How to wash your linens: natural, practical & environmentally conscious suggestions

This is how I wash all of my clothes & linens:

  • infrequently

  • in cold water

  • by hand or with like colors in the washing machine

  • with a homemade liquid Marseille soap laundry detergent

  • line dry

Very rarely I will wash something in warm or hot water (like towels) but usually I don’t find this to be necessary.

One really important note before I get into all of this is that I’m really talking about natural fibers here. Over the years I’ve been able to slowly reduce and replace synthetic fibers with natural ones, and I’ve noticed that natural fibers really don’t get as smelly! Which makes sense when you think about it: imagine how wearing a plastic bag would trap in all that yuck. Whereas linen and wool, for example, are naturally anti-bacterial.


I only wash clothes when they’re stinky or really dirty. We wear our clothes several times before washing—especially in the wintertime when personally I don’t sweat as much and my clothes don’t really get stinky or dirty. I wear many layers, so smaller items like socks & undergarments get washed more frequently, sometimes even just by hand. Main garments like dresses, pants, and shirts get put in the laundry pile after… a week of wear? A month? It really depends. Rather than tossing them straight in the laundry basket, we hang them up to air out overnight (only if they’re stinky), or put them back in the closet. I almost never need to wash sweaters and other overlayers, especially if they are wool.

A great tip I once heard: wear your underwear into the shower, and wash them in there as you wash your body, then hang to dry. I find this to be extremely practical and environmentally responsible.

I also use aprons to protect my garments from getting splattered while cooking or herbal potion making. I don’t mind wearing a slightly dirty apron, and while I love my aprons, their purpose is to get dirty so I don’t shy away from that happening.

for stains: I have a few different approaches.

  • If you can catch it in the moment, you can almost always rinse out a fresh stain with cold water!

  • For mild stains, I’ll rub a slightly dampened bar of Marseille soap on the dry stain.

  • I’ve also had success with soaking a stained item in Sodium Percarbonate (similar to oxygen bleach) or Sodium Carbonate (Washing Soda). Usually I mix up to 1/4 cup of this in hot water (I feel like they need the heat to dissolve). Then I let it cool down before putting the stained item in. Let it soak for several hours or overnight, then wash as usual. This has worked on turmeric stains, which are the hardest stains for me to remove! (Read & heed warning labels for these ingredients—they are strong and need to be used with caution and wisdom!)

  • Other methods: sprinkling salt on a wine stain, adding baking soda to the washing machine, distilled white vinegar, Buncha Farmers stain remover bar soap…

a note on drying: We don’t have a dryer (which is common in Europe) and I’ve dreamed of having a backyard laundry line for years. Before having a private yard, I would dry our clothes on a drying rack on the porch, or inside by a heater, sunny/open window (depending on the season), or near the wood stove. When I had easy access to a laundromat, I would often pay to dry bulky items like towels and sheets. Everything else dries in about a day in the cold season, and just a few hours outside when it’s warm.

for folks who use cloth menstrual pads: What I try to do is immediately rinse the bloody pad/period underwear in cold water, and then hand wash (in a small mixing bowl) with my homemade liquid Marseille soap. Then I wring out really well (or toss in the washer for the spin cycle), and line dry. It’s basically the same process if I don’t wash it while it’s still fresh, just harder to get all the blood out. I usually soak it in a bowl of water for a few hours, with some tea tree essential oil if it’s smelly. Then proceed. If they’re really dirty, after getting most of the blood out/handwashing, I will toss them in with a load of laundry, if I happen to be doing laundry. Side note: It’s a lot of work, but I LOVE using cloth menstrual pads/underwear. They work really well, and are so much more comfortable! It also feels really good to not be buying & throwing away loads of plastic/trash every month. If I’m feeling extra witchy, I’ll save some of the blood/water (no soap) and return it to the earth, offer it to a plant, or water the garden. 

* I’d like to acknowledge here that I don’t have children, and that might change my approach to laundry!

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