11 Low-tech Methods for Eco-Friendly Laundry

(NaturalPapa – Derek Markham) Dirty laundry happens. And then washing clothes happens, usually quite wastefully, without a thought for the overall impact of this common chore. Whether you’re trying to transition to having a lower environmental footprint, attempting to rely less on the grid, or just want to go greener in the laundry room, there are a variety of simple and low-tech methods for washing clothes in a more sustainable manner.

When my family and I were experimenting with living in a tiny house, we spent six years learning how to do things in a simpler and more sustainable manner, sometimes out of choice, and sometimes out of necessity. And like most families, especially those that use cloth diapers for their baby, washing clothes seemed like a never-ending chore. Going to the laundromat every couple of days wasn’t really optimal for us, except in the middle of winter when it was too cold to wash clothes outside, so without our own washing machine, we had to get a little creative. Some of the ways we dealt with laundry weren’t so much about washing clothes, but about needing to wash clothes less often, and to use less energy and water to do so.

We’ve since moved on into a house with our own washing machine, but many of these eco-friendly laundry tactics have stuck with us over the years.

1. Wear clothes longer between washing: This is kind of a no-brainer, and probably doesn’t apply to socks and underwear (but your mileage may vary), but only washing the clothes that are noticeably dirty or smelly is a great way to cut down on the amount and frequency of laundry that needs to get done. Unless your job leaves your clothes dirty at the end of the day, chances are you can wear pants, shirts, sweaters, skirts, etc., at least twice (if not more) before washing them. Personally, I also try to buy pants in colors that don’t easily show dirt or wear, and I choose to purchase longer-wearing items instead of always going for the bargain clothes. For me, that means that I tend to go for the heavier weight pants, such as those made by Carhartt or another workwear brand, and to buy them in dark colors. Obviously this isn’t optimal if your job has a strict dress code or requires wearing white pants…

2. Wash by hand: We began washing clothes by hand out of necessity, as we didn’t have a washing machine, and while it takes more time and physical energy to get it done, it also had the benefit of making us very aware of how much laundry we were generating each week. There a number of low-tech tools for washing clothes by hand, but we found that a laundry plunger, such as this one from Lehman’s, was effective, affordable, and long-lasting. We used five-gallon plastic buckets (which I was able to get for free from the local college’s dining services) to wash and rinse in, and we were learned that if we started washing the least-dirty clothes first, we were able to wash multiple loads in the same water, and then do the same with the rinse water. After we were finished with one bucket of dirty water, we used it to water trees and to keep our compost sufficiently moist. If you’re looking for another human-powered laundry solution, this pedal-powered version looks intriguing.

3. Use a clothes line: The sun and wind are very effective at drying clothes throughout the year (it even works in the winter, unless we hit long periods of below-freezing temperatures or snow and rain), and when drying clothes outside wasn’t an option, we used clothes racks to dry them inside. We didn’t ever buy or build a clothes wringer, as we lived in a dry sunny region, but that could be an effective method of speeding up the drying process, especially in more humid locations. Depending on the climate where you live, using an outside clothes line may not always be the best choice, but either a homemade or a purpose-built clothes rack can do the trick.

4. Wash clothes while showering: This is an old backpacking and traveling trick which can enable you to get clean clothes while you clean your body. Either step into the shower fully clothed and get them wet under the showerhead, or remove them first and put them in the bottom of the shower with you. If you use a gentle all-purpose soap such as Dr. Bronner’s, there’s no need for a separate laundry soap, and the soap from your body, in combination with the scrubbing action of your feet on your clothes, can effectively wash your clothes in almost the same amount of water that a shower alone uses.

5. Use concentrated and biodegradable laundry soap: When we were washing clothes by hand and using the resulting greywater for plants, we chose to use a brand that was specifically designed for greywater systems (Oasis), but there are certainly other greywater-friendly options on the market. We still always buy a concentrated and eco-friendly laundry soap, even after getting a washing machine. And for those that want to get started with using greywater for the landscape, re-routing your washing machine discharge to a mulched greywater basin can be an appropriate project (check your local regulations, or proceed at your own risk, as many municipalities are very strict about greywater projects).

6. Avoid using chlorine bleach: We’ve managed to do without chlorine bleach for washing clothes for many years, and I believe there isn’t a strong case for using it (again, unless you are required to wear bright white clothes). There are options for avoiding the use of bleach in the laundry, including using non-chlorine laundry whiteners, but we’ve found that the sun is the most effective and eco-friendly bleaching method, and that drying clothes on the line was sufficient for our purposes (although we do live in a very sunny region of the southwest, and your location may not be optimal for that).

7. Only wash full loads: This is another simple tactic that should be second nature to use these days, but isn’t as common as it ought to be. Doing small loads of laundry on the same settings as a full load is just wasteful, and by waiting for a full load to accumulate before washing it, we can optimize our laundry habits. If we’ve only got one item to wash, then washing by hand may be a better choice.

8. Only use cold water: Even after getting a washing machine, I left the hot water supply unhooked, and we’ve only used cold water to wash our clothes for many years now. They get just as clean, and by not having to heat the wash water, our energy consumption (and energy costs) are much lower. In the event that we do use a laundromat (when traveling, for example), we still choose the cold water wash.

9. Use a laundromat’s commercial-sized washing machine: Using a laundromat’s large commercial washing machine may be more efficient in terms of water use, and can let you get away with one big load instead of multiple smaller loads of laundry. Obviously this depends on the age and efficiency of the washing machines at the laundromat, but many times the front-loading washers use a lot less water to get the same job done as the standard top-loaders in many homes.

10. Skip the dryer sheets: Dryer sheets are kind of a mystery to me, as I’m not sure why people still choose to buy and use them. Perhaps it’s a matter of marketing, or perhaps we may believe that unless something comes out of the laundry with a scent on it, it isn’t truly clean, but I feel fortunate to have not bought into that. Not only are dryer sheets an additional item that must be manufactured (and then disposed of), they may actually leave undesirable residues on our clothes, which are then in direct contact with our skin.

11. Purchase a more efficient front-loading washing machine: This item is on my list of essential home upgrades to save up for, and is a relatively simple method for more washing clothes more sustainably. Front-loading washers can get clothes just as clean, but use much less water to do so. And if we choose a model that is also rated higher in energy-efficiency, we can also reduce the amount of electricity we use for laundry.

The weekly chore of washing clothes can be done with a lower environmental impact, whether you own a washing machine or not, and greening our laundry process can be an effective piece of an overall personal sustainability initiative.

Yes, Organic Foods are Different from “Natural” Foods

(NaturalPapa – Derek Markham) For those of us who believe strongly in the benefits of eating organic foods (for both our own bodies and for the health of the soil and air and water), the Certified Organic label is a key indicator of foods make the cut for our grocery shopping.

But there’s a lot of confusion out there, because marketers and designers have been labeling food and personal care products with all sorts of meaningless language, including “natural”, “all-natural”, and “contains natural ingredients”, which don’t require meeting any standards to use.

And if a product fits the general description as a “natural” food item, it will probably end up on the shelves of a natural foods store, where many shoppers may be led to believe that either it’s an organically grown food product, or that it doesn’t contain GMO ingredients, or that it’s good for them, none of which may be the case.

After working for years in the natural and organic food industry, as well as being the main grocery buyer for my family during that time, I got to be a pretty keen label reader and a labeling skeptic, and have always tried to debunk label claims for friends and family (much to the dismay of those who found out their “natural” foods choices weren’t really any healthier than those found in mainstream grocery stores).

At a very basic level, in order to be labeled as such, organic foods are subject to stringent environment and animal welfare standards enforced by USDA, while the label of “natural” has no official definition, and little to no enforcement of its misuse.

A new public education campaign aims to clear up some of that confusion around organic foods and natural foods claims, and help consumers make an educated choice when it comes to the food they buy and eat. This isn’t just a little issue, either, as more than $20 billion of products with claims of being “natural” are sold every year, including many with GMOs, pesticide residues, synthetic food additives, and high fructose corn syrup.

“Foods made with the use of toxic persistent pesticides and even genetically engineered ingredients are being labeled as natural. Only organic guarantees that food is produced without the use of toxic persistent pesticides, hormones, antibiotics or genetically engineered ingredients. Only organic gives you complete piece of mind.” – Gary Hirshberg, Chairman of Stonyfield Farm.

Find out more about the difference between organic foods and those that claim to be “natural” foods, at Only Organic.

Natural Ways to Help Your Child Focus

(NaturalPapa – Derek Markham) Approximately 20 percent of ADHD cases in the United States are misdiagnosed, which leads to many kids being medicated when they do not need it. One reason for these children being misdiagnosed is the age difference within school classes. Children who are in the same grade can be born 364 days apart, so the younger children are bound to have a different level of maturity than the older ones. In many cases, the misdiagnoses are the result of a teacher recommending that the parents have their child tested and doctors treating the symptoms, rather than the underlying cause. This is becoming an epidemic in this country, but there are things that parents can do to eliminate the need for this medication by treating the symptoms naturally.

The Numbers

When you look at the numbers, you cannot help but be somewhat startled by what is happening in the United States. In the last 10 years, the number of ADHD diagnoses has increased by 41 percent. Since 2007, the number of children who are on drugs to treat the symptoms of ADHD has increased by 28 percent. In Louisiana, 9.2 percent of all children are taking ADHD medication, which is leading to a generation of medicated children. Keep in mind that the youngest children in a kindergarten class are 60 percent more likely to receive this diagnosis than the older children in that class, due to the difference in age and maturity.

The Problem with Medication

When a child is diagnosed with ADHD, he or she may be given Ritalin to treat the symptoms. This medication is meant to help the child focus. Unfortunately, there are side effects that many parents might not consider when agreeing to put their child on Ritalin. For example, this drug increases a child’s heart rate by 8.1 beats per minute and blood pressure increases by 6 percent. It can also hinder a child’s growth rates, as children who take this medication are 8.36 pounds lighter and 0.76 inches shorter, on average. This slowed growth rate is not reversible, so it is something that your child will struggle with for the rest of his or her life.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Whether your child has ADHD or not, you might want to come up with some natural ways to help him or her focus. For example, omega 3 fatty acids can help with a child’s memory, behavior and focus. These fatty acids are found in olive oil, flax oil and fatty fish, so make sure that your child consumes plenty of these foods. If you cannot get your child to eat fish on a regular basis, try purchasing some supplements, as they are available in tablet form and have been shown to improve children’s attention span and mood.

Overall Nutrition

The foods that your child eats can have an impact on his or her ability to focus. Try eliminating gluten, artificial flavors, sweeteners, refined sugars, food coloring and preservatives from your child’s diet. Limiting the carbs that the child consumes can also help, while allowing him or her to eat an abundance of healthy proteins like eggs, lean meats and chicken.

Natural Herbs

It has been suggested that adding certain herbs, such as ginseng, ginkgo, lemon balm, chamomile and bacopa to your child’s diet can help him or her to focus better. The idea is that these herbs can create an antioxidant effect in the brain, which can enhance the brain’s neurotransmitters. While more research is needed on the effectiveness of these herbs, they are certainly worth trying.

Echinacea Extract

Those who suffer from ADHD are more likely to have stress and anxiety, which can make the symptoms of the disorder even worse. Taking Echinacea extract supplements can have an influence on your child’s mood by relieving anxiety and, therefore, improving your child’s ability to concentrate. Echinacea triggers calm feelings in those who take it and does not come with any side effects, making it perfectly safe for children.

Avoid the Frankenfoods

One of the biggest controversies surrounding food in recent years is the entry of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into our food system. If you don’t know about GMOs by now, here’s the concept in a nutshell: Genetically modified foods have had their DNA changed through genetic engineering, using advanced techniques to insert foreign genes (from such varied sources as bacteria and viruses) in order to enhance or change certain characteristics of the organism. The most common modified foods are derived from plants such as soybean, corn, canola, and cotton, but the list of GMOs also includes hormones given to dairy cattle (rbGH). Now even the animals themselves are being genetically engineered.

Supporters of genetic engineering say that modification of organisms on a genetic level is safe, and is similar to how conventional plant breeding has taken place for thousands of years. They also state that in order to gain efficiency in food production to feed the world, GM foods are necessary. The producers of these GMOs maintain that they are as safe as any other food, and have no negative effect on the people consuming them or the environment.

Critics of GMOs (including me) point out that no true trials or testing have been undertaken in order to prove the safety of these foods. In fact, adverse effects from consuming GMOs have been recorded, and because it’s such a new practice, the full results of releasing these unnatural organisms into the environment still remain to be seen. Since science can measure only what it targets, and the sheer number of variables in our natural environment is enormous, the possibility is great that many unintended consequences will occur through the use and consumption of GMOs.

Unfortunately, due to the prevalence of GMOs and the intermingling of foods in our food system during harvest, storage, and processing, most U.S. consumers have been eating genetically modified foods for years. Even those of us who focus on eating all organic probably have been ingesting these foods if we eat out or dine at someone’s house who isn’t as strict as we are with their food purchases. Some 60 to 70% of the products in a grocery store contain some type of genetically engineered ingredient, with the biggest offenders being soy, corn, canola oil, and cottonseed oil.

So why do companies like Monsanto (the world leader in genetic modification) pursue genetic engineering?

One claimed benefit is that using GM seeds increases crop yields and decreases the use of pesticides and herbicides for food production (hence the claim that GMOs will help feed the world). However, contrary to the information coming from the supporters of genetic engineering, studies have shown that just as many pesticides and herbicides are being applied to GM crops as non-GM crops, and in some cases at even higher quantities. For crops modified to be resistant to herbicides, farmers can spray even heavier without damaging the plants, leading to increased use of herbicides worldwide. These herbicides end up in our groundwater, and may also be present in food even after harvest and processing. A recent study sponsored by the Committee for Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN), published in Chemical Research in Toxicology journal, found that Roundup (glyphosate) diluted 105 times was toxic to three different human cell types. This level is significantly lower than the currently accepted residue levels. What this means is that every bite of GM food (modified to be tolerant of glyphosate application) will also have toxic residues which may be detrimental to your health.

Another reason given is the possible increase in nutrition from genetic modification (a higher vitamin content, such as vitamin A in so-called Golden Rice). Yet another is the production of pharmaceuticals from GM crops, which is touted as being able to increase the global availability of medicines and vaccines. Still another reason is the production of substances like spider silk in mass quantities (from genetically modified goats that can produce the silk protein in their Pesticides and GMOs milk).

The four major GM crops – soy, corn, canola, and cotton – are engineered to survive the applications of herbicides at levels which would otherwise kill the plants. Almost 70% of GM crops are engineered to be herbicide tolerant. Another trait of GM crops is a pesticide produced within the plant itself (Bt, or Bacillus thuringienses) in GM corn and cotton. Proponents claim that Bt is harmless, and is a natural bacteria, but some studies have shown an allergic reaction, a high immune response, and even damaged intestines.

If you aren’t OK with all of that, then you need to learn how to avoid GMOs in the food you buy. The best way to avoid them is to buy 100% certified organic food always (check the PLU number on the produce). Organic produce has a 5 digit PLU number, beginning with 9. Conventionally grown produce has a 4 digit PLU number. In theory, all GM produce has a 5 digit PLU number beginning with 8, but the critics say that because labeling is optional, not all GM produce will be labeled as such. If you eat meat, buy 100% grass-fed (pastured) beef and go for the certified organic meats. If you read labels carefully, you will find foods that have been labeled non-GMO or GMO-free. If it isn’t labeled as such, and the product contains non-organic soybeans, corn, canola, cottonseed oil, or dairy, you’re probably getting GM varieties in there.

For more info, be sure to bookmark Seeds of Deception and the Organic Consumers Association GM page.

I avoid GM food, and I wouldn’t feed it to my friends or family either. I highly recommend you become a careful label reader and keep it out of your diet as well.