Zero waste laundry: the natural, sustainable and eco-friendly way

My story with laundry…

Some time ago, I discovered that after many years of regular use, I developed an adverse skin reaction to the standard laundry powders I bought at my supermarket. Weird, right!? I broke out in a horrible itchy rash and had hives covering my body in large, blotchy patches. After some detective work and a few anti-histamines later, I narrowed the cause down to my laundry powder after ruling out foods, environmental and other possible medical causes. I initially trialled switching to other laundry brands that catered to sensitive skin or marketed themselves as “eco-friendly” and my skin slowly recovered, so this is what I stuck with to clean my laundry for a number of years.

I recently developed an interest in simple living and minimalism (intentional living and mindfulness, minus the pretentious bits), and I wanted to try my hand at making my own laundry detergent, but eventually found that most of the recipes I discovered online were more trouble than they were worth i.e. I would have had to buy several ingredients that I would otherwise not necessarily have bought just to make one product. This idea of D.I.Y. laundry detergent ended up not being all that cost-effective or even effective in terms of cleaning better than conventional detergents.

I was dismayed. Why couldn’t there be a simpler alternative?

And then, I discovered organic soap berries (also known as soap nuts due to their appearance)

I now use soap berries as an alternative way to wash my laundry instead of store-bought laundry powders or liquids. I had never heard of them before stumbling across them online and they weren’t sold in any of the standard supermarkets I frequented. Naturally, I was sceptical at first as it seemed like such an unusual idea. I mean, using something that looked like a dried nut to wash my clothes? Really? Yes, really.

I asked myself the following four critical questions:

  1. Can these berries really clean my clothes? i.e. will they remove odours, sweat, stains, etc.?
  2. Is it an affordable way for me to do my laundry? i.e. does it cost less per wash versus standard laundry detergents?
  3. Will using soap berries be a healthy alternative for my skin? i.e. must not have any adverse skin reactions.
  4. Does this product align with my values for a sustainable environment? i.e. no plastic packaging, no added fragrances/chemicals, eco-friendly/natural, biodegradable/compostable.

The answers I found to these questions (all in the affirmative) led me to try organic soap berries, and I haven’t looked back. ^_^”

So, why soap berries?

Green creds: I bought the soap berries in bulk in a one kilogram bag from an Australian company called That Red House. They also come in 250 gram and 500 gram sizes. That Red House are the supplier of Australia’s first Certified Organic Soap berries. Not only are they organic, but soap berries are vegan, biodegradable, eco-friendly, fragrance-free and chemical-free.

Bulk benefits equals cost benefits: The one kilogram bag I bought will apparently last me for over 365 washes! I’ve done the figures and this certainly works out to be much more economical than making my own laundry detergent or continuing to buy standard laundry powders.

Zero waste and plastic-free: The soap berries came in a large cotton drawstring bag with two additional small cotton bags for your actual laundry loads. There was absolutely no plastic packaging whatsoever, which is always a bonus.

A little goes a long way: According to That Red House, to use the soap berries, place approximately five berries in one of the little cotton bags provided, tie the top so they don’t go all over the place, and just pop it in the wash along with your dirty clothes. Run your load. It’s as easy as that. And, those same five berries can go on to wash another five loads of laundry before being placed in your compost bin i.e. five soap berries equals five full loads of laundry. Isn’t that amazing?

Biodegradable and Compostable: Once your five soap berries have washed five loads of laundry for you, you can pop them straight into the compost bin. No need to recycle anything or add to landfill. Zero waste!

Less chemicals for better health: I had to get used to my clothes coming out of the washing machine without the added scents or perfumes that are typically present in the standard laundry detergents I was used to. My clothes just smelled like, well, clean clothes. Over time, I’ve found that this is actually what I prefer. Weirdly, I’ve noticed these days that traditional laundry scents actually overwhelm my sense of smell! <_<“

Conscious choice: I highly recommend you try this method of washing your laundry, especially if you live in a soft water area like Sydney, Australia. It definitely saved me money and not only decreased the chemicals in my life and improved my health, but also simplified a routine chore that we all have to do on the regular.

Overall, I love the simplicity and value that such a simple change has brought into my life. By just going on this simple adventure and making this simple change, I feel I live more sustainably, produce less waste, and am more conscious of the choices I make as a consumer not just with laundry, but on the whole. By making sure that where I spend my dollars align with my values for a greener and more sustainable world, I allow myself to support the companies that do good in both an ethical and environment sense. 

But, how do I keep count?

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and compost!

The one issue I had during my soap berry adventure was keeping count of how many wash loads I had used for each bag of five berries. I initially kept count using numbered pieces of paper, but decided to get creative with this problem by making my own do-it-yourself counter using materials I already had on hand.
Being thrifty, creative and harnessing that do-it-yourself self-reliance is for-the-win!

DIY Ribbon counter for Soap berries

You will need:

  • A length of ribbon/twine ~ 50 cm or so (it doesn’t have to be accurate)
  • Five or six spare buttons (mine all match as they were from a leftover project, but yours don’t have to!)

How to make your ribbon counter:

  • Simply thread the spare buttons through your length of ribbon so that they are able to slide up and down the length. This means you need room for the buttons themselves and maybe 10 cm extra sliding room on the ribbon.
  • Tie the end of the ribbon in a knot.
  • Find a home in your laundry area to hang your lovely new creation.

How to use your ribbon counter:

I hang my ribbon counter off a shelf just above my washing machine. Every time I put a load of laundry on, I slide one button halfway down the length of the ribbon. When the washing load has finished, I slide that same button the rest of the way down. That way, once all five or so buttons are at the bottom end of the ribbon, I know it is time to change the soap berries.  After I pop in five new ones and compost the used berries, I can reset the ribbon counter by sliding the buttons back to the top, ready to go again. Simple, but super effective. ^_^”

So far, the soap berries and ribbon counter have been working like a charm (other than with one or two incidents where I forgot to tie up the drawstring bag and had to have a bit of a berry hunt through my clean wet clothes) ~_~”

I write this blog post in the hope of sharing what I’ve learnt and hopefully inspiring you to find value in simplifying your everyday life too.

While it may not seem like it, simplifying our lives through making conscious choices of even the smallest-seeming parts in life like doing laundry, is definitely a worthwhile endeavour. It is simply about taking a small step back to consider the variables that make up our everyday actions and just thinking about what the different consequences of those actions can be. I think you inevitably force yourself to expand your mind and consider what alternatives your actions can take. This is huge because you will have opened your mind to the possibility that you can live simply and intentionally.

By simply asking myself how I could do my laundry in a more sustainable, more eco-friendly, more cost-effective, and more health-conscious way, I was able to change my actions to match my values (with some research and motivation sprinkled in there too).

My Laundry Essentials

  • Buy organic soap berries in bulkOne kilogram equals 365+ laundry loads, which for me, equates to one full years’ worth of laundry for the price of $41.00 AUD (free shipping). That is a huge saving from using store-bought powders and detergents.
  • Always wash with full loads – Doing less loads means less energy wasted. Check out what the maximum load is for your particular washing machine and make sure to hit close to the mark to make the most of your energy and water use.
  • Wash clothes only when dirty! This sounds like an obvious one, but you’d be surprised how often you’d wash something out of habit just because it’s been worn once. A good example would be a pair of jeans. Some people wash their jeans once a year and just air out or spot clean when needed! 😮 Your clothes will last longer, colours won’t fade as quickly, and you will get a lot more wear out of those items you own.
  • Always wash laundry in cold water – Preserves fabrics and colours; saves energy otherwise required to heat water (unless you specifically need to sanitise items such as reusable diapers).
  • Always hang clothes out to line dry when possible – Ditch the dryer! Dryers are an ongoing waste of money and energy. Our sun naturally dries, whitens and sanitises using UV light. It is a completely free, sustainable and eco-friendly resource we can all utilise! Just remember to dry some items inside-out to preserve colours.
  • Side note: For those of us who live in apartments that are ruled by archaic by-laws that restrict the hanging of laundry on balconies, you may have to be creative and use an indoor clothes airer to dry your clothes rather than using the sun. My partner recently made a clothes airer that has a pulley system to make the most of our limited apartment space.
  • Aim to do laundry during off-peak electricity times (10 pm-7 am in Sydney) to save that little bit more on energy usage. Check with your local electricity provider or your most recent energy bill. Many washing machines these days also have a time delay setting so you can set it to run while you sleep and then just hang your laundry out when you wake.
  • Keep a bucket in the laundry room sink to catch greywater and use it to water your thirsty houseplants. This water can also be saved for any clothing items that need gentle hand washing or to flush your toilet.
  • It also helps to have a water and energy-efficient washing machine in the first place so if you’re in the market for one, try to buy one with as many energy efficiency stars as you can. It definitely pays off in the long run. Also, utilise the eco-wash function if your machine has one to save even more power, water and money! Don’t forget to turn off your washing machine at the point when not in use to prevent wasted standby power.
  • Random tip: Hang out clean clothes with a good snap to straighten them before hanging to minimise wrinkles. Or simply minimise the clothes you have that require ironing or special care.
soapberries2a
Zero waste laundry using soap berries, line-drying and the sun!

Oh, and also, I encourage you to support a 100% Australian-owned company that is doing the right thing by sustainability and the environment. I think companies that go to that extra effort to be certified organic and actually incorporate sustainable practices as a core initiative need to be recognised and praised. So shoot That Red House an email and congratulate them on their plastic-free packaging, organic certification or their stance on sustainability. Hopefully, they can inspire other companies to do the same ^_^”

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