One of the most important things we do to save energy and costs in regards to laundry is to re-wear our clothes. I actually do the sniff test on my shirts; if they pass they get hung back up in the closet. Jeans get worn until they start getting baggy, typically after the third or fourth day of wear.
Socks and underwear are an exception to this, as are Henry's clothes. At two, Henry still spills a lot of food on himself when he eats and gets dirty playing outside.
Bath towels are also used more than once, typically for a week. (We only use them when we're clean, after all.)
Additionally, we have enough rags, dishclothes and washcloths on hand to ensure we're always washing a full load. Rags, of course, are from ripped-up old clothes and the other cloths were purchased on the cheap at the dollar store.
Finally I should add that although my husband has a few dry-clean only clothes for work (which occasionally get taken to the Natural Cleaners) we try not to own any clothing that can't be washed at home.
Now on to technique.
When we moved to our house in February I was pleased to discover that a reverse osmosis filter was part of the deal. I was less thrilled to find out how much water gets wasted in the filtration process. The system is mounted on a basement wall and water seemed to be continually coming out of the hose into the utility tub below.
And then I got a bright idea: the water might not be good to drink, but couldn't we wash our clothes in it?
We took a rain barrel we'd purchased years ago from our local water company, set it on concrete blocks to maximize gravity, fed the wastewater hose from the RO filter into the top of the barrel, connected a piece of old garden hose to the overflow spout and set it in the utility tub and connected another hose long enough to reach the washing machine to the main faucet of the barrel.
Now when we do a load of laundry we stick the second hose into the washing machine, turn the faucet on the rain barrel and let the washer fill up.
This typically takes about ten minutes, so we either putz around in the basement or come upstairs and set a timer. We only do this for the first fill; the washer does its thing for rinse water.
Since we wash almost all our clothes in cold water anyway (diapers get one cycle of cold and one of hot) I figure this is quite a savings in the long run. Of course, this method wouldn't work if you have a front-loader, something I hope to purchase whenever our current washer gives out. But then we'll be trading saving filtered wastewater for using a machine that uses a lot less water to begin with.
Sometimes, though, I just want to wash one or two things, usually a sweater or a wool diaper cover. And although we have both "delicate" and "hand wash" cycles on our washing machine, even using the smallest fill setting still seems like too much water to waste (not to mention the electricity used). I used to occasionally use a bucket, but I could never seem to rinse the soap out well enough.
And then I read about using a five-gallon bucket and a plunger.
Cut a hole in the lid of the bucket and stick the handle of the (new, of course) plunger into the hole. Fill the bucket with enough water to cover whatever you're washing, add a tiny bit of detergent, close the lid and plunge away.
After a few plunges, dump out the soapy water and repeat the process with clean water to rinse. Then lay the item out or hang to dry.
I imagine you could do all your laundry this way, if you had to, or even fairly easily if you were just one person. But I'll be keeping our washing machine.
For detergent we use Dr. Bronner's Sal Suds or Seventh Generation liquid laundry detergent -- and only 1/8 of a cup per load. (This is one area where green and natural does not equal frugal, but the extra money is worth it to me.) Occasionally I throw some vinegar (which softens clothes, kills odors and helps remove stains) in either the main cycle or in the rinse compartment. And that's it.
Now that we've been using minimal, natural products we've noticed how strongly perfumy many people's clothes smell. And I find the scent coming from other people's dryer vents to be totally overpowering.
Which brings me to how we dry our laundry. (Smooth, New Mama, smooth.)
The latest focus of my frugal/natural living/green efforts is line drying. I've dabbled in it in the past, but I've become more determined to have it become a regular part of my routine. In the past month I hung two retractable clotheslines in our backyard and have been using them when the weather allows.
(Note: Despite a striking resemblance, that is not my hand.)
I also hung one in our basement for the winter months -- half the year around here -- when it's too cold to hang things outside and dry enough inside that the added moisture isn't a problem. I bought the clotheslines at Ace Hardware for under $20 each. They're great if you have a small backyard, like we do.
I don't plan on hanging all our laundry, though. Since our neighbors are *thisclose* to us I don't feel comfortable hanging our underwear up outside (it's very respectable underwear, but still). And I don't like how shirts come off the line; they tend to get a bit stretched out and linty. I also still use our dryer (and clean the lint trap after every use!) when I don't have the time to hang things up or the weather isn't cooperating in summer. But I figure every bit I do counts, particularly since we have an electric dryer.
And that's how we do laundry at New Mama's house.