Eco-friendly laundry routine

How to do laundry with less impact on the environment

Countless detergents on supermarket shelves spoil consumers with lots of choice. Many types of detergent are superfluous and hurt both on your wallet and on the environment.

Only in Germany every year more than 600,000 tons of detergent and more than 250,000 tons of fabric softener end up in the wastewater. Year after year the amount continuously increases. Not all of the detergent ingredients decompose in a sewage treatment plant. Many are toxic to aquatic organisms and can migrate into our rivers, lakes and even the sea. Therefore, it is better for the environment if as little detergent as possible is used.

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What’s in the detergent?

Surfactants are the main components of the detergent. They ensure that the surface tension of the water is reduced. This allows better absorption of water by the laundry. They have a high fat-dissolving power. They can be made from petroleum or renewable raw materials.

Detergents also contain other substances such as bleach, enzymes, fragrances, softeners or – in liquid detergents – preservatives. Bleach oxidizes the organic dyes found in dirt. This will decolorize and bleach the dirt. Enzymes are proteins. The different enzymes help dissolve different types of stains. As a rule, fragrances do not have a cleaning effect, but give the detergent and the washed laundry a nice odour.

The most environmentally harmful substances in detergents are surfactants, fragrances and enzymes. Surfactants must now be biodegradable in the EU. Enzymes ensure good washing power at low temperatures. They work between temperatures of 30 to 60 degrees Celsius. Fragrances remain an issue. These are often toxic and also difficult to degrade. There is no legal regulation for the protection of water bodies against them.

Organic detergents consist of bio-based raw materials. However, not all natural raw materials should end up in water bodies, as they too can be toxic to aquatic organisms. Therefore, their manufacturers should be asked whether all ingredients are also easily biodegradable and whether ecotoxic fragrances are used, such as limonene.

Which detergent do I need?

Even if detergents fill the supermarket shelves: only three products are really necessary: a heavy-duty detergent, a color detergent and a wool detergent.

  • A heavy-duty detergent is the one suitable for light and white textiles. It contains bleach and ensures that the laundry does not turn gray.
  • The color detergent does not contain bleach. It is therefore suitable for colored and dark textiles because it does not make the colors fade.
  • For wool and silk you need a wool detergent. Normal detergents would matt the wool.

Tip: If a stain persists, pre-treat it with gall soap.

Correct dosage

The dosage is different for each detergent and is usually specified on the packaging in the form of a table. It is best to consciously stick to the dosage, because it is not generally applicable to all detergents and depends on various factors. The dosage depends on how dirty the textiles are, the capacity of the washing machine and how hard the water is. You can ask the waterworks about the degree of water hardness or you can quickly find it out on the Internet. If too much detergent is used, it may not wash out completely. This can cause skin irritation for people with sensitive skin or allergies.

Tip: Most measuring cups are difficult to read. Use a pen to mark the measuring cup with the appropriate amount for lightly soiled and heavily soiled laundry. This makes correct dosing easier, and you won’t overdose.

Soap nuts: yes or no?

The washing effect of soap nuts is not convincing. Deficits are shown both in stain removal and in the whitening of the laundry. Of course, this is not surprising when you compare soap nuts with detergents. Detergents also contain active ingredients that care for and descale the washing machine. This is important so that the machine runs as long as possible. Besides, if textiles remain stained or yellow, they may not be worn as long as they should be. Another problem is that soap nuts are imported to us from abroad. People in poorer countries that do not have a functioning sewage treatment plant infrastructure also have fewer soap nuts available and they are expensive for the local population.

Powder or liquid?

Detergents are available as powder and liquid detergents. Powder detergents are better for the environment. For one thing, they don’t need preservatives. In addition, liquid detergents contain more surfactants. Compact powder detergents are more environmentally friendly. They do not require fillers, as is often the case with bulk packs. Fillers have no washing effect and unnecessarily pollute the environment. There are also modular systems where you can mix the components together yourself. These systems cope without unnecessary additives and are therefore recommended. Not using fragrances such as essential oils is also better for the environment.

At what temperatures do you wash?

Low temperatures save energy. A temperature of 30 degrees Celsius is sufficient for most washes. Nevertheless, it is important to wash once a month at 60 degrees with a heavy-duty detergent. So no germs form in the washing machine. Up to 90 percent of the energy consumed is used to heat the water. The higher the temperature setting, the more energy is used.

Why skip the fabric softener?

Fabric softeners pollute the water particularly heavily. Fabric softeners are not required for the actual washing and cleaning process. If you don’t want to do laundry without it, use fabric softener as sparingly as possible. We advise against the use of a fabric softener. A substitute could be using vinegar instead of fabric softener.

Which labels to look out for?

In Europe – Blue Angel or the EU Ecolabel. The criteria of the Blue Angel are usually a bit stricter, which is why we recommend the Blue Angel.

Why does the eco-program of washing machines take so long?

Modern washing machines have a high washing performance even at low temperatures. The longer exposure time that the detergent has in these programs saves a lot of energy.

Clothesline instead of a dryer

With modern washing machines, the laundry gets clean in an energy-saving mode. Since, according to the Wuppertal Institute, the washing process accounts for around 75 percent of resource consumption over the life of a garment, washing at low temperatures is highly recommended from an environmental point of view. You also save a lot of energy if you dry the laundry on the clothesline instead of in the dryer. If the drying rack is in the apartment, don’t forget to air it regularly.

Keep your washing machine clean

To ensure that the machine lasts a long time and stays clean, it is important to observe the following instructions:

  • Wash at least once a month at 60 degrees with a heavy-duty detergent. This is important to prevent germs from forming in the washing machine.
  • Also remember to clean the powder compartment regularly.
  • Leave the washing machine door ajar when not in use. After the washing process, also leave the powder compartment open to dry.
  • If the water is hard, descale the washing machine once a year with citric acid (without laundry, of course).
  • Always clean the fluff filter.
  • Clean sealing rubber.


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