Green Laundry

When I was in New Zealand earlier this year I was away from home for almost six weeks. My wardrobe was cleverly planned, so I did not have to take too many clothes with me. But with less clothes you have to do a lot of washing. That is where my imaginary trip about green laundry started. At home I thought that I would just buy washing powder on the way and wash my clothes where a washing machine was available. New Zealanders do laundry as well, so no problem. More than 36thousand kilometres in a plane and 6thousand in a car later I have a different personal view than when I left home.

Usually I buy green products, I have laundry detergent for normal washing, wool & silk, sportswear, plus a stain remover and some fabric perfume (like fabric softener without the softening effect and mostly nice smell).

washing detergent favourites

In NZ the washing machines are top loader machines *click for wikipedia picture* that do laundry in a totally different way than the casual German front loaders. Therefore the laundry powder is different to the ones I was used to. Given that in hostels mostly cold water washing and shortened washing cycles are provided, my laundry did not get clean more than one time.

Why do they use machines with less efficient mechanical washing power? Why do they shorten the programs to 30 minutes for a full washing cycle, spinning included? Why don’t they allow you to use temperatures above utterly cold? Yes, I know, the answer is absolutely simple: the hostels want to save money, and as you are on a road trip you are not likely to come back either way. Back home I was really happy to use my convenient green products in my own front loader again!

Here are some thoughts about washing green and environmentally friendly that I want to share with you.
Usually you can adjust six parameters:

  • load
  • mechanical power / program
  • temperature
  • time
  • detergent
  • preparation

In New Zealand, the load was not a problem, as there were often large machines with lots of space for the clothes to loosely fit into. The programs were gentle, the temperature low, the time short, the detergent not very suitable for low temperature and short washing cycles. The only thing that was left for me to do was preparation! I did a lot of pre-wash by hand during those six weeks.

The fuller you load the washing machine, the less clean the clothes will come out. In a washing cycle, the wet clothes will soak in water with washing detergent and will move around in the machine. Each time something falls onto another, they clean each other as the weight of the clothes presses the liquid through the fabric. If the machine is too full, the clothes cannot move separately in the machine, instead they will mostly stay in the same position to the other clothes and the cleaning drum.

Every program has its own procedure of washing movements and spinning. A wool program is much more gentle than the program for delicate laundry, and even that is way more gentle than the program for coloured washes. The gentler the program, the more the fabric is treated with care. But also are spots, they can remain if the program is too gentle.

Higher temperature can solve fat and dirt better than lower temperature. Delicate laundry is not suited for higher temperatures, just as little as silk or wool.

The longer a washing cycle takes, the longer have mechanical power and detergent time to clean the clothes.

If you use too much detergent, it cannot dissolve in the water correctly. It may stay in the fabric and be noticable as white streakes or as a musty smell. If you use too little detergent, the washing power is too small to remove dirt and grease. Also, if you don’t adapt to the hardness of water and if needed use a water softener, the washing power again is too small and you can get problems with smell and residue.

The easiest way to get clean clothes is to avoid spills, remove spots before washing and to prepare stains with a pre-wash.


How can this information help you to get clean, good smelling clothes while protecting the environment? You have to know the respective limitations to maximize the washing effect through the other parameters. The most effective thing you can do is a good preparation: remove spots when they occur, and prepare stains before you put something in the washing machine!

Example wool:
Limitations are load, program, temperature and detergent – you only want to put one or two woolen things in the washing machine, have one wool program available, chose low temperature and a wool detergent. So the only parameters you can take into consideration to get your (really dirty) woolen clothes clean are preparation and time. As I said before, remove any visible dirt and prepare stains with a suitable pre-wash. If possible, program a pre-wash to your wool program and/or choose the full length of the wool program (do not shorten the washing time).

Example sports clothes:
Limitations are temperature and detergent. Do not overload the machine and chose the program with the highest mechanical power that is suitable for your clothes (maybe delicate laundry or even coloured wash). Use a pre-wash as this will help to remove sweat (and smell) from the fabric.

Example: light coloured cotton clothes as t-shirts and sweaters:
Fill the machine but do not overload it. You can chose either a gentle but long program or a short colour wash. As the colours are not bright, you could add a detergency enhancer or chose a warmer temperature (40°C instead of 30°C) and instead reduce the washing time or consider a gentler program.

So choose wisely:

  • How much can you put into your washing machine without overloading it?
  • Which program is the gentlest suitable according to the fabric?
  • Is hot temperature needed or would a lower temperature be okay?
  • Can you shorten the standard program and skip some rinsing or spinning?
  • Is your detergent effective enough to remove dirt, but gentle enough for fabric and skin?
  • Can you prepare your laundry and remove spots or soak stains?

What is your tip regarding green laundry?