There's nothing quite like the smell of fresh laundry. Unfortunately this clean laundry smell that we are all familiar with is generally the result of some sneaky chemical nasties found in conventional laundry powders and liquids.
Wanting to be more eco-friendly, over the years I have tried out a few different zero waste alternatives, with varying results. Let's compare my three most successful experiments.
Zero Waste Alternative #1: Soap Nuts
30c or less per wash
Soap nuts are the fruit of the Sapindus plant, which are native to tropical regions in the north and south hemispheres. The "nuts" are actually the berries of the tree, and contain a natural detergent called saponin.
Soap nuts work best at water temperatures of 40 degrees and above. To use in your washing machine, just pop them into a canvas bag, put them directly into the drum and away you go. These are low-sudsing, so don't expect to see a lot of bubbles. Soap nuts alone won't give your laundry any particular smell, so if you prefer your clothes to be scented after a wash, then just add ten drops of the essential oil of your choice to the canvas bag.
For handwashing, I take the nuts out of the bag and put them into a jar of hot water, give it a good shake to get the saponins going, and then transfer that into the basin, sink, or whatever I'm washing the clothes in.
After four to five washes, just take the spent nuts out of the bag, and throw them on the compost heap.
I find that these are good for the day-to-day washing of clothes that need to be freshened as opposed to garments that are heavily soiled or stained. For that reason I don't think they are the best choice for families, as they really aren't up to the job of food or grass stains and the like.
The verdict on soap nuts:
Cost per wash: 1/5
Dirt busting power:2/5
Zero Waste Alternative #2: DIY Laundry Powder
8c or less per wash
To make this laundry powder you will need:
1 bar of natural soap
2 cups of washing soda (soda crystals)
I used our Lime and Pineapple soap bar because I absolutely love the smell, but you can use about 110g of any natural soap bar. It's a simple process:
Step 1: Grate the soap bar, then lay it out in a thin layer on a tray. Leave to dry out for one or two days. It is important that the soap flakes are dried out properly, so that they will take powder form as opposed to a paste in the next step.
Step 2: Put the soap flakes into a food processor and pulse until they are almost a powder.
Step 3: Add two cups of washing soda (I bought mine in a cardboard box ages ago, but now, after much searching, I found some in Tesco (in plastic packaging)for €1.39 per Kg) and pulse to combine.
And that's it! I use one tablespoon of this per wash, which means that this recipe will give you more or less 36 washes, with more than half of the washing soda left for next time.
This is the method I use the most. It gets the clothes really clean, even at 30 degrees and leaves them smelling gorgeous! Also, a maximum of 8c per wash is brilliant.
The verdict on DIY laundry powder:
Cost per wash: 5/5
Dirt busting power: 5/5
Eco friendliness: 4/5 (but it depends on what soap you use, really)
Zero Waste Alternative #3: Refills
25c per wash
This is the easiest and most convenient of the three - just get your empty detergent bottle or any container refilled with laundry detergent. Simple as. The one I use is Ecover Non-Bio. They recommend 50ml per 6-8kg wash. It works really well at all temperatures and smells lovely and fresh, too.
The verdict on refills:
Dirt busting power:5/5
The overall verdict
While soap nuts are the ideal when it comes to eco friendly laundry, realistically the powder or the refills will give you the best result, especially if you have kids or if your laundry is more than lightly soiled.
I find that with this, as with a lot of minimal waste laundry options, you have to decide which one you are happier to spend: your money or your time. if you have the time, go ahead and make the powder and save yourself some money. If grating soap is too much of a faff for you, then just get a refill - problem solved.
If you have any suggestions for different ways to deal with your laundry, or know where you can buy washing soda in cardboard packaging, I'd be delighted to hear about it.