Posts Tagged ‘Dry cleaning’

Is your conscience as clean as your clothes?

In response to a request for laundry tips, here goes:

1. Balls!

Instead of detergent, I’ve used Eco-Balls for years. Though I was initially sceptical, I’m happy with how effective they are. OK my laundry’s not like a detergent commercial. Sometimes a wash doesn’t get every mark out. However, I think they’re as effective as anything else I’ve used.

Not only do they last for 750 washes (meaning both that they put only a tiny amount of whatever it is they’re made of into the water, and that they’re great financial value), you don’t need to use fabric conditioner (even less resources used and more money saved) and you can use a shorter wash programme because you don’t need to rinse out any detergent (saving electricity and water).

I add a tablespoonful of Ecover bleach to white washes. I guess I would have to say that my whites probably don’t come out as white as they used to when I used regular washing powder. They’re white enough though. I’m not looking to dazzle car drivers as I walk down the street. 🙂

2. Smells

If an item is smelly, I pre-soak it in a solution of Borax for half an hour. Actually in Borax Substitute as Borax is no longer available (due to an EU reclassification apparently). It’s amazingly effective, and my web research, plus the fact that it’s sold by a number of green retailers that I trust, suggest that it’s a safe and eco-friendly product.

After I’ve taken the laundry out of the soak and put it on to wash, I keep the rest of the Borax solution for next time.

A word of warning though, don’t soak for longer than half an hour or colours can start to leach.

3. Marks

I use a regular stain remover stick on marks (e.g. elbows, collars and cuffs of white tops). I haven’t found an effective green alternative for this yet and would love to hear from anyone who has. I’ve tried various green suggestions (bicarbonate of soda, on its own and mixed with lemon juice, followed by drying in sunlight) without success.

Wanna know the best way to get grease out? Soak the area for 15mins in cola. Buy the cheapest own-label one. I use low-calorie as it’s less sticky if I spill any. Any cola will do though. It’s the phosphoric acid that does the trick. And it doesn’t stain your clothes. I got a massive smear of bike grease out of a pair of pale pink trousers that way.

4. Low temperature washing

I do everything on 30 degrees these days to save electricity. Seems to work fine.

Drying my washing machine

Dry BETWEEN the drum and the seal

One recommendation though. Without a hot wash (or bleach) going through your machine every now and then, there is a danger of mildew building up, which can cause nasty smells. To prevent this, leave the door of your machine wide open after each load of laundry, until it and the rubber seal are completely dry. In fact, I recommend drying the rubber seal after each load. And make sure you dry between the rubber seal and the drum.

I speak from experience. About a year ago, my knitwear started to smell nasty. It would smell fine when it came out of the machine and then, as it dried, it would begin to pong. Ew! It took me ages to track down the problem. I even tried running bleach through my machine on a hot wash without success. (It takes something to get me to use bleach I can tell you). Eventually I ran a cloth around behind the seal and it came away black and slimy. Gross! It took about a hour of doing that until a cloth would come away clean. Now I ALWAYS dry the seal, including between it and the drum, after every wash.

And I take out the detergent drawer, empty out any water caught in it and leave it on my draining board to dry.

5. Full loads

Does this go without saying? A full load is the most energy and water efficient way to wash. Using a ‘half-load’ programme won’t halve the amount of water or electricity used.

6. Turn the machine off when not in use

Don’t leave your machine on standby. Switch it off to save electricity.

7. Drying

I read somewhere that tumble dryers are the household appliances that consume the most energy. Makes sense. And they wear out your clothes. I’ve never had one.

I mostly dry stuff inside: over the radiators in the winter, on collapsable drying racks in the summer. Although I’ve got a rotary dryer, I rarely use it as I’ve successfully attracted so many birds to my garden that my laundry is in danger of collecting new (ahem) marks if I hang it outside. I find the place in my house where things dry the quickest is over the banisters. I guess there must be a slight air flow there as cool and hot air moves around the house. It’s particularly good for large items like duvet covers.

8. Don’t believe everything you read

Washcare labels err on the side of caution. Some things that claim to be dry clean only can be machine washed, and some things that claim to need a delicate wash can go in a regular wash. It’s worth experimenting, though there is a risk of course (and please don’t hold me responsible for any disappoinments!)

I’ve noticed that clothes with things like sequins and fancy buttons on them are often labelled ‘handwash only’ and I think it’s to prevent these things getting pulled off in the wash. Instead of handwashing them (or using the handwash setting on my washing machine), I put them in the regular wash, protected within a mesh laundry bag.

9. Which machine?

This article is interesting. It points out that an A+-rated washing machine may have a bigger environmental impact than a lower rated one if it doesn’t last as long. It also suggests that the difference in energy consumption between machines with different ratings is only small. So choose a machine that a consumer organisation such as Which recommends as reliable, as well as one that has a good energy rating.

10. Wash only when necessary

Wear clothes until they actually need washing. Don’t wash them just because you’ve worn them once.

11. Iron as little as possible

Music to your ears, right? Choose clothes that won’t need ironing. And don’t iron stuff like hankies or bedlinen. Who cares if they’re wrinkly?

Got any more eco-laundry tips? Drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you.

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Why secondhand isn’t always green.

In a word (OK, two words), dry cleaning.

Vintage green ballgown

Beautiful dress. Shame about the dry cleaning.

I took a gorgeous dress that I’ve worn to a few parties recently to be dry cleaned today. Man, that made me uncomfortable.

I only buy (or get for free) secondhand clothes. I’ve bought almost no new clothes for years and it now feels scandalously wasteful to me to buy new when there is so much unwanted stuff available (kinda like buying a dog from a breeder when you could take a rescue dog).

My main motivation is to reduce my eco-impact. However, it has other benefits too. It saves me soooo much money. Spending more than a fiver on anything feels extravagant these days. In fact, spending money on clothes at all feels extravagant, given how much I get for free.

And I get great clothes. I love vintage pieces, for their quirkiness, their style and their quality.

Plus I never see anyone wearing the same stuff as me.

The proportion of my vintage stuff that has to be drycleaned is a serious drawback though. Apart from the money it costs (some of my vintage items end up costing me more in drycleaning than they did to buy), dry cleaning’s far from eco-friendly.

I minimise the packaging involved by taking a clothes bag and hanger with me so I can refuse the disposable ones I’d otherwise be given. If the item is already wrapped, I swap the hanger for my own. I don’t leave the plastic wrapping as I suspect they’d put it in the bin.

If I end up bringing a plastic bag home, I put it in a plastic bag recycling bin and, if I end up taking a hanger home, I return it to the dry cleaner for reuse.

Worse than the packaging though is that most drycleaners use perchloroethylene, or perc.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency classifies perc as an air contaminant, which must be handled as hazardous waste. Its website says:

"Breathing PERC for short periods of time can adversely affect the
human nervous system.  Effects range from dizziness, fatigue, headaches
and sweating to incoordination and unconsciousness.  Contact with
PERC liquid or vapor irritates the skin, the eyes, the nose, and the
throat.  These effects are not likely to occur at levels of PERC that
are normally found in the environment.

Breathing perchloroethylene over longer periods of time can cause
liver and kidney damage in humans.  Workers exposed repeatedly to
large amounts of PERC in air can also experience memory loss and
confusion. Laboratory studies show that PERC causes kidney and liver
damage and cancer in animals exposed repeatedly by inhalation and
by mouth.  Repeat exposure to large amounts of PERC in air may
likewise cause cancer in humans.Perchloroethylene by itself is
not likely to cause environmental harm at levels normally found
in the environment.  PERC can contribute to the formation of
photochemical smog when it reacts with other volatile organic
carbon substances in air".

Nasty, huh?

Some time ago, I heard of an alternative. GreenEarth Cleaning is a dry cleaning system that, instead of using petroleum-baesd solvents, uses liquid silicone, which breaks down to sand and trace amounts of water and carbon dioxide after use.

However, at that time, it wasn’t available in the UK so I’ve continued simply to use the nearest dry cleaner to me. In researching this blog post though, I’ve discovered that Johnson’s the Cleaners are now using it. Fantastic!

I’ll still favour clothes that don’t need dry cleaning, and have the ones that do need it cleaned as rarely as I can get away with. And I’ll still take my own hangers and clothes bags. From now on though, my dry clean only clothes will be cleaned in silicone, not perc.

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