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Ruminitions on Laundry Detergents

By Karina | October 22, 2007

I did what felt like approximately tenhundredthousand loads of laundry yesterday. When you’re cranking them all by hand, it really does seem like a lot of work. In actuality, I spent only a couple of hours and washed probably 3 regular-sized loads of laundry. So, another benefit of cranking your laundry is that you have lots of time to think…

One of the things that always strikes me as I use my wonder wash is the very small amount of detergent I have to use when I do the wash. To do a full load I only need to put in 1 1/2 tablespoons of detergent. Using the estimate of 1/2 regular wash = 1 wonder wash load, that means that I am using about 3 Tb of detergent per regular load of wash. (For perspective, 4Tb = 1/4 cup) Which isn’t that much! It’s a little less than the recommended amount as per the bottle of detergent. And I really do think I could use less, because I’m not sure that the rinse water is coming out as clean as it could.

I’ve heard colloquially that top-loader washing machines don’t do a good job of rinsing out your clothes, and if you run a load of wash in a front-loader with no detergent you can see the suds coming out of the clothes left over from the poor rinsing of the top-loader. I’ve never tried this, but would love to hear if any of you have!

Right now I’m using method laundry detergent (without any fragrance). As an aside – the first few times I washed my clothes in the wonder wash with the no-fragrence detergent I was really surprised at what my clothes smelled like wet. Now I’m used to it, but it’s amazing what we lose track of thanks to masking fragrances!

The method laundry detergent is rated HE, or High Efficiency. Front-loading washers require HE detergent in part because of the way the mechanisms go together — they just can’t tolerate too much sud in the wash water. HE detergent doesn’t sud up as much as a standard detergent does. I wonder how much of the mythical rinsing properties of front-loaders have to do with the simple fact that you’re using less detergent to start with, and on top of that, the detergent you use has less sudsing agents in it (so it appears to rinse cleaner).

Anyway. What do all these ruminations have to do with the environment? The less laundry detergent you use, the fewer bottles of detergent you have to buy. That means less waste and fewer plastic containers floating through your life!

With that in mind, there are a few different sources on-line for homemade laundry detergent. You can DIY it up and avoid the plastic jug all-together! Here’s a recipe for what is called a “giant bucket of slime” – but the quantities are way too huge for my needs, and I just don’t have room to store giant buckets of slime in my apartment (especially when I’d be using it in tablespoon quantities). We might have to have a tiny choices laundry detergent party… Any interest?

[[Photo by iapx via flickr/creative commons.]]

Have you noticed a difference in laundry quantities used with different machines? What is your washing method? Have you made your own detergent?

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Comment by Jenn
2007-10-22 08:18:57

I’ve been using Biokleen Free & Clear laundry Liquid (unscented)– only use 2tb per load, and since my machine is a smaller size I use less than that. This stuff is lasting forever, and works well with cold-water washing. I bought it because it says “3x Concentrated” on the label so I knew that it would last a long time, which means I’d have to buy fewer plastic bottles of detergent this year. However, I’ve just noticed that it’s shipped from Vancouver B.C., upping its carbon footprint dramatically!

When this runs out, I’m going to fill the container with this homemade stuff… Supposedly this concoction doesn’t suds up too much (good for your hand-crank situation, Karina?) and costs about 5.7 cents per load! And one could substitute solid Castile soap for the Fels Naptha (which is good because FN is a petrochemical product, yuck), and also, if washing in cold water, be sure to grate the soap on the smallest possible grater-hole)… has anyone used this?

Comment by Jacquelyn
2007-10-22 09:12:17

I’m surprised you didn’t mention phosphates in detergents – I live in an apartment (car-free, so I can’t go to the laundromat) where I don’t have options in terms of what kind of washer I use, but I do make a point of using phosphate-free detergent. The lakes here in Madison are incredibly polluted by phosphorus, much of which comes from soaps and detergents. This causes major algae blooms, like the ones off the coast of the Mississippi delta where the collective phosphorus from the central US runs off into the sea, helping to create “dead zones.” Fertilizers are probably the biggest culprit, but phosphate runoff from washing cars, or household water, adds up.

The laundry soap I use, Seventh Generation, is vegetable-based instead of petroleum based (which saves on oil consumption), and it’s phosphate-free. I try to refill my bottle from the co-op whenever possible, too! :)

Comment by Karina
2007-10-22 10:10:26

that’s a good point, Jacquelyn! I neglected to post it b/c it’s one of my blind spots – I never buy detergent that isn’t biodegradable! partly because I use the water from my wonder wash to water my house plants. thanks for mentioning it!

Comment by shawnee
2007-10-22 11:11:59

speaking of your Wonder Wash, how’s that working out for you? i’m thinking of buying one, but you’re the only person i know who actually uses one on a regular basis (or maybe i should pick your brain via email?).

Comment by Karina
2007-10-22 12:48:54

I still like it very much! I wouldn’t like to use it for sheets and towels, though – that stuff is too heavy. I do a load of heavy things every couple of weeks in my apartment laundry machines.

Comment by Xuli
2007-10-22 12:01:29

I use concentrated detergent and a Wonder Wash, too, and I think I’m using too much detergent. I guess I have this fear of not using enough, and going through all that work to crank and wring out my laundry only to find my clothes still stinky! But I have been trying to figure out … if I only need a couple tablespoons of Method for a regular load, how much LESS do I need for the Wonder Wash?

Comment by Karina
2007-10-22 12:49:33

I’m using the method too, and I think it’s ok to use just 1 Tb or slightly more for the wonder wash… how many times do you rinse your clothes?

Comment by ck
2007-10-25 09:40:55

I haven’t tried alternative detergents (yet), but can commetn on my front loader.

When we bought our house we had to vetnure out and get myself a wahser/dryer. We had been an apartment dweller since birth–and I’m like 140 years old now I think). We picked up a pair of GE appliances after a fair amount of research.

We currently are using Tide HE as the detergent, though we aren’t married to it. The recommended amount is much smaller than standard detergent per load, adn we use less than half of that recommendation. THe stuff lasts forever that way and works just fine. The clothes do seem to rinse nice and clean unless the load is an overload in which case the “extra rinse” button is a blessing.

What took getting used to is that fact that the wash cycles are far longer than top loaders. They are gentler on the clothes, and seem to do a better job of it though. best of all, the spin cycle on this model is a 1000rpm spin. That means that when take the clothes out to put in the dryer, they are already very dry, and the dry cycles (electric dryer–no gas out here) stay very short.

The dryer has moisture sensors in it and stops the cycle when the clothes are at whatever dryness setting you tell it, so your clothes don’t overcook, and no burning of extra watts.

I’ll take a look at the various detergent choices listed here. I’d definitely like to keep it something good for the land. No sewers out here either, so it all goes into the cesspool under the backyard and feeds the plants & trees.

Comment by Jenn
2007-10-25 10:06:55

Where is this magic “backyard” land of which you speak?

Comment by ck
2007-10-26 14:15:31

Umm, yeah I s’pose I have some updating to report on. I’ll get to that I promise.

The backyard is in Huntington. Yeah, I sold out to the burbs!
I am working out here 85-90% of the time (the other down on Broad St in the city) so my commute has shrunk, although since I do drive to work the emissions impact has grown some I guess.

There is a cat, and a dog, and a fiancee even!

Sorely outdated and mostly ignored, some historical info is available at http://www.chrisking.org

2007-10-28 06:01:16

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