

As a new mother, I started out with cloth diapers, with all the best intentions, but after a month of frequent peepee blow-outs that necessitated entire outfit changes (sometimes for both of us), and way too much time in the laundry room, I switched to disposables from Seventh Generation. It was the first of many compromises this parent has made in her endeavor to raise a child to do no harm in our complex world.