It is no small joy to get a wash on the line, see it blow in the sunshine and get a fresh smell like no washing powder will ever achieve. I’ve never owned a tumble dryer. Three Ikea drying racks above a radiator, a clothes horse given to me by my mother and the washing line have done it all. In the colder, wetter months laundry finishes in the hot press and by then the wash basket has filled again. We call the room where it all happens the Futility Room for a reason.
I got thinking about laundry when a reader, Jim, got in touch to suggest another eco step to take this year. Hang clothes overnight on a clothes horse before tumble drying them, he suggests, if you must tumble. And hopefully what he calls the solar and wind system that is a washing line has had a boost from the working from home era.
Until recently there were two environmental considerations to laundry: the first was the chemical residues: phosphates, parabens, palm oil and volatile organic compounds of those big box washing powders. Then there were the energy requirements.
Recently we’ve learned about a third: the microplastics our clothes shed into the water. All those polyester fleeces, lycra yoga pants and wicking running tops that need washing more often are the culprits. We can replace these clothes with natural fibre garments, or wash synthetic items separately to reduce the pollution. But clothing and washing machine manufacturers have a responsibility to prevent the pollution of our oceans (and ourselves because these microplastics are small enough to be ingested by us in our food).
Another no-brainer is to wash our clothes less often. This makes clothes, like jeans, last longer.
Our best laundry breakthrough has been the purchase of an Eco Egg – ecoegg.com/reduces-plastic/ – in our lovely corner grocer, Marlowe and Co. The gadget, about the size of a modest Easter egg, goes in with the clothes and eliminates the need for washing powder or fabric conditioner. It contains dozens of small ceramic and mineral pellets which do the job of physically lifting the dirt out of the clothes as it chunders around with them in the drum.
I road tested it today at 30 degrees on a grimy jacket (my mud streaks are more impressive than anyone else’s in the house now) and it works. You have to refill the pellets every 70 washes or so but it’s cheaper, with less packaging, no nasties and no gunk in the washing machine drawer. The only thing you don’t get is the detergent smell. But who needs that when you have eau de fresh air?
Catherine Cleary is co-founder of Pocket Forests