Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Rethinking Laundry

So, after trying out homemade laundry detergent and not thinking it worth my effort, I started to wonder if it made much of difference to do what I'd been doing for ages: using less detergent than the manufacturer's recommendation. Turns out I was onto something... using lots of detergent leaves residue/buildup on clothing and actually makes them look prematurely dingy. Check out this Wall Street Journal article. Near the end of the article, it quotes Seventh Generation's co-founder Jeffery Hollender in saying, that for most of our clothing, water is really all we need to wash our clothes, and the agitation of the washer does the rest. Now, really, that isn't that crazy since many messes are water soluble. I'm not going to go overboard and say that I've decided to stop using detergent all together. Up to this time, I usually used about half the amount the manufacturer called for. But, what if I did even less, would it make a difference?

I decided to do a bit of my own scientific study on the matter. I got three white clothes of the same material (new birdseye from my clothing diapering days) and swabbed them with the same amount of watermelon juice. Watermelon is a summertime staple at our house and doesn't normally wash out of clothes all by itself, so I figured it would make the perfect visual test. I chose to use cold water Tide for detergent because it typically has the best track record. I washed each cloth in a large load of laundry, in cold water. In one load I used the normal amount of detergent I had previously used: 1/4 cup (the number 2 line on the Tide lid, even though the manufacturer says that for large loads, I should fill to the number 3 line). In another load, I used 2 Tablespoons of Tide. In the last load, I put no detergent in at all, letting the water alone do the work.

I felt like I was back in elementary school as I took pictures and recorded my results. *Now, as I've said before, I'm no photographer... I did my best. The lighting was slightly different for the before and after shots, even with my efforts to control it. The "after" results really aren't as dingy as they look.*

Here they are:

You can click on each image to get a better look at them. As you can see, with the water, the watermelon did get washed out somewhat, but left a stain.

And here, with the my regular amount of Tide filled to level 2 (1/4 cup)... Tide label would have had me fill it to level 3. There is a stain there, just not as visible as when washed with water.

Here, the results from using 2 Tablespoons of Tide. It may not be completely visible here, but it took out the stain just as well as the above load washed with 1/4 cup of Tide.

My Conclusion: It's A-Okay to use less detergent without compromising results. In fact, I'm starting to wonder what would happen if I used 1 Tablespoon... And how to get out that watermelon? Pre-treat it. It's the only way. I used my stain-remover concoction .

Another tip: for whiter whites, soak a load of clothes in 1/2 cup of Borax (a lot cheaper than Clorox 2 and works just as well) for a half hour to 1 hour before washing.