How to avoid harsh chemicals when washing clothes

June 30, 2015

Looking after your clothes properly will give them a longer life. Whether you wash by hand or machine, select appropriate washing methods and cycles and use non-toxic products. You can avoid the expense of dry-cleaning, and the chemicals associated with it, by washing most items carefully at home.

How to avoid harsh chemicals when washing clothes

Assessing the wash

  • Consider whether you need to wash an item of clothing after wearing it only once. Freshen it by hanging it outside to air for a day.
  • Many clothes that are labelled 'dry-clean only' can in fact be hand-washed with care.
  • Silks and woollens, including furnishings, can often be washed safely by hand in lukewarm or cold water.
  • To give you more wearings between cleans, spot-clean clothes that should only be dry-cleaned.
  • Use pure soap flakes for washing as they're kind to your hands as well as to fabrics.
  • Machine washing, even on a gentle cycle, may be rough on clothes, so hand wash special items.

Machine washing

  • By sorting your washing (whites/coloureds, lightly/heavily soiled, fabric types) you can choose the optimum cycle for your load and get better results.
  • Reduce wear and tear by emptying pockets, tying tapes, turning denim and corduroy inside out, and doing up buttons and zips.
  • Be sure to treat grime and stains before you wash. Either soak the soiled garments overnight or use a pre-wash stain remover.
  • Most laundry loads can be done in cold water, which saves energy and saves you money.
  • Put small or delicate items in an old pillowcase, or special washing bag, before laundering.
  • Wipe out the drum of the washing machine (and around the door seal of a front-loader) after the final load. If the machine tends to smell musty, run a full cycle with 500 millilitres (two cups) of vinegar, but no soap.
  • Rub underarm sweat stains with a paste of vegetable glycerine and cream of tartar. Leave for 24 hours before washing.

All-purpose laundry 'powder'

  • 125 g (1/2 c) washing soda
  • 250 g (1 c) finely grated pure soap
  • 125 g (1/2 c) salt
  • 125 g (1/2 c) borax
  • 125 g (1/2 c) bicarbonate of soda
  1. Put the washing soda crystals in a clean plastic bag and crush them finely with a rolling pin. Mix the crushed washing soda with the rest of the ingredients and store in an airtight box or jar.
  2. Use 15 grams (one tablespoon) for a small load, 22.5 grams (1 1/2 tablespoons) for a medium load and 30 grams (two tablespoons) for a large load. Dissolve in a jug of hot water before adding to a top-loading machine. For a front-loader, dissolve the 'powder' in a small amount of hot water and add to the dispenser.
  3. If using it for hand washing, be sure to wear rubber gloves.
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