The laundry room is one of my favorite parts of the modern organic home. It doesn’t make sense to load our water with chemicals when we’re trying to get things clean. Old-fashioned ingredients are usually the best: borax, washing soda, vinegar, and essential oils are just a few of the simple ingredients you can use to keep your laundry fresh.
The laundry room or closet can be purgatory for many items that should be donated, used as rags, or sent in for textile recycling (look at your local dump for ways to recycle textiles that are no longer usable). It can also become a dumping ground for sports equipment; swimsuits, towels, caps; baseball and football uniforms; delicate dance costumes; and other things that could use a cleaning but you aren’t exactly sure how to tackle. It may also become storage for extra supplies, such as the bulk packs of tissues and toilet paper we all stock up on from time to time.
Purge anything that is no longer usable, past its expiration date, or that you know you’ll never get around to mending. Place everything that needs repair in one bin, and everything that needs special cleaning in another. Keep these where you can see them, ideally on a shelf above the laundry machines, and when they’re full, have a hand-washing or mending day. Have a cotton bag hanging in the laundry room for heavily soiled items (baseball uniforms with grass stains, work clothes, etc.) and do a load of heavily-soiled laundry when that is full. Keeping things separated also keeps stains from working their way onto your nice white linen pants.
Clean the exterior of the washing machine and shelves by spraying them down with some white vinegar and wiping clean. Clean the interior of your washer. Give the floor a good mopping. Wipe down the walls.
Organize your laundry necessities by keeping bottles together and clothespins in one bag or bin, tennis balls for the washer and wool balls for the dryer in another. I like to keep all of my cotton rags together in the laundry so I don’t have to search for them all afterward, so I keep a lingerie bag hanging by the washer and throw all dirty rags in there. Use a laundry organization system that works for you; consider keeping separate bins for lights, darks, and colors. Keeping your laundry station organized also allows older children, teens, spouses, and others to easily access the laundry necessities to do their own washing. Of course, keep any products out of the reach of smaller children, no matter how natural they are.
DOING THE LAUNDRY COMES NATURALLY, NATURALLY
I wish I could tell you how to make your own laundry detergent liquid and powder. I really wish I could. But the chemical reactions that must take place to create a detergent (what all modern-day machines are made to use) simply cannot be replicated safely (or at all) in your own home. It involves some fancy chemistry. Now, I know there are many, many recipes circulating on the Internet for homemade laundry soap. But that’s the problem … it’s laundry soap. Soap that will actually wreck your plumbing when you use it for any length of time, and only traps dirt and germs in your clothing under a thin layer of soap scum. Sure, the clothes might smell nice (from essential oils and fragrances in the soap), and look cleaner (from the water agitation), but you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll be scummy soon, and your pipes will be, too. The trick is we want to use detergents, not soaps, and any recipe that uses grated bar soap is obviously going to be clogging up your drains. Back in the 1950s, many people did take on the task of tackling lye-based laundry detergent making, but these detergents are harsh and the gray water is not safe for septic systems. Here are my two favorite solutions:
Soap nuts: Soap nuts (sometimes called soap berries) are nature’s answer to doing laundry. These come from the Sapindus Mukorossi tree that grows in the Himalayas. Soap nuts have natural antimicrobial products and create a soaplike secretion that is totally safe for septic systems, gentle on skin (in fact, in Ayurvedic medicine they are used to treat skin conditions), and clean clothes wonderfully when activated by water. Used soap nuts can be thrown in the compost for a completely waste-free experience. Soap nuts can still be a little hard to find, and a bit expensive at first, but you can use them for multiple loads of laundry.
To use: Place 5 or 6 soap nuts in a small muslin bag that can be zipped or tied closed. Throw into the washing machine with your laundry. When the laundry is done, hang the bag to drip-dry, and reuse a few times, until the shells of the nuts become gray.
Dr. Bronner’s Sal’s Suds: This is a biodegradable cleaner that is effective in hot and cold water, and you only need 2 tablespoons, undiluted, for an average-size load of laundry. Don’t freak out when you read there is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate on the label (synthesized from coconut) … this is very different from Sodium Laureth Sulfate, despite the confusingly similar name.
BE ALTERNATIVE WITH BLEACH ALTERNATIVE
If you love your whites white, you probably love to use bleach. But bleach is so toxic and harmful, it’s not something I like to use on any regular basis. Oxygen bleach, which I discussed earlier (pg. 18), is a viable alternative for me, but you can also make an alternative that approximates the work of bleach but doesn’t harm your respiratory or reproductive systems like regular bleach can.
- ¼ cup hydrogen peroxide
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- ¼ cup baking soda
Mix together in a small bowl and add to the detergent dispenser of your washing machine. Wash as usual. Make a new batch for each load of laundry, since the reaction that takes place between the ingredients means they won’t last.
We all get spots on our clothes, regardless of how “clean” our daily routine is … we all brush our teeth (toothpaste splatters), eat and drink (coffee, smoothies, chocolate), and go outdoors (brushing up against dirty subway doors or walking muddy streets), and spots just happen. When you see a soiled item of clothing, whip up this spray and say goodbye to the unwanted marks.
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- ¼ cup hydrogen peroxide
- 2 drops lemon essential oil
Mix well and shake in an 8-ounce spray bottle. Spray onto spots and wash immediately. Do not let sit on colored clothes as it can have a bleaching effect. If the clothing is white, however, take advantage of the bleaching nature of both lemon juice and hydrogen peroxide when they come into contact with the sun and let the item sit in the sunlight for a little while before washing. Because of the fresh lemon juice, this spray does not keep well and I recommend you use it within 2 days of making it.
DEODORANT BUILDUP TEAR-DOWN
Many deodorants leave a hardened white buildup on the inside of shirts. It may even be visible from the outside on dark fabrics. The gunk won’t go away on its own, not even with repeated washing. Let’s make something a little stronger, but still natural, to get rid of the gunk. There are a few options depending on the item.
- ¼ cup baking soda
- ¼ cup table salt
- ½ cup fresh lemon juice
Mix these ingredients in a small bowl until they form a loose paste. Gently rub onto the stain, but don’t rub too hard. Leave on for at least 2–3 hours. Leave the item in the sun if you can; the sun and the lemon juice combine to create a great bleaching aid. Rinse off the paste, and while the area is still wet, take an old toothbrush and gently rub the area to loosen the gunk still stuck in the fibers. Rinse well. Wash normally.
- ¼ cup baking soda
- ¼ cup table salt
- ½ cup white vinegar
Mix these ingredients in a small bowl until they form a loose paste. Gently rub onto the stain, being careful not to push too hard. Leave on for at least 2–3 hours. Do not leave darker garments in the sun, as we do not want any bleaching or fading to occur. Rinse off the paste, and while the area is still wet, take an old toothbrush and gently rub the area to loosen the gunk still stuck in the fibers. Rinse well. Wash normally.
Is your iron looking a little worse for the wear? Does it have mysterious brown and black stains that seem impossible to get out, yet somehow transfer light marks to your clothing? The culprit is likely that you haven’t been using distilled water in the steam reservoir, or you’ve been getting buildup from laundry soap that has burned onto the plate. There’s an easy fix, though, with things you already have in the pantry, and it only takes a hot minute (or as long as it takes your iron to heat up).
- Wax paper
- Table salt
Lay the wax paper out on the ironing board, at least a foot of it. Sprinkle it liberally with table salt. Heat up your iron. When it is hot, simply iron the salt on the waxed paper. Let the iron cool completely.
To clean the steam reservoir, fill it with half vinegar and half water. Then steam at full speed until the reservoir is empty. Refill with clean water, add 2 drops of lavender essential oil, and steam that out as well. From here on out, only use distilled water to avoid clogging the steaming pores with mineral buildup and mold.
CLEAN YOUR WASHING MACHINE
Washing machines can get dirty and musty just like anything else that’s constantly in contact with water. Keeping your washing machine fresh will extend its life cycle and prevent you from having to repeat-wash items that smell musty from the machine itself. There’s a different method of front-loading and top-loading machines, so take a look below to see which will work for your washing machine. In the future, prop the washer door open after each load (particularly on front-loading machines), and make sure to remove clothes promptly to prevent mildew.
Front-Loading: Front-loading washing machines are likely to be more high-tech and not allow you to run a full cycle without anything in the machine. But they may have a cleaning cycle that you can run according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If you don’t have the ability to do a cleaning cycle, use a mixture of half white vinegar and half warm water, and a towel with some texture to it. Liberally spray the inside of the washing machine drum and wipe clean. Don’t forget to spray liberally into the rubber gasket, the main offender on front-loading machines, and use a toothbrush if necessary to get the gunk out of the gasket, and get the vinegar in there to neutralize mildew. Use the spray to clean the detergent dispenser, too, to get out any detergent gunk that may be clogging this area.
Top-Loading: Top-loading machines will likely let you fill them without adding any clothes, so go ahead and fill the machine with warm water and add a quart of white vinegar. Swish this around well. Drain, and scrub with the vinegar and water spray. Use the spray to clean around the rim and the bottom of the agitator as well to get out any bits of pet hair or lint that may have accumulated.
Extra Tip: Use a dry-erase marker to make notes on your washer or dryer for which items in the load need to be air-dried. It easily wipes off with a rag or paper towel. This prevents others from “helpfully” changing the laundry over and accidentally shrinking a favorite shirt.