How to launder without totally f&cking the local environment

Eco-laundry for boaters

Do you and your family long for safer, cleaner, whiter whites? Relax – this isn’t a promo for the Klan or the EDL – although they might wanna read this too. This post is all about how to wash your laundry on a boat without ruining the environment.

Rainbow-coloured crap

One of the first things I realised when I moved onto a boat was that everything that goes down your plughole goes straight out into the water.

Who knew? Well, maybe everyone did, but I had never thought about it.

Here’s the thing. Standard laundry detergents are Bad People. If your laundry liquid is some luminescent and/or pearlescent shade of pink, green, blue, purple or all the colours of the rainbow, you can trust me when I say that no good can possibly come of it. Please don’t use it in your boat’s washing machine.

I hate to be bossy but there it is. You need to stop that.

And please, please don’t use those squishy little plastic pouches of laundry liquid. What on earth is the point of them?

Just step slowly away from the pouch. Step right back. Back.

If your laundry liquid is some luminescent and/or pearlescent shade of pink, green, blue, purple or all the colours of the rainbow, you can trust me when I say that no good can possibly come of it.

Aside from the chemical fragrances and optical whiteners and this, that and the other that they add to what ought to be a pretty basic product, they are tested on animals. Why? Because they need to check they’re not going to blind, burn or poison their valuable customers. Which means a helluvalot of animals are blinded, burned and poisoned just so that you can put a plastic pouch of blue crap in your washing machine.

Necessary? I don’t think so.

Perfumes and enzymes and surfactants, oh my

Then we have the problem of the environment. Phosphates in detergents, which lead to harmful effects such as toxic algae, are banned by many countries (including the EU which, for now at least, still includes the UK). Biological laundry detergent contains enzymes that feed on proteins, while all laundry detergents contain oil-dissolving surfactants.

It should be noted that current safety legislation around surfactants and other additives relies on the assumption that household waste water is treated in a sewage plant before re-entering the environment. For boaters, this is not the case. That water just squirts right out of the boat.

A helluvalot of animals are blinded, burned and poisoned just so that you can put a plastic pouch of blue crap in your washing machine

And then we have the horror that is fabric conditioner. Apart from the fact that it smells horribly artificial and cloying (yes, that includes you, Ecover), and makes clothes feel weirdly smooshy and creepy, it is very bad not only for your health but for the environment. When it’s squirted straight out into the waterways, that goes double. Maybe treble. Or more.

Is ‘Ecover’ a pun on ‘Recover’? Because I only just got that

A few months ago I bought Ecover’s new Lavender and Sandalwood laundry liquid. It does not smell like Lavender OR Sandalwood. Ecover is in the big league now when it comes to sales and distribution; they’re in every major supermarket and have a ‘MumsNet approved’ sticker on the top. I guess the price of their success is plastic-scented products since, for many people (and not just MumsNet), a ‘clean’ smell is actually a smell of synthetic fragrance. But aside from my personal preferences, a far more serious problem is that when used on a boat this synthetic nastiness is going straight down the plughole and out into the water.

Current safety legislation around surfactants and other additives relies on the assumption that household waste water is treated in a sewage plant before re-entering the environment

I did actually email Ecover to ask how safe their product is when expelled straight into the water supply, but I only received a canned marketing-speak response – although the response stated that ‘our final products are biodegradable, non-toxic and safe for river and marine life’. But I don’t know if that safety depends on the assumption of sewage-plant processing.

Nuts aren’t just for squirrels

Anyway. Dissatisfied with my ‘eco’ laundry liquid, I decided to look for alternatives. Lately I’ve been using soap nuts for my laundry and they work really well.

Soap nuts aren’t actually nuts, they’re some sort of berry that you can buy in dried form and resemble shells rather than nuts. They’re very economical, since you only need 4 or 5 shells per wash, and you can reuse the shells for 3 or 4 washes. Just pop the shells in a small muslin bag and place in your washing machine (I haven’t tried them for handwashing yet, so I’m not sure quite what the score is there…). If you need fragrance in your wash, add some essential oils to the shells inside the bag. I bought my soap nuts from Amazon and they came with several little drawstring cloth bags, but if you don’t have something similar then you can tie the soap nuts inside a cotton sock.

Then just wash as normal…

Geoff’s Top Tip: You people all use far too much laundry detergent. You can safely minimise the amount you use without impacting on the quality of your wash. I lick myself clean.

One thing to note: I didn’t tie my drawstring bags very tightly, and my soapnuts escaped during the wash. I’m not sure it’s very good for the washing machine to have soapnuts rattling about and getting stuck in the pipes…! So do make sure the bags are tied securely.

Urine luck

Now, my whites came out super-white using soapnuts alone. But since you absolutely cannot use bleach while on a boat, something else you might like to try to whiten your whites is… urine.

Yes! Apparently urine acts as a bleaching agent, so try soaking your sheets in urine overnight before putting them through the wash.

What do you mean, you don’t have any urine? Of course you do. Collecting urine is one of the chief pastimes of a boater.

Now I haven’t actually tried this myself. But I am thinking about it. I mean, poo can be composted but all that urine ought to be used for something

 

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I'm Victoria. Hi.

I'm afraid I write most of the nonsense on this site, apart from the stuff written by Geoff. (Geoff is the cat in orange.)

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