This post is for my mum who has been asking me to write this. :)
When people ask me how I can afford to buy ethically (ie fairtrade and/or organic certified items), the answer is simple. I save in a lot of other areas. One of the biggest areas that I save on are the stuff I buy (or not buy) for washing and cleaning - washing clothes, washing dishes etc etc. Firstly, let me go into how I get my stuff clean....
1. Does it need a wash?
Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but the way I see it, if I sweated on it, got dirt on it, got grease on it, then I wash it.... and if I didn't, then I don't wash it. Usually this means that I can get at least two wears out of an outfit before I need to wash it.
Sometimes I think we get obsessed with the 'cleanliness' factor and we end up washing clean clothes/items (and using up water needlessly).
2. Do you need to wash it with soap/detergent? Will water do?
Stuff gets clean when all the grease and dirt is lifted from it. So when you think about it, cleaning can be done not just through chemicals etc but also through anything that would lift the grease and dirt. Usually, dirt can be lifted if you use enough force. Grease and oil are harder to lift but force and a bit of warmth can usually lift it. Sometimes certain fibres/fabrics can help but I find that usually it doesn't really matter as much as force and warmth.
In many many cases, warm/tap water and a little bit of force is enough to clean most things like bench tops, tables, chairs etc. I have extended this to some of my clothes as well. If clothes are only very lightly soiled then I find that the force of the water and the spinning of my clothes as it turns in my washing machine are enough to clean it.
3. How much soap/detergent?
So once I've established that force is not enough to lift grease and dirt, then you need some sort of lifting agent. I find that almost all standard detergents/soaps out there recommend much much more than what you actually need. I use about 1/3 of the recommended amount of soap or detergent.... why? Because while warmth and force may not be as effective, they're *still* the primary way of getting stuff clean - the soap or detergent is just a "booster" if you like.
Further, its not like there would be a LOT of grease and dirt on everything (most of the time)... and even if there was then you'd have more success soaking that one item in something (more on soaking later).
Using too much soap and detergent is also quite harsh on your stuff - especially on stuff that uses absorbent materials. Using too much will mean that the stuff will end up accumulating soap/detergent residue in the fibres. You will know that you are using too much detergent if your old towels start becoming very stiff and developing a "smell" no matter how often you wash it.
My mum had a towel she was ready to throw out because it was scratchy and had that strange smell. So I washed the towel in just water (with other very lightly soiled clothes) and now its softer and doesn't smell.
So go very very lightly on the soap and detergent! It will help not only your pocket but also the environment.
On my personal blog, I have also listed alternatives to standard soap and detergent that are available in Australia and specifically, the region I have come to term as the ONC (Our Nation's Capital). But for those who are not in the ONC, I would love to hear of alternative products available in your area!