In the laundry

Page - January 9, 2007
Cleaning is less harmful to the environment if people use alternative cleaners, rather than products containing chemicals and other environmentally damaging ingredients.

Green your life by choosing cleaners without nasty chemicals.

When making the initial switch from a detergent to a soap laundry cleaner, wash items once with 1/3 cup (80 ml) washing soda only. This will eliminate detergent residues which might otherwise react with soap to cause yellowing of fabrics.

Remember as well that if you have any concerns about the colour fastness of any item which you are cleaning, spot test it first.


Add 1/3 cup (80 ml) washing soda to water as the machine is filling. Add clothes. Then add 1 and a 1/2 cups (375 ml) of soap. If the water is hard, add 1/4 cup (60 ml) soda or 1/4 cup (60 ml) vinegar during the first rinse. For heavily soiled items, try presoaking in warm water with 1/2 cup (125 ml) washing soda for 30 minutes. Rub the soiled areas with liquid soap or a solution of 2 Tbsp (30ml) washing soda in 1 cup (250 ml) warm water.

Softening fabrics (including wool): Add 1/4 cup (60 ml) white vinegar to rinse water.

Wool de-shrinking: Dissolve 2 cups (500 ml) salt in hot water and allow to cool to lukewarm. Soak the garment for 3 hours.

Silk: Soak in approximately 1 cup (250 ml) pure soap and 2 to 3 Tbsp (30-45 ml) baking soda. Squeeze garment gently and rinse thoroughly.

Bleach: Try adding 1/2 cup (125 ml) washing soda to each load of wash to whiten whites and brighten colours. Or add lemon juice to the rinse cycle and hang your clothes outside in the sun which will bleach clothes naturally and will also save energy.

Dry cleaning

Most dry cleaning solvents are toxic - including chlorine and formaldehyde which are highly toxic and carcinogenic. These chemicals can often remain in your clothes even after you bring them home. Try to buy clothes that you can wash rather than dry clean. Many of the clothes that are 'dry clean only' are actually washable by hand with soap and cold water or can just be pressed or ironed.

If the item can't be washed by hand, call around for a cleaning service that practices wet cleaning. Wet cleaning uses heat, steam, vacuum, water and natural soaps to clean your clothes. Wet cleaning also emphasizes skilled labourers who inspect and clean each item of clothing individually.


The first rule of thumb with stains is the sooner you treat them, the more likely you are to completely remove them. The second rule of thumb is to spot test any "remedy" on your fabric first. If the spot you are testing starts to discolour, you can stop it from leaving a stain by "neutralizing" the cleaning agent. For example, the effects of an acid like lemon juice or vinegar, will be neutralized or reversed by adding an alkaline like baking soda and vice versa. Remember to wash after the spot test.

Soiled diapers: Pre-soak in 3 Tbsp (45 ml) baking soda dissolved in warm water in either a tub or washing machine.

Fruit and wine: Immediately pour salt or cold soda water on the stain and soak in milk before washing. In general, it is a good idea to keep some soda water in the fridge as a stain remover.

Grease: Strain boiling water through white cottons and follow with dry baking soda or rub with washing soda in water. For other materials, blot with a towel, dampen stain with water, and rub with soap and baking soda. Follow by washing in water as hot as possible using extra soap. Note: make sure to check washing instructions before using boiling water or washing in hot water.

Ink: Soak in milk or remove with hydrogen peroxide.

Blood: Immediately pour salt or cold soda water on the stain and soak in cold water before washing. For a more stubborn stain, mix cornstarch with either talcum powder or cornmeal in water and apply mixture. Allow to dry and brush away.

Coffee and chocolate: Mix egg yolk with lukewarm water and rub on stain.

Chewing gum: Rub with ice, theum will flake off.

Lipstick: Rub with cold cream or shortening and wash with washing soda.

Rust: Saturate with sour milk (add 2 tsp/10 ml of vinegar to a cup of milk to make it sour) or lemon juice and rub with salt. Place in direct sunlight until dry, then wash.

Mildew: Pour strong soap and salt on the spots, or spray with vinegar and place in sunlight. Keep the spots moist and repeat as often as necessary.

Scorches: Gently boil scorched article in 1 cup (250 ml) soap and 2 quarts/litres milk.

Water marks on wood furniture: Using a dry cloth, rub the mark with vegetable oil or a mixture of butter and enough cigarette ashes to make the butter brown.

Save energy (and money on your power bill)

  • Only do full loads of laundry, use as little water as possible.
  • Up to 90 per cent of the energy used for washing clothes goes to heating the water. A warm wash and cold rinse will work just as well as a hot water wash and a warm rinse on nearly all clothes.
  • Only wash clothes that need it. Outer layers of clothing like shirts, sweaters and pants can be worn more than once without laundering.
  • Hang clothing outside to dry or inside in a dry, warm room to save energy.
  •  If you must use a machine to dry your clothes, clean your dryer's lint trap after every load to keep the air circulating efficiently. Lint build-up is also a fire hazard.