Sustainable washing

Degree of effort: medium – Level of impact: high


  • Purchase basic ingredients (if not done after the last post)
  • Make your own detergent (powder or liquid)
  • Use alternatives for fabric softener and stain elimination
  • Try to make your washing sustainable with sustainable detergent, low doses, low temperatures and drying on the line
  • Get a washing bag and check your clothes for synthetic fibers


Washing our clothes imposes an enormous strain on our environment. Most detergents pollute the washing water and even biological alternatives are often not biodegradable. Some ingredients can cause skin irritation and many are toxic to wildlife (see article below). Addtionally, washing requires lots of water and electricity. Detergents are also quite expensive, especially if you wash regularly. Washing at lower temperatures and reducing the amount of detergent to the minimum possible, already helps budget and nature. Drying should be done on the line or rack, instead of using a dryer. Many clothes are made of synthetic fibers (especially outdoor and sportswear), which are essentially types of plastic. While washing these clothes, small particles of plastic rub off and pollute the washing water as microplastics.

My experience:

When I moved into my new flat, I did not have any detergent to make my first round of washing. So this was the perfect opportunity to look for sustainable options. I went to the bulk ware store, where they offered biological detergents, fabric softeners and the like. There I could have purchased plastic free alternatives. I wanted to make things myself, though. Therefore, I bought the most important ingredients for making a lot of household articles myself: baking soda, washing soda, vinegar, citric acid and washing/hard soap. (See last post) Additionally, I purchased some essential oil (lavender smell for my clothes).

As I was lacking one ingredient for a washing powder, I cooked my own washing liquid after the following recipe (only in German):

DSC_1097 shredding the hard soap

Here is a great article about the issue, also including a recipe (in English):

I was quite content with my results: Clothes where clean, smelled of lavender and they felt quite soft – without additional fabric softener – as well.

For stains, I mixed some baking soda with water and rubbed it on the dirty part of the clothes before putting it into the mashine. Some white shirts had sweat stains, so I put citric acid in warm water, added the shirts and let them soak (my source said 4 hours, I only had one). All stains luckily went away 🙂

Instructions for different types of stains (in German):

At the bulkware store, I had also bought some washing nuts out of curiosity. So for another round of washing, I put a hand full in a small bag into the machine between the clothes. Those nuts are imported and therefore might not be that sustainable in the end, but they can be used for several washings, are biodegradable and packing-waste free. I think that it was worth a try and it worked out.

I also put my clothes into a newly purchased washing bag, in order to keep microplastics from entering into the water (they should be properly disposed afterwards):

My personal conclusion: Making my own detergent was easy and even fun. I got ideas for cleaning stains in an environmentally friendly way and found alternatives for wool and other fibers as well. I did not wash outdoor wear with the washing bag yet (only quite old, normal clothes) and therefore did not have microplastics inside, but I will report about it again. When buying new clothes, I will pay attention to synthetic fibers beforehand.

Do you have experience with self-made detergents or fabric softeners? What’s your opinion on the issue?

One thought on “Sustainable washing

  1. Pingback: Sustainable Washing 2 – Catha goes sustainable

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