Creating a zero waste house: zero waste laundry

Laundry is an inevitable fact of life, particularly if – like my husband and I – you have a very limited capsule wardrobe which requires frequent washing with lots of care.

The house we’re moving into comes with a relatively new washer and dryer setup, which is exciting after years of living with expensive communal washers and dryers. Having our own washer and dryer is not only convenient, but allows us to experiment more freely with zero waste laundry options.

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Washing clothes

More than likely we’ll use the washing machine as the main way of washing clothes in our zero waste laundry routine. I used to wash a lot of clothes during showers just because the washing machines in our apartment building were far, old, and expensive. I still do for some delicate items, but I’m mainly focused on finding an appropriate detergent for the machine.

I currently have three potential ideas: 1) homemade detergent, 2) soap nuts or 3) store-bought.

Homemade detergent

I really like this recipe from Zero Waste Memoirs. It has just four ingredients (a bar of castile soap, baking soda, washing soda, and essential oils) all of which are fairly low-waste and cheap. I’m not sure how well this would work with hard water, but I’d be interested in giving it a try.

One thing that was discussed at our recent zero waste meetup was that homemade detergent may not be as effective as “real” detergent because it’s actually just a soap. (Something about cleaning just the surface vs. penetrating fibers?) Anyone have anything to add on this front?

Soap nuts

I feel like soap nuts are becoming a thing, but I’ve never actually tried to get my hands on them. They’re technically not nuts, but the fruit of a tree that grows in India and Nepal, and they contain something that is good at removing dirt. (Scientific, I know.) Soap nuts are readily available online for cheap. You just stick them in a little bag and wash them along with the clothes. I like that they’re reusable, too.

I am currently working on sourcing them zero waste to give them a try in our new machine.

Store-bought: Meliora Cleaning Products

I had pretty much written store-bought detergent off as a pointless endeavor until I was contacted by Meliora Cleaning Products and sent some free samples. I tried them a few times and was instantly converted!

The pros:

  • They’re Midwest local (based in Chicago) and I’m all about that local, small business love!
  • I love that the company is very transparent about their ingredients. They have not gone through a certification process which they explain in their FAQ, but their oils are all certified organic which they are happy to prove. They have a MADE SAFE Certification and have great recommendations from various organizations.
  • Their products come in low-waste packaging. The laundry powder I re-purchased comes in a recyclable tin which can also be reused if you purchase their laundry powder refill which comes in a compostable paper bag!

The one note I do have to say is that they offer an unscented laundry powder which is great if you need it, but I would not recommend it personally. It left my clothes smelling kind of weird (I’m assuming the smell of the water here?) so I would recommend a scented version if you don’t have any scent allergies.

Meliora Cleaning Products are available in Indy at Good Earth or can be purchased online.

Drying clothes

Just like washing clothes, I have a few options in mind for drying clothes.

Ideally, we wouldn’t use the dryer at all and save energy. For most of the time, I’m planning to install a permanent clothes line in our sizable backyard. I’m thinking a rotating one with collapsible arms to maximize space when we’re not using it.

For those days when it’s just absolutely freezing, I’d like to invest in a bamboo drying rack. That being said, we’ve managed for years without one so we’ll probably continue to drape them over every available surface. No matter what we decide, after freezing my shirts several times while I was living in Russia (no dryers there), I’m totally over dealing with frozen clothes.

But realistically, there are times that Indiana is so humid I’ve hung clothes out for 2-3 days and they’re still damp. Gross. For those times I’m not above turning to the dryer. I personally would just toss the clothes in but my husband has an obsession with dryer sheets and is convinced clothes aren’t clean without them! I’ve managed to switch him over to wool dryer balls like these, which I just toss into the dryer with the clothes. I let him pick a scent and then add a drop of essential oil to each which replicated that “so fresh and so clean” dryer sheet smell.

Tell me about your zero waste laundry routine: what’s working for you? What’s not?

Creating a zero waste house- zero waste laundry - Green Indy Blog


    • Great question! I don’t have first-hand experience being zero waste and living with my family, but here’s what I can offer (I’m assuming you live with them): take over all your personal laundry and model how you’d want it done. That may be enough to encourage them to follow along. Alternatively, you could take over ALL the laundry and line dry it. After all, they have no reason to complain if they don’t have to do any of the work. (This wouldn’t necessarily be sustainable, though.)

      Hope that helps a bit – changing other people’s minds is a slow, slow process!

  • Love the folks at Meliora. I’ve gotten to tour their production space and hear about how they think through making a green product – fascinating!

Polly Barks Green Indy

Welcome to Green Indy! I’m Polly, and I’m here to show you that zero waste can be more accessible than you think. Ready to get started? Head this way.