Veggie y Que Media

Uplifting the voices and experiences of Vegans of Color

Airing Out Our Dirty Laundry: How Your Laundry Routine is Impacting the Environment

I grew up visiting my family in a small town in Guerrero, Mexico where water only comes every three days and all washing is done by hand. Through this experience, I began to think about laundry and its impact. Washing in the lavadero could take hours of bent over, back-aching work. Dryers are nonexistent, you hang your wet garments on el tendedero and pray it doesn’t rain. Over the course of my life I’d say I’ve thought about laundry more than the average American. Here is what I’ve learned in my quest to be eco-friendly while staying squeaky clean. 

Did you know that certain fabrics release microfibers? Microfibers are tiny pieces of plastic fibers that come off of our clothing every time that we wash. You’ve most likely heard about microplastics, but similarly microfibers were found by a UCSB study to be present in saltwater, freshwater, and land habitats worldwide. This is important because microfibers not only pollute our waters, but also affect animals and their habitats. Although the definitive effect of microfibers on humans is not yet known, it has been found that microfibers found in animals can affect their behavior, stunt growth, and lead to a buildup of biotoxins. These animals are likely to move through the food chain so if you eat sea life, you are likely ingesting plastic. Although water treatment plants help, it is estimated that up to 40% of microfibers still end up floating into our waterways. 

Clothing made from synthetic fabrics such as fleece, polyester, rayon, acrylic should be avoided. If you’re participating in fast fashion these may be hard to avoid as these fabrics, especially polyester, are on the rise due to their low production cost. Instead, try to choose clothing that is made with natural fabrics such as cotton or linen. Microfibers are harmful, keep them out of your closet as much as possible and then not washing them will come easy! 

How to Wash for the Environment
The average U.S. based family will do about 400 loads of laundry a year, which adds up to about 16,000 gallons of water! If you’re in the market for a new machine, go for a front-loading or an efficient top-loading machine as they use about 20 gallons of water per load in comparison to 40 gallons for top-loading machines. Looking to go even greener? Try using a pedal washer, wash at your local laundromat, or wash by hand without electricity. 

Your washing machine will always use energy, but you might save on your energy bill by trying these methods:

  • Wash or dry before 4pm or after 7pm & avoid “peak hours” 
  • Wash all clothes in cold water! A lot of the energy spent on laundry is spent heating up the water, so just trust your laundry method to handle the dirt. 
  • Line dry your clothing or use a drying rack, it’ll offset the amount of energy used. I line dry in my living room or on the porch of our 1 bedroom! Believe me, it’s possible. 

How to get your clothes clean without harming our planet
What’s wrong with regular laundry detergent? Laundry detergents are a mix of different components which may include surfactants, fabric brighteners, fillers, phosphates, and coloring agents among other ingredients. Check out what Tide puts in their ingredients here. As you can see, these ingredients are unrecognizable!

So why should we care what’s in detergent? The ingredients can be toxic to our bodies. A study performed in 1999 by the Ecotoxicology Section of the EPA in Australia found that 39 of 39 laundry detergents tested had toxic components ranging from low toxicity (26) to medium (11) to high (2). Although this study may seem outdated (hello, 20 years ago!), these ingredients are still found in most commercial detergents. Nothing is closer to our skins than our clothes. Our skin is highly absorbent meaning that residue left on our clothes can cause irritation and even systemic toxicity. Although the residue being absorbed in our system every day may not be high, we can’t yet know the effects they have on our bodies over time. 

Detergents also affect the environment. This same study found that the release of detergent runoff on waterways can pose a problem for aquatic environments. Besides possibly being endocrine disruptors for us, when detergents show up in freshwater they can cause damage to water life. Which lead to higher chemical absorption rates or even death. Even biodegradable detergents can destroy the external mucus layers that fish use to protect themselves from bacteria and parasites. 

Here’s what to consider using instead: 

  • SmartKlean Laundry Ball – $45 per unit – This laundry ball works like detergent; it helps the water clean by making it easier for water to detach dirt from fabrics. The difference is the laundry ball doesn’t use chemicals, it uses mineral ceramics and magnets to enhance the water’s natural cleaning abilities. When these come in contact with water they form “oxygenated water and increase pH levels” that help the weight and shape of the ball take dirt and bacteria from the fabrics. You don’t need a rinse cycle as there are no suds, which saves water! The laundry ball has other economic, energy, water, and ecological benefits, check them out here. I can personally vouch for the SmartKlean Laundry Ball as I’ve been using one for nearly 2 years! You can get approximately 365 washes per ball coming out to about $0.12 per load. Insta: @smartklean_laundry

  • Soap Nuts – $5.99 trial size – Soap nuts are a berry that traditionally grow in the Himalayas and contain saponin. Saponin works similarly to a surfactant and helps penetrate fabric fibers to clean away dirt. Since soap nuts come from nature, they are gentle enough for sensitive skin and don’t cause harm to water systems. Soap nuts can be reused and composted at the end of their life. Insta: @econuts 

I already have clothes that will release microfibers, should I throw them out?  No! As I mentioned in my last article on thrifting, the most sustainable option for an item is to use it until you can’t anymore. 
Here’s what can help your existing microfiber issue: 

  • The Cora Ball – $37.99 per unit I actually had the privilege of speaking to Rachael Z. Miller, CEO of the Cora Ball. The Cora Ball was inspired by her and her husband’s journey in learning about marine debris, namely microfiber pollution as one of the biggest problems facing the ocean due to the challenge of catching something so small it isn’t even visible. The Cora Ball works through a mechanical catch, using the motion of the water to help fibers wrap around the stalks of the Ball. The Cora Ball was inspired by coral and how it uses the water flow to catch small things flowing in the water. A test performed by the University of Toronto found that the ball catches 26% of microfibers while in house testing showed the ball catching up to 35% of microfibers. You simply throw the Cora Ball in with your clothes and let the work happen! As of now, there are no ways to dispose of the microfibers other than the trash which is still better than washing them into our water. A Cora Ball is slated to last 5 years with 300 washes per year. A percentage of sales supports Miller’s foundation, the Rozalia Project for clean oceans. The Cora Ball is made in the USA in a factory where workers are paid a living wage and doesn’t turn into microplastic in a harsh washing environment. Cora Ball is made in a zero-waste modeling facility and has almost no carbon footprint to transport due to partnering with other companies!

TEDx Talk by Rachael on a Clean Ocean Insta: @thecoraball 

  • Guppy Friend – $29.75 per unit – The Guppy Friend is a small bag that is designed to catch microfibers before they are released into the water. You place your synthetic fabric clothing inside the bag and wash as usual. The microfibers are caught at the top of the bag and you dispose of them after a few cycles once they bunch up. Testing showed that the washing bag retained microfibers and also protected the fabrics by helping decrease shedding fibers by 86%. Insta: @guppyfriend
  • Girlfriend Collective Microfiber Filter – $45 per unit – I love Girlfriend Collective! They produce activewear from recycled water bottles made in an ethical factory in Vietnam. Hold up…recycled water bottles…isn’t that plastic? YES. The biggest issue with clothing made from recycled water bottles (a growing sustainability trend) is the release of harmful microfibers. Girlfriend Collective is the first company I’ve found that creates a solution to a problem they’re helping create. The Microfiber Filter attaches to your washing machine and catches these microfibers before they enter water streams. Girlfriend Collective also has a ReGirlfriend program, where you can return their clothing at the end of its life, thus keeping it out of a landfill. Grab a $10 discount on their cute merch here. Insta: @girlfriend

So air out your dirty laundry and help make your routine a clean one. Take a look at your laundry methods and see what changes you can make today. 

Have any questions? Reach out to @lathriftingvegana 

Further recommendations:

Read Treehugger’s 11 Ways to Green Your Laundry for more knowledge and Check out Stop Micro Waste!

Karla Estudillo Fuentes

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