15 Ways to Make Your Laundry and Clothing More Sustainable

15 Ways to Make Your Laundry and Clothing More Sustainable

How clean are your clothes? In this article, we examine our clothing, from the fibers they're made of to our washing routine, spending habits, and the end-of-life prospects for our favorite outfits once they're no longer wearable. Here are 15 things to consider to make your clothing more sustainable.

1. Avoid plastic detergent jugs. We've all seen those huge plastic laundry detergent jugs at the store. These jugs are made with a high-density polyethylene plastic derived from fossil fuels. They are incredibly harmful to the environment and contribute to much of our household plastic pollution. In North America alone, approximately 35 billion loads of laundry are run every year. Typical estimates suggest an appalling 1 billion laundry jugs are discarded annually, of which only about 30 percent are recycled. The remaining 700 million plastic jugs are finding their way into North American landfills or, even worse, contaminating our oceans and waterways. Use laundry powder packaged in cardboard or paper bags instead. Meliora's laundry detergent is certified Made Safe and much easier to recycle.

2. Laundry pods and sheets are still plastic. Dissolvable laundry pods and sheets come without big plastic containers. But did you know that they actually contain plastic? Many laundry companies advertise their products, like pods and sheets, to be completely plastic-free. However, looking at the ingredients list, you may notice PVA or PVOH (polyvinyl alcohol). These are controversial because, believe it or not, they are plastic. PVA or PVOH films act as a binding agent used to hold laundry pods and sheets together. It's a synthetic, petroleum-based plastic ingredient meant to dissolve in water. Instead, it could disintegrate into tiny plastic fragments known as microplastics. Unfortunately, studies show the plastic used in these products is still making its way into our oceans and water supply.

3. Stop using fabric softeners. They come in plastic jugs, just as bad as detergent jugs, and should be avoided. Fabric softeners are also pretty useless since they don't wash or clean your clothes or remove stains and smells. Instead, they coat your clothes in a waxy build-up that makes them feel soft to the touch. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) advises against using fabric softeners altogether because they have multiple harmful ingredients.

4. Ditch dryer sheets. Dryer sheets are another plasticky item commonly used when doing laundry. They're meant to soften clothing, minimize static cling, and leave a fresh scent. Each sheet can only be used once and cannot be recycled, and they are disposed of in landfills where they will remain for many years. And they're made from nonwoven polyester (a synthetic fiber) coated with quaternary ammonium salts of fatty acids or a stearic acid. They're full of chemicals that go into your clothes, onto your skin and pollute the ecosystem. Try wool dryer balls instead. They are an eco-friendly, sustainable alternative to single-use dryer sheets and fabric softeners. They soften clothing by bouncing off them, and they also assist in keeping items separated in the dryer so air can circulate more efficiently, cutting drying time by up to 40% for each load. Best of all, they can endure a remarkable 1,000 loads.

5. Consider cold water washing to reduce microplastic waste. According to research, the average household in North America releases 533 million synthetic microfibers (equal to about 135 grams) into the water system per year just by doing laundry. All clothing sheds microfibers when you wash it, but the washing of synthetic textiles (fleece, acrylics, polyesters, and blends) is a major source of microplastic pollution in rivers and oceans. Wash synthetic fabrics on a delicate setting with cold water. Synthetic materials break down less with cold water and a quick cycle. Also, consider washing your clothes less often.

6. Use a microfiber filter when you wash your clothes. A Guppyfriend bag is a fabric bag made of a specially designed micro-filter material that you wash your clothes in and keeps microplastics out of wastewater. The Guppyfriend has been scientifically proven 86% effective at reducing synthetic microfibers from shedding into our rivers and oceans, and it protects your clothes.

7. Try a gentler bleach alternative. Using chlorine bleach registered with the US EPA in common household applications is safe. Still, consumers should carefully follow manufacturer instructions on the product label. Chlorine bleach is quite harsh on fabrics and can form deadly dioxins when mixed with other environmental elements. A much gentler option is Meliora's Oxygen Brightener.

8. Pre-treat any stains. Use Meliora's Soap Stick before throwing your laundry into the washer. The Soap Stick is a people- and planet-friendly stain remover made with non-toxic ingredients, and it's much more environmentally friendly than using the hot water setting or chemical stain removers.

9. Skip the dryer and hang to dry instead. Energy efficiency has improved significantly in the past couple of decades. Despite these advancements, research estimates the country's annual carbon dioxide emissions from home laundry at 179 million metric tons. Hanging your clothes to dry is more energy efficient and a gentler option. It can prevent unnecessary wear and tear on your clothes and prevent the need to buy replacements. If you must use a dryer, the Energy Department recommends using lower heat settings and dryer balls to help separate your clothes.

10. Swap out synthetic clothes for natural fibers. Our clothes contaminate the planet with all the microfibers they release. And not just when we wash our clothing. According to recent studies, even wearing synthetic garments contributes significantly to the release of microfibers into the air. Scientists have found that polyester clothing can release up to 14 ounces of fibers in just 20 minutes of wear. Microfibers are what we call microplastics derived from textiles due to their shape. When your clothes need replacing, consider purchasing sustainable natural fabrics. Check out plant-based fabrics like organic cotton, recycled cotton, hemp, linen, bamboo linen, and even jute. You can also look into natural animal fabrics like alpaca wool, merino wool, sheep wool, cashmere, down, and silk. Many rural communities depend on the money they get from selling these materials and fibers. You can often find certifications that help ensure the well-being and ethical treatment of the animals in their care.

11. Practice "Slow Fashion." It is the opposite of the industry business strategy known as "Fast Fashion," which produces inexpensive, low-quality clothing that needs to be changed more frequently, with prices at an all-time low. This business model has serious negative consequences on our health, the planet, and on textile workers' lives. In contrast, slow fashion promotes investing in higher-quality, more durable clothing. It upholds the principles of ethical treatment of people, animals, and the environment. When you shop for clothing, avoid fast fashion, buy timeless styles rather than trendy ones, and plan to wear your clothes for many years. Good On You provides a great rating system to help you buy better, more sustainable fashion.

12. Buy Fair Trade. If you want to know that the clothes you buy are made using ethical and sustainable techniques, look for the "fair trade" label certification. Fairtrade establishes standards for clothing production that emphasize sustainable resources like organic cotton, the use of environmentally friendly production processes, and the expansion of worker access to essentials like healthcare and other important necessities. The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) has ten guiding principles that member companies should follow in their daily operations.

13. Recycle your clothes. H&M will recycle any unwanted garments or textiles by any brand and in any condition for free. You can also check out Earth 911's Recycling Locator to find the best way to recycle those stained, torn, or unwearable textiles. Terracycle also has a Fabrics and Clothing - Zero Waste Box to recycle fabric and clothing materials.

14. Mend, patch, and repair your clothes. Doing this can help you save some of your favorite garments for years of use. You may even think of creative ways to repurpose a special outfit into something entirely new. The most sustainable garment is the one you already own.

15. Purchase second-hand clothing. The EPA reports that Americans produce 17 million tons of textile trash annually, slightly under 6% of all municipal garbage. We can lessen our collective effect on that number if we wear second-hand clothes. Mended, swapped, and upcycled garments are a perfect way to reduce our consumption habits.



Black, K. (2011). Business Statistics: For Contemporary Decision Making. In Google Books. John Wiley & Sons. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=fdQQwEcC6bYC&pg=PA53&lpg=PA53#v=onepage&q&f=false

Chlorine Bleach/Sodium Hypochlorite Solution. (2022, September 30). Retrieved from Chemical Safety Facts website: https://www.chemicalsafetyfacts.org/chemicals/chlorine-bleach-sodium-hypochlorite-solution/

Dant, G., & Leeds, U. of. (2020, January 14). Quicker and cooler is best for clothes. Retrieved from phys.org website: https://phys.org/news/2020-01-quicker-cooler.html

Golden, J. S., Subramanian, V., Irizarri, G. M. A. U., White, P., & Meier, F. (2010). Energy and carbon impact from residential laundry in the United States. Journal of Integrative Environmental Sciences, 7(1), 53–73. https://doi.org/10.1080/19438150903541873

Minos, S. (n.d.). 16 Ways to Save Money in the Laundry Room. Retrieved from Energy.gov website: https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/articles/16-ways-save-money-laundry-room

Polyvinyl Alcohol - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (n.d.). Retrieved June 12, 2023, from www.sciencedirect.com website: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/chemical-engineering/polyvinyl-alcohol

Rolsky, C., & Kelkar, V. (2021). Degradation of Polyvinyl Alcohol in US Wastewater Treatment Plants and Subsequent Nationwide Emission Estimate. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(11), 6027. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18116027

Sánchez, L. D. (2021, March 3). The invisible threat: microplastics from your clothes. Retrieved from Plastic Soup Foundation website: https://www.plasticsoupfoundation.org/en/2021/03/the-invisible-threat-microplastics-from-your-clothes/

Skip the most toxic fabric softeners | Environmental Working Group. (2022, August 16). Retrieved June 12, 2023, from www.ewg.org website: https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news/2022/08/skip-most-toxic-fabric-softeners#:~:text=The%20most%20worrisome%20preservatives%20in

University of Plymouth. (2020, March 9). Wearing clothes could release more microfibers to the environment than washing them. Retrieved from ScienceDaily website: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/03/200309221340.htm

Vassilenko, K., Watkins, M., Chastain, S., Posacka, A., & Ross, P. (n.d.). Me, My Clothes and the Ocean THE ROLE OF TEXTILES IN MICROFIBER POLLUTION OCEAN WISE SCIENCE FEATURE. Retrieved from https://tinyurl.com/mwyktpdh

Wang, L. (2008, April 18). What’s that stuff? Dryer Sheets. Retrieved from Acs.org website: https://cen.acs.org/articles/86/i15/Dryer-Sheets.html#

WFTO. (2019, March 21). Our Fair Trade System. Retrieved from World Fair Trade Organization website: https://wfto.com/our-fair-trade-system#10-principles-of-fair-trade

Leave a comment