Monday, October 18, 2010

Raising Green Kids- Greening up your laundry room

Just like many of you I've heard the terms "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" a lot over the past 10-15 years. And lets face it we have all heard about global warming, right? Some of you may have even watched Al Gore's documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" from 2006. But has it impacted your life? Have you noticed a change in the weather patterns over the past couple of years?
My brother-in-law Aaron recently went on a trip to Alaska and saw those great icebergs up close. He brought back some great pictures (like this one of waterfalls) of beautiful icebergs, and told stories to his nieces about them. What hit home for me were the stories of the markings with dates that depicted the melting of these icebergs. Were Aaron to return for a repeat trip of hiking through Alaska in a few years, some of those great sites may be gone altogether.
Over the years I have done my part in recycling tins and plastics and composting, even before I had my own home and was making those decisions for myself. But it really wasn't until I had children of my own that the issue really hit home for me- our Earth is changing, and the reality of it is, there are parts of it that wont be here when Gabe (my 7 month old) hits school, and many more that will be gone before he is my age.

So around our house we are doing everything we can to put those 3 R's to good use! Here are a few things we're doing in the laundry room:

Laundry Detergent
First I want you to think back (way back) to grade school science. Some of you may remember learning about soap molecules and why soap works to clean. Well detergent is quite similar. To simplify this think of these little molecules like a magnet- it has a (+) end and a (-) end. One end of the molecule is hydrophobic (repelled by water, but are attracted to oil and grease) while the other end of the same molecule is hydrophilic (attracted to water). Detergents bind to the soil and the mechanical energy or agitation of your washer allows the detergent to pull the oil and dirt away from your clothes. Rinsing washes the detergent and any oil and dirt it has attracted away.

So what's in mainstream laundry detergents that's so bad? Her are some of the more common ingredients you may want to avoid and why:
  • Surfactants. These create the bubbles in your washing machine. Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs), the most common surfactants in mainstream detergents, have been identified as a potential endocrine disrupter.
  • Synthetic fragrances. These can be found in detergents, fabric softeners and dryer sheets. These are what give you laundry that spring rain, orange blossom or lavender smell. In reality these man-made scented chemicals are made from petroleum, and don’t degrade which makes them extremely toxic to your health and the environment.
  • Phosphates. These are used in detergents to soften water. Phosphates can cause algae blooms in lakes and ponds which lead to the suffocation of aquatic plants and animals.
You might also be surprised to know that mainstream laundry detergents (just like disposable diaper companies) are not required to list all of their ingredients on the label- so really who knows whats in there!

The Greener Option
Greener laundry detergents will contain natural, biodegradable surfactants (some are derived from coconuts, others from corn). The term biodegradable is thrown around a lot these days, but to be truly and completely biodegradable, it must be organic (meaning derived from something living- most often plants) to begin with.
Switch to a greener laundry detergent that is non-toxic, biodegradable with no petroleum based products. We have some great choices for these in North America and many of them are cloth safe! Rockin Green Cloth Diaper and Laundry Detergent can even be used to strip the old detergent residue from your cloth diapers!

Hot vs Cold water:
Warm or hot water melts fats and oils so that it is easier for the detergent to dissolve the soil and pull it away into the rinse water. But 80% of the energy used to wash your clothes is used in heating the water! Washing your laundry in cold water will save energy (and your pocket book). Cold water rinses the soap out just as well as warm or hot, so even if you used a warm or hot wash, use a cold rinse.

What about the dryer?
Of course hanging your laundry is the best for the environment, but that may not always be possible. The many months of winter in our country would definitely make line drying outside more difficult, and believe it or not there are actually some areas with bylaws that dont allow clothes lines in your yard.
So here are a few tips for your dryer:
Keeping your dryer clean can help maximize the air flow and efficiency, so clean the lint filter after every load.
Try to do several loads of laundry at once to take advantage of the leftover heat from the previous load.

Dryer Balls
Dryer balls were invented to reduce static and help your clothing dry faster.
As your wet laundry tumbles in the dryer, Dryer Balls lift and separate your clothes, allowing the air to flow more efficiently. Perfect for those concerned with conserving energy or those with a busy lifestyle. Unfortunately, dryer balls currently available mainstream are made out of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is one of the most poisonous plastics ever manufactured.
A great green alternative is Wool Dryer Balls! Yes, Wool! Wool balls work in a similar manner to the PVC kind in that they lift and separate your cloths but wool will also soften up your clothes by gentle friction of the felted wool fibers against your clothing fibers. Not only does this make your clothes soft and fluffy, it can also reduce your drying time by up to 40% (this will vary according to your load and dryer size and how many balls are in the dryer)! No more need for fabric softener or dryer sheets... and they never need to be replaced! Of course if you enjoy the scent of those dryer sheets, you just need to add a drop of essential oils to one of your dryer balls and it will keep your laundry scented for quite a few loads!

For some more great tips on all things green visit The Green Quiz Quest and sign up as a seeker! The Green Quiz Quest is a worldwide online scavenger hunt through websites that promote living green or offer green products. Its loads of fun and has great prizes!

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