Eco-friendly laundry washing: 3 cheap, zero waste alternatives

Maybe it’s Sunday and you run out of laundry detergent. Or maybe you want to save money, avoid waste and stop polluting water with weird ingredients. Whatever it is, zero waste laundry isn’t that complicated. I have 3 eco-friendly alternatives at hand, and they are all cheap, simple and efficient. Ain’t no better time to go all hippie natural then upcoming spring! Except for chestnut season, but more on that later.

I used to love the idea of laundromats (waschsalons). They seemed as such a romantic place where you would meet your soulmate while waiting for your laundry to wash. When I moved to Berlin I was excited to see them all over the poor parts of the city (which is where I, and everyone else I know, live). I said I’ll visit, but I didn’t keep the promise yet. I’ve found my soulmate meanwhile, and now I’m too busy washing his socks every Sunday.

Eco-friendly laundry detergent isn’t that expensive here, but it comes with a plastic bag inside the carton box. I have tried the classic recipe that combines grated soap, washing soda and baking soda. It works well but I wanted something cheaper and I prefer to keep baking soda for my deodorant anyways. So I’ve searched for one-ingredient alternatives. Simplicity, as always, turned out to be the perfect solution. This is what I’ve come up with:

1. A soap bar

I like to use plant oil soaps (because they are biodegradable) for all sorts of cleaning occasions and I have plenty lying around. You can add baking soda for whitening effect or put it on some nasty stains before washing with soap, but in general, I think soap washes the laundry just fine.

First, get a bar of soap…

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Now take your cheese grater and let’s turn it into soap Parmigiano!

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Just sprinkle it all over your laundry load a little bit and that’s it.  Ah, I am such a talented housewife, unreal!

2. Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is currently my go-to laundry washing alternative. Most people use white vinegar for cleaning and laundry because it doesn’t smell. However, you can only find apple cider vinegar in returnable (pfand) bottles in Germany, but not white vinegar, as for as I know. I don’t like to clean my flat with it because of the smell, but it is perfect for laundry! Apple cider vinegar is anti-bacterial, natural softener and colour preserver. Laundry comes out feeling fresh and I promise there is no vinegar smell residue afterwards (but I use baking soda as a deodorant so maybe you shouldn’t listen to me).

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Most of the information I found on the internet says that using vinegar is good for the machine to keep it clean from soap residue and hard water build up. But I also read that its acidic nature can damage pipes. Honestly, not that much vinegar is needed and it is diluted with water (I put it ACV into a cup, mix with water and spill directly into the load). I ain’t no plumber but I think we send stronger stuff down the drain – should be fine.

3. Chestnut

I have actually tried this method once past autumn during the chestnut season in Germany. Unfortunately, my timing was pretty late so there weren’t enough chestnuts left to make a stock. I have collected them in the courtyard where I live and carried them upstairs, using the lower half of my shirt as a basket, like I’m in Jane Austen’s novel and not in Neukölln. You can use chestnut to make a laundry detergent because they contain saponins that lather in water just as soap does.

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I cut a hand full of them with a knife in half and soak them in 2 cups of boiling water overnight. Next day I used the residue water as a laundry detergent and it lathered like crazy! Now I am waiting till October to make a stock for the whole year because laundry washing doesn’t get any cheaper than that.

Final note: I do laundry once per week and I wash two or three loads. That way the washing machine is warmed up already and uses less energy per load. I put in on 30 or 40 degrees on the shortest cycle (45min) and I air dry.

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