Photo, Wool and the Gang
Sometimes when people talk about laundry in the context of "minimalist" or capsule wardrobes, it sounds awfully nihilistic. There is a fear of imaginary situations like- what if you get something dirty and need it the next day? Won't you be stuck doing laundry all the time? Don't worry, that doesn't happen. I always own enough so there's something else to wear. I do laundry once a week at most, and only for things that really need it, like underwear, sheets, and towels. Most clothes stay fresh enough for multiple wears before laundering. Less stuff = less time and money spent on maintenance.
Paris Laundry vs. America
Our front-loading machine is much smaller than an American one (max capacity 7 kg), and a single cycle takes hours. Like everyone I know in Paris, I wash everything on the "quick" setting, which takes forever. French washers spin clothes vigorously, but the dryer itself doesn't do anything- it sort of just cooks the clothes. There's no lint trap, either, necessitating yearly maintenance. My only option is to hang dry. This is better for the garments, the environment, and cuts down on ironing. Many neighbors have drying racks and clotheslines; I use every radiator, doorknob, chair, and hook in our apartment (I clean them so often anyway). Seasonally, I wash big stuff, like comforters and pillows, at the laundromat, using my own soap. This is the first place I've lived in with laundry, but my routine hasn't changed much from when I didn't have space for a washer / dryer. I still only do full loads. Back then, I handwashed what I could and air-dried everything to save money.
Washing clothes in cold water will, to some degree, sanitize kinetically. Most machines don't heat water hot enough to kill all germs and pathogens anyway. Further, many French machines won't let you change water temperature. Store-bought detergents merely inactivate microorganisms, not remove them. Judicious use of a hot iron, steamer, sunlight, and vinegar (in the rinse cycle) is germicidal and eliminates dust mites. Vinegar has the added benefit of reducing dye loss, softening water, and maintaining garment shape. Whereas traditional detergents leave residue behind, a mild antiseptic soap like Alep rinses cleanly without irritating additives. Baking soda is an effective water softener and brightener that hasn't left buildup in our washing machine. Experts often recommend soaking items such as handkerchiefs in salty water or lemon juice for a better clean.
Every week I do four loads, in order of what takes the most time to dry. I sort so as to keep germy materials separate:
- Sheets and handkerchiefs
- Bath towels, hand towels, and bathmats
- Clothes, socks, stockings, underwear
- Flour sack towels, cloth napkins, and dishcloths
Our clothes can generally be combined in one load, partly because of the soap we use, partly because of the quality, fabric, and palette we choose. From what I've seen, a mild antiseptic soap is high efficiency washer-compatible (control study of one) and will not fade or bleed colors, provided the material is dyed properly. I never dry clean, and wash coats at the beginning and end of every season. I'm not sure how often I wash my dresses; a few times a season, but the t-shirts and leggings I wear underneath get washed once a week or biweekly, depending on my spot-clean vigilance. I brush and air things often, so rest assured, they stay fresh. Thus far, my wooly sweaters have been hand-washed once, when I got them.
I try to hand-wash my underwear every night- you're supposed to wash immediately after use- but realistically sometimes just throw them in with the regular load weekly. According to housekeeping manuals, if you loosely group underwear, socks, and clothes together, they come cleaner because articles of dissimilar sizes produce the best washing results. Of course, if you have kids, diapers need to be washed separately from everything else.
You can grate soap directly into the machine, or dissolve in hot water first. I use lemon juice and sunshine instead of bleach. Our whites are sparkling, and when the Darty man came to look at our three year old machine, he complimented how clean and well-maintained it was. In Paris, irons need monthly vinegar baths to prevent them from breaking down or spewing brown water and mineral deposits everywhere.
Reducing laundry and ironing
- Hang towels to dry instead of using a fresh one every day. Korean grandmothers are big on this one
- Skip the dryer. Shake and smooth the wrinkles out of cloth while damp, folding handkerchiefs and cloth napkins before hanging to dry.
- Choose fibers carefully. I no longer iron any of my stuff. Quality fabrics, I've found, generally wrinkle less and can be steamed during the shower if necessary. Wools are particularly low-wrinkling.
- Change out of street clothes as soon as you get home. Protect garments by wearing t-shirts, camis, dress shields, slips, and stockings underneath, or tying an apron on while cooking and cleaning.
- Don't eat in bed, and wash face and feet before getting under the covers.
- Air, brush, and spot clean clothing instead of throwing barely worn items in the laundry (depends on the fiber). If they're not smelly or gross, avoid overwashing.
- Fold items as soon as possible. Leaving them in a basket causes wrinkling, and cats find clean laundry irresistible.
- Allow for space between garments in closets and drawers. Clothes stored too close together wrinkle terribly.
I know a lot of people prefer doing laundry less frequently. Practically speaking, that might be all they can manage, and I'm not one to judge, since I never wash my hair. Scientifically speaking, everyone needs to do some laundry once a week. Dust, dirt, and sweat weaken fabrics and mildew, odor, and pathogens can permanently damage fibers when left too long. Contrary to popular opinion, weekly washings won't wear stuff out faster, but can help preserve and extend life span, depending on the garment. If you need to dryclean, most places in Paris let you use your own garment bag and hanger- Sequoia is perchloroethylene free. The harsh chemicals and plasticizers used in drycleaning cause much faster wearing, discoloration, and fading. Plus they use the same fluids over and over again, on everybody's garments...
So, I hope this makes sense and answers everybody's questions. I only do laundry once a week, I never dryclean, iron, or use the dryer. Everything smells good, stays colorfast and, provided they are quality garments, lasts despite repeated use. Only common sense and personal preference can determine how often you wash garments, how you sort them, and what you use to clean them, but this works for me. It's been my experience that owning less and keeping up with laundry makes it less of a burden. For zero-waste stain removal, click here. For tips on extending the life of your wardrobe, click here. For linen questions, click here. Finally, zero-waste cleaning, natural soap, and everything I own.
Plastic-free laundry tools
Natural soap, soap nuts (if you can grow and not import them), or DIY detergent (such as homemade washing soda), according to local availability
Baking soda, lemons, and vinegar
Lingerie bag to keep delicates from snagging
Lingerie bag to keep delicates from snagging
Skip dryer sheets, or, if you must, use DIY wool dryer balls