Going Green 2: Laundry

Back to basics, back to going green. Green I tell ya, green! Let’s do it together and get some green sh*t done.

Over the years I have had a love-hate relationship with laundry. At age 10 or so my Mom used to make me help fold the odd load, and I hated it. Why do I have to fold these stupid towels, I didn’t dirty them. Why do I have to fold my sister’s clothes, when they are not mine?

Ha ha ha. If only my 10 year old self only knew the laundry mountains that awaited…

From about age 12 or so I did my own laundry. By that I mean picking up the contents of my floor, throwing it in the washer, forgetting it for a while, throwing it in the dryer, then using the dryer to find socks in the morning. Finally someone would nag me to take my laundry out of the dryer already so I would throw it in a laundry basket and continue to mine through it for socks each morning. Who needs a closet anyway?

Hey, I was twelve.

Since then I have matured somewhat and now I have a husband and two dirty darling little kids and I do all the laundry. I used to be on an “I’ll do it when I feel like it” sort of schedule. This worked for a while, until I stopped feeling like it, and then the mountains grew and grew and nobody had socks…

Then I turned all green and the laundry mountains came tumbling down. I have totally different relationship with laundry now. It has obtained a sort of zen like status. I can’t explain it. Somehow smoothing, hanging and folding clothes is very calming for me in a hectic, busy house. I do it exclusively in the laundry room, with no distractions. I have a schedule. I rock it.

How do you feel about laundry? Love or hate? At all green? How would you classify yourself on this sliding green scale:

Dabbler

You tend not to use dryer sheets. Those things are filled with chemicals anyway. That is why some people carry dryer sheets to keep bugs away. The bugs know better. You don’t want to smother everything that touches your skin with these things. You use dryer balls or tennis balls instead to cut the static. I started doing this when my first baby was born.

Intermediate

You just wear your clothes more. This is so easy. Just wear a pair a jeans, and then the next day, wear them again. Make your kids do it too. All pants get worn more than once in my house. Unless they are muddy or have food on them can’t be picked off (I am only slightly joking). Pajamas are on a three day rotation. As for shirts, you can wear it again if the following is true:

  1. it is a sweatshirt or sweater and does not lose its shape with one wearing
  2. you are a kid and therefore don’t have any concerns with BO issues, at all, ever
  3. you are me and it is a Saturday and you just don’t care what you look like and you are just cleaning up around the house anyway. Besides, who cares? Less laundry is almost always better.

Hardcore

Make your own laundry detergent. This is really easy, I have been doing it for over a year now. It takes about 10 minutes and lasts about 4 months. I don’t mess around with the liquid detergent recipes, I go straight for the dry ones. I just let the detergent dissolve in the water a bit before putting the clothes in. My clothes come out clean and I use ingredients I understand, like plain bar soap, baking soda and borax. I use recipe #4 or #9 from Tipnut. My fave is #9, here is what you need to make it:

Here it is all finished. You only need 1/8 cup per wash. It is literally pennies a wash.  Plus there is no throw-away plastic container.

If you don’t make it, then you buy the ultra greenie type of washing detergent at the store. No bleach (dioxins are bad).

Ultimate

You line dry your clothes. Most of the world does this anyway. Most of our grandparents did this. Australia does this. For some reason Canada seems to have a hardcore dryer culture. Maybe it is because it is too cold to dry our clothes outside for over the half the year. I line dry inside, it works like a charm. I would even go as far as to say that line drying INSIDE in the winter is EASIER because the clothes dry FASTER. Like in 12 hours. Dry, done, folded. But that is winter. In spring, it is more like 24 hours.

So I have not turned my dryer on in over a year. It took a few months to give it up all together. Now it just sits there but does make a very nice surface on which to fold clothes.

Sometimes I will pull sheets out of the closet that I have not used in a while and put them on the bed and smell that outside smell all around them and just close my eyes in that dreamy way those chicks in those laundry commercials do when they smell their chemically scented laundry… Ahh, freshness.

I also like folding line dried laundry. It is not all crumply. It is smooth and straight and slightly crisp. My t-shirts come out looking ironed. Everything folds up easy and fast. Also when you wear the clothes, they are crisp and fresh and I just like it better now.

The best part is the electricity savings. Here is a graph of two years of electricity use at my house (I am nerdy with a spreadsheet that way). I switched all my lightbulbs to compact fluorescent and turned off the dryer late in 2010, so the blue bars on the graph is old way of doing things, the red is new. I am not sure how much of the drop is due to light bulbs or laundry, but those are the only two big things I changed.

When you run the math (which I did, since I am an accountant and all) I saved 22% in electricity. So easy. Done. Waste not.

Bonus Points

Do you get any bonus points?

  1. You wash in cold water. I admit, I do not do this in the winter. The water here is so cold here it hurts your hands. Seriously! In summer it is a more reasonable cold. Lately I have been putting a bit of warm in, letting the soap dissolve, then switching to cold. Seems to work.
  2. You wash more often and buy less clothes. This is more related to cutting some consumerism habits vs. greening your laundry. But I thought I would just throw it there in for good measure.
  3. You have been known to pick off an unknown crusty bit from a sweater so you could wear it again without washing. Secretly.

So where do you fall on the sliding green scale – dabbler, beginner, intermediate, hardcore or ultimate? Do you get bonus points? Any change for the green is a good change, no matter how small. So take the poll, check all that apply:

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Laundry Time

It has been a while since I wrote about laundry. One of my first green changes was to stop using my dryer. I figured that it took a lot of energy to roll that big drum thousands of times to dry each load, as well as to heat the thing up so that it was blowing a steady stream of hot air all the while. I thought about my big five appliances that sucked up electricity in my house – fridge, oven, dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer – and decided that forgoing the use of the dryer was by far the easiest and most practical.

So I have been air drying all our clothes for about 4 months now. I have learned some things along the way, and changed it up a bit, so I thought I would share my experiences:

The first change I made was to switch from just air drying clothes, to air drying everything – towels, cloths, sheets, blankets – you name it. Most of it is no problem and I can’t even tell that it has been air-dried. The towels are a different story. Let’s just say that we don’t have fluffy soft towels in our house anymore. Ours are a bit more – crunchy. When I started this process, I would put the towels in the dryer to “fluff up” after they are already dry, but now I just don’t bother. The benefit of crunchy towels is that they are super easy to fold (think straight as a board) and also, they are super absorbent when you are getting out the shower. They also may or may not have additional exfoliating properties…

The second change has to do with how I to hang the clothes to dry. At first I would just take them straight out of the washer and hang them on the rack. However I found that some things, especially 100% woven cotton items, would come out wrinkly. So now I lay each shirt out on top of my washer, still wet, and smooth it out a bit, then put the next one on top of it, smooth that one out, and then the next one – and so I go, layering and smoothing, layering and smoothing, until the entire load is smoothed out, with all the items stacked up on top of each other like this (these are kids clothes):

Once I am done stacking and smoothing, I hang them on the dry rack. When they are dry, they are so nice and smooth – it is like I actually ironed them (which is something I never, ever do). They are nicer than if they had just spent 1 hour in the dryer. There are no wrinkles, not even on the wrinkle-culprit items. Folding is really fast, since the garment is straight, smooth and ready to go.

The third change is the laundry soap I use. As part of my Nothing New challenge, I wanted to force myself to attempt to make some homemade cleaners from ingredients I can understand, with the hopes that I would be shielding my family and the environment from harmful chemicals, as well as reducing the amount of plastic container garbage I generate. I tried making dishwasher soap and liquid dish soap, with disastrous results. But my laundry soap making was a resounding success.

Google indicated that making powdered soap was the way to go, as the homemade liquid stuff was difficult to manage, required large plastic buckets, and came out really gloppy. The powdered soap is easily mixed, stores easily in small containers, and is easy to use. So I tried Tipnut’s recipe #4, and later, her recipe #9. Here is the review:

Recipe #4
2 cups finely grated bar Soap (I used Sunlight soap)
1 cup Washing Soda
1 cup Borax
 – Mix together, store in airtight container and use 2 tablespoons per load

Since it contains more borax overall, there is more whitening power for your whites. However, it is not as colour fast for your darks – so the odd white sock mixed into a dark load will come out looking more dingy than I would have otherwise noticed. However in general, I have not noticed any colours or darks fading, in fact I think there is less fading, since the clothes are not being tumbled around in a dryer for an hour, wearing out by rubbing against all the other clothes.

Recipe #9
3 parts Borax
2 parts Baking Soda
2 parts Washing Soda
2 parts finely grated Bar soap (I used Sunlight)
 – Mix together, store in airtight container and use 1/8 cup per load

Since it contains less borax, it has less whitening power. However, the baking soda is very good at softening, which is a bonus for air dried clothes.

So now I use Recipe #4 for my whites, and Recipe #9 for everything else. I would say it cleans just about as good. Some stains get missed – perhaps one item out of 5 loads per week I will be disappointed with, which is not bad at all.

The fourth and most important change is my attitude towards doing laundry. I used to not enjoy it. I used to fold 5 loads a week, sitting on the floor in front of the TV, slightly annoyed that I had to do this chore. Now I do all the hanging and folding downstairs in the laundry room. I am away from everything that is going on in the house; I am alone with my thoughts. I have a new-found appreciation for the clothes we purchase, wear, wash and maintain. I  try to be mindful of that as I am handling the clothes, smoothing them so that they will dry nicely, keep their shape, last a long time… I find this peaceful. If I am feeling anxious or upset about something, 10 minutes downstairs smoothing wet clothes and hanging them up is just what I need to get centred again. I am not sure why – perhaps now this work has more purpose than it had before, and therefore is more rewarding than the same work was without that purpose.  Whatever the reason – I find it more therapeutic.

Overall, the laundry process does take a bit longer, but I make up some of the time with fast and easy folding. Overall it is more enjoyable than my previous method. I don’t think I will ever go back.

How about you – any laundry tips to share?

Light bulb Idea

So everyone says we have to “move past changing light bulbs and carrying reusable bags”. It is true. The changes that are required are so significant; it is hard to even wrap your head around them. Some people think we have to achieve an 80% reduction in CO2 by 2050 in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. How is that even possible? My daughter will be 42, with children of her own. What kind of world will it be for them?

Anywho – back to light bulbs and reusable bags… I think we all agree that they are an important first step for people. Do this, and you might be ready to take on other simple changes. Like air drying your clothes! Or using a travel mug! Or avoiding Styrofoam! There are so many things we can do. A million acts of green really. This gives me hope.

In light of this, (pun intended) I have a confession to make. Are you ready? As of last week, I still had incandescent light bulbs in my house.

What? The shame, the horror!

My reason was that the compact fluorescents just would not fit in most of my overhead light fixtures. It tried several brands, several sizes… The problem was that the base of the bulb was too big. So I changed all the ones I could and left the rest.

No more. Last week I marched down to my local hardware store and purchased some of these:

So do you like my Christmas tree in the background? I love Christmas tree prettiness. This is a light source I will not give up! I normally type at my computer at night after the kids are in bed, sitting in the dark with only the Christmas tree to light my way…

Back to light bulbs… These are small. They use only 9 watts. They shine brightly nonetheless. I switched out 7 of these for my 60 watters. So instead of 60 watts x 7 lights = 420 watts total, I have only 9 watts x 7 lights = 63 watts total. It is like getting a 7 for 1 deal really. It is an amazing reduction in wattage, a whopping 85%. I am so proud of these little 9 watters.

I also really like the Blue Planet brand; they seem to have more varied selection, they shine brightly in a nice warm white, and are cheaper. Bonus. Plus there is a pretty blue planet on the box. Really, you can’t beat that.

Air Dry II

So the results are in. Air dry was a success. Folding took less time as expected, due to the pre-sorting involved with hanging. After a short while, my four loads of kid’s clothes looked like this (minus the socks, underwear, bathing suits and tights):

My one worry was the crunchiness of the clothes after air drying. This proved not to be a problem for most items. Out of everything, the cotton was the stiffest. However cotton knits were not a problem at all, and luckily, most of my kids’ clothes are cotton knits (pyjamas, pants, t-shirts). To get out wrinkles, all I did was smooth them out with my hands. This is what I normally do with dryer-dried clothes anyway. Here are pyjama pants before the smoothing:

Here they are after. No problem.

The crunchiest items were the jeans. To soften them up a bit, I just rubbed them together at the waistband.

The weave cotton items could not be smoothed out. So out of the nearly 100 items washed, I decided to put 4 cotton weave dresses and 1 pair of pants into the dryer for one minute to fluff. It worked okay, not great. I am not sure I will try it again. It is a small stain on my otherwise dryer-free experience. Purist! An iron was probably necessary but I was too lazy.

The next step is all the adult clothes and linens/towels. I have completed 2 loads so far! As expected, hanging is a breeze as there are way fewer items than with kid’s clothes. Plus, drying rack space does not get used up so fast. Bonus.

Overall, the entire process was not nearly as hard as I thought, and more gratifying than I ever imagined. It sounds weird, but I feel more connected to the clothes, more responsible for them somehow. Just doing this has opened my eyes to the full impact that our clothes have on the environment. The fabric production process utilizes an astonishing amount of water, and then we continue to use water and energy to maintain them. So that has me thinking – what else can we do to reduce our clothing foot print?

Air Dry

I have never air dried my clothes. There is one exception – when I was pregnant I borrowed maternity clothes from a friend and didn’t want them to shrink. She air dried them, so I did too. All other clothes have always gone in the dryer, every time.

I briefly thought about this fact when we were in Australia 6 years ago. Apparently most people air dry their clothes there and don’t even own dryers. I felt a slight twinge of guilt for not doing the same, but that feeling quickly passed when I realized how much extra work it would be. Plus how are you supposed to dry your clothes outside when it is below freezing 6 months a year? This is not Australia people, this is Canada.

Once I had kids, the thought of having to air dry all the little baby clothes and blankets seemed crazy to me. Have you seen how much laundry babies make? Kids can make even more, due to the sloppiness of eating and the dirtiness of playing. I felt thankful for my dryer, and continued to push through load after load.

Well, I have been putting laundry off since I have turned over my fresh new environmental leaf (about 3 weeks ago). I now have a totally different way of thinking. One of my main goals is to live the life I want everyone else to live, so I really want reduce my carbon footprint. Now I am pretty sure the big 5 – fridge, stove, dishwasher, washer and dryer – are pulling out a lot of wattage. The most wasteful one right off the bat seems to be the dryer, since there is a relatively easy viable alternative. This is the reason why Australians hang their clothes, as do many people in Europe. So I should just suck it up, and give it a try.

Today I went out and bought two extra hanging racks. Check it out (third rack not shown):

As stood in front of the washer and drier I wondered how I was going to deal with all the little socks and underwear. Then I realized it was staring right at it – laundry shelves! Perfect. You can see by the amount of underwear (note that there are additional rows in some places) that I have been really putting off laundry.

My husband said when he saw all the kids’ underwear and socks, that it gave him the same image of someone comin’ home after a duck hunt. Ewww.

So anyway… here is the analysis, having just completed the hanging:

  1. Load by load, this is much faster. I mean, you have to wait about 50 minutes between each cycle when you use the dryer. With the washer only, you can be in there to switch loads in about 25. So for these 4 loads it took just over 2 hours.
  2. Load by load, it takes a lot longer to hang all these little people clothes up, compared to chucking them in the dryer. It took me about 15 minutes per load to hang, and I was getting faster by the end. The grownup people loads would be even faster of course, as there is about one-third the items per load.
  3. I feel like although it took longer to hang, it will be faster to fold. Much of the sorting is done (some pairs of socks already hanging together as you can see).
  4. I actually don’t mind the act of hanging, or folding too much. It is somehow relaxing, and I cannot explain why.
  5. I feel good. My dryer stayed quiet and cold.

There is one thing I am a bit worried about – what shape the clothes will be when they are fully dry? The climate here is quite dry in the winter, so wet things dry really fast. This is a good thing, since I have another 8 loads or so waiting in line… But drying fast means that fabric can feel stiff, crunchy even. Maybe excessive shaking out or precision folding will help with that. Worst case scenario is that some items go back in to the dryer for one minute for a fluff. I will let you know.

Being an accountant, I want to put numbers to all this stuff. How much power do I actually save based on my total drying time and the kWh used by my dryer?

Find these things out, I will.

Turn it Off, Turn it Down

Today I plugged in all our chargers and electronics upstairs into one surge strip bar, so that I could turn the whole thing off at night. Apparently a lot of energy is wasted by leaving power converters plugged in, even if they are not charging anything. Plus if you have one of those TVs where the red standby button stays on, you are burning electricity for the privilege of a quick start up time next time. So line it up like this, in an easy to reach spot…

…and turn it off at night. Easy peasy.

Secondly (yes I did two things today!) I set our thermostat to a weekly schedule. I had already turned it down, but now it goes down even lower than before on weekdays and at night. More savings!

The catch is that I work part-time, so we are home sometimes during the day, like today. I am currently wearing an extra sweater, as are my kids. Really though, I noticed that the house kept its temperature better today, due to the bright sunshine we had streaming through the windows. We have a sunroom, and it warmed up considerably, as compared to outside. It was probably 10°C (18°F) warmer than the outside temperature! The power of the Sun… if only we could harness the thing to turn all this free energy into a form we could use everyday… Hmmmmm, let me think…

 Anyway, it will be interesting to see how all these small changes add up. Now that I am thinking about this stuff, my head is swimming with new ideas on what I can do.

Stay tuned!

Turn Off the Light

Nelly Furtato. Not only is she a Canadian girl with a cool sense of style, but she had it right. Ya gotta turn off the lights. Now she might have been singing more about holding up a rough and tough exterior until the lights go out. But really, how rough and tough can you be with all these lights on?

Wait a minute… why are all these lights in my house on?!?

My house is lit up like a Christmas tree at night. Part of it has to do with the fact that it is dark outside right now from 5 pm to 8 am. Also, I share my lodgings with a 2-year old and a 5 year-old, who have limited physical access to the light switch. But mostly, it is due to bad habits. We leave lights on.

So my challenge today is to see how much kilowatt hours of energy I can save in a month by going around turning off lights everywhere. Let’s live in the dark people! Really though, you only need a light in the room that you are currently in. You don’t need lights on in rooms that you will most likely visit in the next few minutes, but are not visiting now.

Typically, my kitchen light is always on, until late at night. My living room lights are always on. My kids’ bedroom lights are always on, in case they want to wander into their rooms to play. Hallway lights are also on to accommodate said wandering. But do we need all those lights on all the time?

I got a great idea! I can equip my kids with crank-powered LED light head gear, so that they can get around safely in our dark house, just like a couple of miniature miners. Is that pushing it too far? (kidding!)

But what else can I turn off? How low can I go?

I am reading “Sleeping Naked is Green” by Vanessa Farquharson right now. In the book she attempts to “green” her life from top to bottom. One of the things she tries is taking her morning shower in the dark. She rationalizes that showering in the dark is closer to sleeping in your bed than showering in the light. So I tried it. She’s got a point, it was not too bad.

So today’s resolution is to have a maximum of 4 lights on at all times when the kids are awake. When the kids are asleep, then we can have a max of 2 lights. That is one light per person, which should be more than enough.

I am sure it won’t be a problem, especially if we are spending time together as a family.