Dirty Laundry


I ran into a link about sustainable apparel the other week and was shocked to read:

In the United States, the average household does 300-400 loads of laundry per year. A whopping 1,000 loads of laundry are started every second of the day — that’s 13,000 gallons of water per household. Three-quarters of the carbon footprint from a load of laundry comes from drying.

And let’s not forget the amount of chemicals and phosphates that are used in laundry detergent and then leaked back into our water supply, depleting aquatic ecosystems.

To reduce your individual carbon footprint: always wash cold, hang to dry and use phosphate-free laundry detergent.


I thought I had the laundry detergent thing under control — I use just a tiny bit of a brand plastered with bunnies, an Eco seal of approval, flowers, and a cartoon of the planet earth, bolstered by a scoop of baking soda, and vinegar in the rinse compartment. I decided to look up the brand I use on EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning and was SHOCKED (I mean SHOCKED) to see that my eco-friendly detergent was rated a C and contains methylisothiazolinone, which has been found to cause acute aquatic toxicity. Greeeeeeeeat. The cleaner I go out of my way to buy is going directly into our water system and poisoning it.

Needless to say, I won’t be buying that brand any more! EWG helped me find a new one which gets an A: Planet. I’ll still continue to just use a tiny bit (I have a high efficiency machine, so I have to be careful with what I use), and rely on baking soda and vinegar to up the cleaning power and softness naturally. Takeaway lesson? Don’t believe the hype! Just because it has bunnies on it does not mean it is a truly safe alternative to mainstream brands! Do the research yourself.

I was also surprised to see that the average household does 300-400 loads of laundry a year. Surely that can’t be true for me…or am I totally lying to myself like I was with the laundry detergent? I decided to keep a log of each load of laundry I do for the months of February, March, and April. It’s already not looking good — my two person one cat household has done 10 loads of laundry in 15 days! I have a feeling I’m going to be crying when I see my total number of loads for the three month period. How I can get this number lower? I already wear my clothing more than once and change the bedding every other week. I think my weekly “delicate” load has to go, or at least get piled up and saved for every other week. Any other suggestions?

As far as the dryer is concerned, I hang to dry all of my clothing. I do rely on the dryer for towels and such. I try and dry for as short as possible, and take them out a bit damp so they can finish drying on their own. I admit it — after not having a dryer in my first home and having hard towels for a decade, I like the dryer for towels.

Are there any lessons from the 1940s to help me green my laundry practices beyond what I do? After doing a little research, I think we have it much better. Washday looked like a terrible production! I remember my grandmother talking about the wringer washers (including stories of getting her fingers, her apron, and her hair stuck in the wringers) and she still had her old washing board. We also still had a laundry tub like in the photo above in the basement (where, bizarrely — my grandfather would shave and where we had to wash our hair despite the fact that we had a full bathroom upstairs! I didn’t figure out that other people washed their hair in the bathroom until high school! I could fill a book with all of the antiquated habits I grew up with . . . including drinking a raw egg for breakfast every morning! No medigan’ cereal for this kid! But I digress).

So now you’ve heard all of my dirty laundry — including the fact that I drank a raw egg for breakfast every morning (!) I’ll revisit this topic (no, not the raw eggs!) in April, after my laundry log is complete!

(image: from the incredible shorpy.com!)


  1. I pretty much *always* hang dry and always have done – you ruin the clothes and waste so much energy otherwise. The tumble dryer is for emergencies. As for washing – I don’t think we get through quite so many as you and we are a 3 person household! But I tend to wash on a higher temperature because I found that lower ones were killing my machine and not getting the clothes clean – so it’s swings and roundabouts, really….. :s

    1. I know! I suspect my husband’s clothing has much to do with it. He’s a wear once kinda guy and he has gym clothes and office clothes each day plus a towel. Let’s blame him 🙂

      I may put up a line outside in the spring and see if it makes things nicer as far as towels and sheets. Basement drying is not very nice for me (I dry my clothing in my bedroom and in my studio which works out fine).

  2. I immediately checked my detergent and was relieved to find it an A… I’m with you on the vinegar — will have to find out more for the baking soda bit — and, I’m petrified to say, I’m a 3-wash/2-week kind of gal…

  3. I love how you are embracing this challenge so wholeheartedly…! I am also slightly envious of your access to a wash board too 😉

    I also think Patty’s comment is telling, or rather her fear of admitting to this frequency. I think this probably goes to the heart of the issue. From my research of wartime laundry practices in the UK, there was a weekly laundry day and the occasional hand washing of items in between. Then somewhere between the mid 1940s and now any clothes that are less than pristine (i.e. over-laundered) are considered socially unacceptable. I suspect we have lost our ability to discern what is clean, fresh, hygienic… I’d argue that this is in part due to us having devalued the art of housekeeping but also because we have been surrounded by so many synthetic cleaning products for so long that our sense of smell has become impaired…

    1. I agree, and I also think that there were more undergarments which got washed more frequently — outer garments got aired out/brushed/pressed. I feel like I don’t need to wash my dresses after every wear because I usually have a slip or camisole or even thin t-shirt on under them. It’s like the bed — I wash sheets every other week, but not blankets which sit on top of sheets and shouldn’t get as dirty.

      1. You really are a lass after my own heart! I am all for bringing back the slip and airing of clothes. I spent this morning in the garden getting it ready for spring: some sowing of seeds but mostly tidying. My jeans are a little mucky but as it is all dry dirt, a good brush and an airing will fix them. In recent years, I also moved from a duvet back to a top sheet and blanket to save on laundry – and for the extra warmth!!!

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