Zero Waste Laundry



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.


Laundry science


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. 


My routine 


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:

  1. Sheets and handkerchiefs
  2. Bath towels, hand towels, and bathmats
  3. Clothes, socks, stockings, underwear 
  4. 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


  1. Hang towels to dry instead of using a fresh one every day. Korean grandmothers are big on this one
  2. Skip the dryer. Shake and smooth the wrinkles out of cloth while damp, folding handkerchiefs and cloth napkins before hanging to dry.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. 
  5. Don't eat in bed, and wash face and feet before getting under the covers.
  6. 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.
  7. Fold items as soon as possible. Leaving them in a basket causes wrinkling, and cats find clean laundry irresistible.
  8. 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
Skip dryer sheets, or, if you must, use DIY wool dryer balls

Paris to Go

34 comments:

  1. Hi Ariana! Thank you for this wonderfull post. I have been waiting for this, the secret to laundry. Turns out, I am in the same league as you, exept my machine is not happy with the soap as is. I use a very small amount of eco-friendly detergent, and some vinegar to rinse. This gives me the best possible result... and clothing that keeps being happy. Allways very enthousiastic to get some good advice. Love!

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    1. Hi Emma! Ah yes... there are so many nice eco friendly detergents too! I think Bea Johnson uses 7th Generation? Hope you are doing well :)

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  2. I very much enjoyed reading this! I live in Canada, but I am still a big fan of using air and sun as my dryer. My use started when the heating coil of our dryer went and needed to be replaced. The repairman said it was a flaw of our particular dryer brand. It started as a way to preserve our dryer, but now I just love that the elctricity bill is smaller and our clothes feel great.

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    1. That is great Claudia! How interesting that not using the dryer makes such a difference on electricity costs, although I shouldn't be surprised. Thanks for sharing! The Darty repairman said that here a lot of people replace their washer dryer every few years. When I thought back to my friends and when they got new washer dryers, it seems true. Glad you found a way to extend its life cycle :)

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  3. How do you air-dry in the winter? Doesn't that take a lot of time?

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    1. Hi! In winter in Cleveland I air-dried too, it only takes overnight. Our house was old and it was particularly difficult to heat the bathroom, where I dried things, but it worked just fine. Have you ever seen Greenlanders freeze-drying their clothes? It's a thing :) In fact yesterday I washed some clothes and hung them on our radiator and they were ready in three hours, in time for us to catch our flight!

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    2. General belief is that sunlight (i.e. heat) is required to dry effectively. The reality is that you can still dry without sun as long as there is air flow - air flow removes the moisture and evaporates it, so drying in winter is not such a big deal as long as your clothes are not hanging in stillness. To that end, sometimes I leave on a small fan under my clothes horse in the winter time to ensure air flow (since the house is closed up in trying to keep in the warmth).

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    3. That is a great explanation! Thanks Cindy!

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  4. I love this post! I am trying to downsize/purge and keep only those things that I love, and and launder at home (scared to do some of the woolens and coats) but trying more items slowly and very happy with the turnout. I have to say you are a GREAT INSPIRATION to me, and I have found my new favorite soap (au savon de Marseille) for both cleaning (1kg block) and the 600g block for my shower. I also found some alep soap and am trying for my dry scalp - still waiting for good results. I also located a seller in Canada for some redecker brushes, especially the rubber/wood cloths 'brush'. I hope to have a long holiday in Paris one day and love your post! Keep up the great work! Sincerely, Kate in Canada

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    1. Thank you so much Kate! That is awesome that you are loving the soap, I hope you like the brushes too. Let me know how the Alep turns out, it may take awhile, I know it's not for everybody but I'm curious to see if you like that too! I hope you get to Paris as well :) Thank you, take care!

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  5. Super post, Ariana! I have always air dried, except for very few occasional emergencies - eg illness, or long -standing heavy rain. Since reading earlier posts I have been hand washing cuffs and collar on my trench coat, with excellent results. We have been brain washed into thinking we need an expert or special product for everything, I think.

    During the colder months I have a fire going and this makes it easy to get everything dry. I just put the washing on a rack, and also hang shirts on hangers from the curtain rods - things dry much faster when up high.

    I think of hand washing as a bit like a meditation. It certainly reminds me of when my mother taught me to do it as a child. She really knew how to take care of things, and never seemed to be in a rush eve though she also worked full-time.

    Madeleine.x

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    1. I love reading your comments Madeleine, I always learn something and you always say something beautiful! I just handwashed a few things before reading this and I agree with you, there's something so nice about working with the suds and the water, I would argue that dishwashing and ironing can be contemplative as well... sometimes. Ah yes... when someone gets sick, I wash everything, but would love to be able to dry our sheets completely in the dryer... I do turn the setting on in those cases but end up having to airdry for a few hours after anyway, our dryer here is so ineffective.

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  6. One of my friends with Indian heritage gave me the great tip about turmeric stains - sunshine!

    To your list of tips I would suggest: consider giving whites a pass....My white tee shirts inevitably turn yellowy brown over time in the armpits. I use a coconut oil/baking soda/tea tree oil deodorant that I make myself ~ I'm not certain if this is having a detrimental effect, or if it's just inevitable.

    Line drying clothes is so much better on them than the dryer, but it wasn't until I moved to Australia (from Canada) that I stopped using a dryer ~ energy is much more expensive here, and most homes don't even have dryers!

    I always learn something new from your posts.

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    1. Ah I didn't think of that with turmeric stains! I read that salt gets armpit stains out, although I use soap to scrub the armpits on my things when I get home and it removes the stains. It sounds like everyone gets those stains regardless of deodorant (your recipe sounds awesome by the way) and that bleach and peroxides can make them worse... Energy is quite expensive in France as well, so I wonder if that's why many people only have washers!

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    2. I will try salt and see what happens.

      Oh, and a question - is Alep soap the same (or similar) to Aleppo soap? i.e the hard sundried Syrian soap? It's a browny colour, so I wouldn't have thought to use it on clothing.

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    3. It is the same, I use it on all my lights and it rinses clean and gets out tough stains!

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  7. thank you for a nice and very detailed post.
    I think where I could do the biggest change in my life would be to change clothes when I come home... I find that hard to do, but my mother have done it all my life; and her t-shirts lasts for many many years..

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    1. Thank you Johanne! I love your blog so much :)

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  8. Hey Ariana, thanks so much for such an informative post!
    You mentioned that you hate dry cleaning and wash your coats at the beginning and ending of each season. I'm currently looking at a gorgeous secondhand wool coat in cream online; since you have that light colored Celine coat, I was wondering if you have any tips on keeping light colored coats clean (I'm worried since I'm such a klutz) and cleaning them without dry cleaning. Would you just recommend wiping the coat down with a lint-free towel after every wear and washing it like other wool garments? Any advice you have to be offer would be appreciated!

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    1. Hi Alice! I just wash them like you would wash any other wool garment. And yes wiping it down first will help it stay fresh. I'm a total klutz and spill stuff all the time. Recently some berries even fell from a tree onto my coat and hat and scarf while I was walking by the Picasso museum... it all came out it with spotcleaning, and it had a few hours to set first! So I'd say go for it :)

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  9. How long does it take to air dry your bed-sheets? It can take up to 2 days to dry things in my apartment and there's really no room to do that in. For regular clothes I try to air-dry to make them last longer but I will sometimes let them run in the hot dryer just for a couple of minutes before hanging so that the wrinkles are steamed out (works great for jeans).

    Best,
    Patricia

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    1. Hi Patricia! It used to take up to 2 days but when I switched to linen, it took only a few hours. The duvet cover takes longer in cold months, up to six hours; I just hang them over a door and move them around every now and then. That is a great trick for jeans, thanks for sharing!

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  10. Wonderful post Ariana. This reminded me of my childhood. If my mother had to write a post on her wisdom, this would be it. Although if I asked her today, she would say - don't waste time on these things. What a strange irony to a life spent chasing quality.

    Totally not nihilistic. If you were to make a video on it, I would watch it and take notes :)

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    1. I would love to read a post on your mother's wisdom :) I might say the same eventually... my friend told me how she used to iron all her sheets and even her family's underwear to keep them looking nice, but one day she realized they didn't really need them and she was so much happier after. She had three kids under three, so I imagine that if I was in a situation where my perspective changed like that, I wouldn't waste the time.

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  11. Great idea to hang sheets over the door. I've been trying to figure out a way for those. Our dryer stopped working a few months ago and I'm not wanting to replace it any time soon. My mother asked what I was going to do. I said drying racks. Lots of people around the world don't have dryers. I'm east of Cleveland and people in the states have been so spoiled. I'm glad I just read your post as it provides the encouragement I need to not go out and buy a dryer.

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    1. Hi Leslie! Nice to hear from a fellow Ohioan! I feel the exact same way, I was really spoiled in the US. But a lot of the conveniences we have I just don't need anymore. Good for you in airdrying your laundry, I feel like they last way longer and are so much fresher.

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  12. Hi Ariana, what are your thoughts on the ethics of buying Aleppo soap these days? As much as I would like to try the soap, I can't stomach the feeling that I may be supporting Isis in some way. At the same time, if it supports the local industry and they are victims too, I would like to vote with my dollar. No matter how much I research this I get more confused. Any thoughts you have would be greatly appreciated.

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    1. Hi! I understand the confusion. To my knowledge it doesn't support any of the violence, there are only a few factories actually left in the Aleppo region, and only in government held areas. In fact it seems that the soapmakers are victims, having their factories raided, then destroyed, facing kidnapping, having to relocate to Lebanon, and struggling to maintain skeletal operations and risking a lot to export the soap because they feel keeping up the tradition is important:

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22541698

      There is also a sad article about the Noble Soap company in Forecast, a Monocle magazine.

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  13. It's very interesting to hear about your laundry routine! Although, while living in the US, I have always lived in apartments or houses with access to a decently efficient washer and dryer, my family (from Taiwan) has never had the habit of using the dryer for anything except bedding and towels. We hang all clothes up to air-dry, though when it's just me and I'm in the US, I do machine-dry some of my clothes.

    Like some of the commenters mentioned above, I do feel like Americans really are quite spoiled when it comes to laundry! I spent some time living abroad in Hong Kong, and my washer there was very small and didn't seem to do very much. (And like in Taiwan, I don't think they typically have dryers at home either.)

    I've been trying to go to the dry cleaner as rarely as possible. I only really go for my suits and a few dresses that I'm nervous about washing any other way.

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    1. The smaller washers were a big adjustment! Even the largest washers in the laundromat barely hold a comforter, and my mom's washer in the US can wash two comforters at a time, what a luxury! That's interesting that they never used the dryer. I've never been to Hong Kong or Taiwan but in China and Korea I loved looking at the laundry hanging from everyone's apartment windows, like colorful little flags in the wind.

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  14. Hi Ariana, thanks for a really great post! I enjoy reading your blog immensely :-)
    I have a question about silk. Would you recommend hand washing it, rather than taking it to the cleaner? I mean using a mild soap, like dr. Bronner's or Aleppo.

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    1. Hi Magdalena! You are so sweet. I hand wash silk because I read- I think in the book Home Comforts- that dry-cleaning chemicals are too harsh for silk. Silk lasts years if you handwash it in a nice soap like that!

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  15. Regular detergents build up on towels over time, making them smell. Does the same thing happen with the soap you use?

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    1. No, they rinse clean! And using vinegar in the rinse cycle helps :)

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