How to wash towels

I recently came across this article in Time and, frankly, was pretty horrified.  I immediately set out to change the way that I clean my towels.  Something that really, truly cleans the towels, but is still environmentally friendly.  After a bit of research and testing, I came up with this routine and method to wash towels.

Disclaimer:  This post contains affiliate links.  See my Disclosure Policy for more information.

Title How to Wash Towels Thoroughly

Towels get gross, fast

I had always assumed that since I used a towel after washing my hands or body, that the towel stayed pretty clean.  I was not thinking about the fact that crazy amounts of bacteria live on your skin all the time – even after you’ve just soaped up in the shower or scrubbed your hands.  As the Time article states, this is because most people do not thoroughly scrub their hands every time. So, when you dry your body and hands, you transfer the bacteria onto the towel.  Where the bacteria can multiply, because towels stay moist for a while.  Not to mention, most towels are kept in bathrooms/near toilets, so every time you flush the toilet, bacteria and microorganisms spread onto pretty much all surfaces.  Ok, that is graphic enough for this post.  Sorry.  I hope you weren’t eating while reading this.

Anyway.  Towels become pretty gross, pretty quickly.  I believe staying healthy helps one to be “green” and frugal.  Seriously, I struggle with non-(synthetic) cehmical options for treating ailments, and I go though way too many tissues when I get sick!  So I needed a good, environmentally friendly way to clean my towels.

How to clean

First, I always wash towels separately from clothing, because I clean them differently than regular clothes.  My post with the laundry detergent recipe talks about how I wash clothes.   

A microbiologist interviewed for the Time article recommends washing with hot water and oxygenated bleach.  Which most people know as the active ingredient in Oxy Clean. 

Oxygen Bleach

Oxygenated bleach can be liquid or powder.  Liquid has a shelf life of only a few months, or less.  Powdered is more stable, with a shelf life of a couple years,  So I decided to use powdered form.  Note that, when oxygenated bleach breaks down, the resultant products are quite safe: liquid becomes oxygen and water, powdered becomes oxygen and natural soda ash (also known as washing soda, or sodium carbonate).  So there is no danger to the break down, but the product becomes ineffective at cleaning the way that oxygen bleach cleans

OxiClean Baby & LA’s

I searched the Environmental Working Group Consumer Guide for cleaning to find a healthy and safe oxygenated bleach.  I found two that have only two ingredients: sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate (also called sodium percarbonate) (the ingredient that releases oxygen when in contact with water), and sodium carbonate (washing soda, or soda ash).  These two are OxiClean Baby and LA’s Totally Awesome Oxygen Base Cleaner.  However, I located some of LA’s Totally Awesome Oxygen Base Cleaner, and it definitely has more than 2 ingredients.  It has fragrance.  I contacted the manufacturer and they sent me the Material Safety Data Sheet.  The cleaner contains a 3rd ingredient: Ethoxylated Alcohol.  Which has an EWG rating of C

OxiClean Baby & LA's Totally Awesome Oxygen Base Cleaner
OxiClean Baby & LA’s Totally Awesome. Note that LA’s is an off-white rather than bright white color, and has colored particles. OxiClean Baby is pure bright white.

My choice of oxygen bleach is:

Sodium percarbonate & sodium carbonate

Additionally, you can purchase sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate/sodium percarbonate by itself and sodium carbonate (Super Washing Soda) by itself.  The reason that oxygen cleaners contain sodium carbonate is that it makes the water alkaline (basic), which helps the sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate (and washing soaps) clean.  According to the MSDS that I found for OxiClean Baby, it’s 50-60% Sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate, and 40-50% sodium carbonate.  If you’re mixing your own, roughly half sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate and half sodium carbonate should work well.

I currently use OxiClean Baby because it was the only EWG A rated oxygen cleaner that I came across and was able to verify ingredients with the manufacturer.  From here on, when I reference “oxiclean,” I am referring to OxiClean Baby or simply sodium percarbonate mixed with sodium carbonate.

OxiClean Baby package, front

OxiClean Baby package, back

How to wash with oxygen bleach

Per guidance from the scientists in the Time article, I wash towels with hot water and oxygenated bleach, and I let the towels soak in the hot water with detergent and oxygen bleach for at least 1 hour or overnight.  If I had a washing machine that allowed soaking, I would scoop OxiClean to about half full (between the 2nd or 3rd line – per the package instructions) into the washer, pour 2-3 Tbsp of my liquid laundry detergent into the washer, and fill with hot water.  Once the washer was partly filled, I would add towels, allow to finish filling, then let soak for at least 1 hour or overnight.

OxiClean Baby
OxiClean Baby. The provided scoop is filled halfway, containing about 60 grams.

But, my Maytag Ecoconserve washer does not allow you to soak anything in it.  In fact, if you try to trick it by letting it fill, then “pause” the cycle, after about 15 minutes the washer automatically drains.  And there is no way to stop it.  I’m not going to lie.  I felt really guilty for wasting 26 gallons of water the day that I discovered this.  I stood there watching the water drain.  Trying, and failing, to figure out a way to stop it.  Sometimes I really hate this new “smart” technology.  Anyone want to trade me their old reliable washer for my shiny new “smart” one?  I digress.  Sorry.

soaking towels

So, with my washer that does not let me soak, I either just run the cycle immediately and the towels “soak” about 20-30 minutes during the full and wash cycle, or I soak outside my washer.  Usually I do the latter, using a big plastic tote into which I dissolve the OxiClean in water, add towels, cover with water, and let soak.  I then put detergent in my washer, load the towels into the washer, and machine wash my towels.

washing towels

Drying towels

The Time article recommends high heat drying as an additional method for killing bacteria and pathogens.  I elect for a compromise between the energy usage of high heat setting on a washing machine and the very environmentally friendly method of air drying.  I hang towels to dry, then  tumble on a medium heat setting (which to me feels very hot) for about 5 minutes.  Based on USDA guidelines for cooking food to high enough temperatures to kill bacteria then letting “rest” 2-3 minutes, I think my 5 minutes in the dryer is good enough for my purposes. 

towels air drying
towels air drying

How often to clean

The microbiologist interviewed for the Time article recommends washing kitchen and bathroom towels after 2 days of use, especially if there are young children in the house.  I recommend that you follow the guidance of these professionals.  

But, in case you’re wondering, here’s what I do.  Since I currently live in a household with only (mostly) responsible adults, I stretch it a bit.  First, I wash my hands thoroughly to remove as many bacteria and microorganisms as possible.  My kitchen and bath towels go in the laundry every 3 days.  My hand towels in the bathroom get used for 2-3 days, then get turned around.  Basically, when I dry my hands, I only use the part of the towel on the side of the towel bar nearest to me.  The back half of the towel barely gets wet.  So I guess (I need a good way to check this! I smell science experiment…) that the back half of the towel stays pretty clean, so that flipping it around gives me a mostly “new,” clean towel.  Then after another 2-3 days, the hand towels go in the laundry.  


OxiClean Baby

OxyClean Baby costs about $10 for 3 pounds ($3.33/lb) on Amazon and at Walmart. 3 lbs = 1,362 grams. 1 scoop filled halfway = 60 grams.  1362grams/60grams/scoop=22.7 scoops (loads of towels) per package. $10/22.7loads=$0.44 per load. (50-60% Sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate, so each half-scoop has 30-36 grams)

LA’s Totally Awesome Oxygen Based Cleaner

I do not recommend LA’s Totally Awesome Oxygen Based Cleaner due to the ingredient list.  But, if you choose to use it, it’s a great price.  I found it at Dollar Tree for only $1 per pound. 1 scoop weighs approximately 30 grams.  16oz=454grams/30 grams/scoop=~15 scoops.  Per package instructions, 1 load of towels uses 2 scoops, so 1 package =~ 7.5 loads of towels.  $1.07/7.5=$0.14 per load.

But, the active ingredient, sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate, is only 8-14%.  To get the same amount of sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate as a 1/2 scoop of OxiClean Baby, you’d need about 5 times as may scoops as the LA’s Totally Awesome package recommends. 2 scoops = 60 g x 5 = 300 g x 8% = 24 g to 300 g x 14% = 42 g.  $0.14×5=$0.70, so OxiClean Baby is better cost per active ingredient sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate.)

Sodium Perchlorate plus Sodium Chlorate

Pure sodium perchlorate is $13.50 for 5 pounds ($2.70/lb).  Using 30 grams per load: 5 lbs = 2268 grams. 2268g/30g=75.6 “servings” per package. $13.5/75.6=$0.18

Sodium chlorate, or Super Washing Soda, is about $5 for 55oz at Walmart or a local grocery store. Using 30 grams per load: 55 oz = 1559 g. 1559g/30g=52 “servings” per package. $5/52=$0.10. 

Using 30 grams each sodium perchlorate and sodium chlorate, cost per load is $0.18+$0.10=$0.28. 


Based on my calculations using amount of each ingredient per product, the lowest cost oxygen bleach cleaner is mixing your own sodium perchlorate and sodium chlorate, costing $0.28 per load of towels.  However, OxiClean Baby comes pre-mixed with its own scoop, and costs $0.44 per load of towels. 


Do you have any environmentally gently towel washing techniques?  Please share in the comments below!

Zero Waste Period? Part 2 of 2

A couple months ago, I shared a post on the first part of this subject.  This is a continuation, discussing another product that can help you achieve a zero waste period.

Similar to how I started my other post:  If you’re not a lady, or are a coworker and suspect this may be too much information, it probably is.  And you should probably stop reading.  Maybe jump over to this fun Earth Day post about things you can do to help the planet!  

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.  See my Disclosure Policy for more information.

Ok, hopefully I’ve filled enough of the page with unrelated text that you didn’t see anything you don’t want to see.  Now I’ll get on with the cool product that I discovered that has allowed me to have zero waste periods for 2.5 years and counting.  

reusable pad title

Reusable pads: a staple for the zero waste period

About 2.5 years ago, I discovered the reusable cotton menstrual pad.  And it is amazing.  No longer am I purchasing plastic lined pads, in plastic packaging, which ends up in landfills every month.  Nor do I need to deal with that uncomfortable feeling of plastic up against my delicate regions.  Now, a one-time purchase (which included NO plastic packaging) has kept me going for over 2 years.

What are reusable pads?

Reusable pads are a bit like those cloth diapers that are becoming more and more popular.  They have a waterproof (plastic-lined) outer layer and cotton or bamboo inner layers that contact the skin and absorb.  My favorites have a flannel cotton layer against my skin, and 1-2 layers of bamboo fabric between the flannel and waterproof fabric layer.  They also have “wings” like some conventional pads.  These wings are particularly important on reusable pads because they don’t have plastic adhesive to stick to your underwear, so these wings help keep the pad in place.

reusable pads
different shape reusable pads

I have a variety of reusable pads, some purchased and some that I made myself.  I determined the general shape that I thought would best meet my needs, and purchased the one in the top right of the above photo.  Then I adjusted the shape and length to what I thought would be most comfortable for me.  

How do you use reusable pads?

I typically use my reusable pads as a backup to my menstrual cup (you can read more about these in my earlier post) and when I am expecting my period, so they see very low flow.  For these reasons, I like thin pads.  I made some of my own to perfectly fit my needs.  They are only 3 layers thick: waterproof outer layer, bamboo center layer, and flannel inner layer; and they have a narrow width.  I also realized that I didn’t need anything special for the wings, so rather than sewing more flannel, I just used a 1″ wide strip of heavyweight cotton twill tape. 

homemade reusable pads
my homemade reusable pads

If you’re using a reusable pad for heavier flow, you may want a thicker, wider, and/or longer pad.  Again, these can be purchased or made.  There are many different styles available online.  Some have large wings, more similar to conventional maxi-pads, which may be desirable for heavier flow days.

larger reusable pads
What are the benefits to using reusable pads?

I see two main benefits to using reusable pads: less waste, and more comfortable.

Reusable pads eliminate the need to generate waste each month when I get my period.  Overall they use less resources.  While energy, water, and supplies go into the production of reusable pads, this is a one time resources cost.  The pads are then used over and over for years.  Conventional disposable pads both become waste in and of themselves, and have an inherent waste associated with manufacturing each of these single use items.  

I personally find reusable pads to be much more comfortable than conventional disposable pads. The cotton layer is soft against my skin.  It does not stick, chafe, or irritate like the plastic on disposable pads.  Also, I have never had an allergic reaction to cotton reusable pads, like I have to plastic disposable pads.  This comfort factor alone would be enough to make me choose reusable pads over disposables. 

reusable pads
reusable pads fold up small
How do I keep them clean?

The super-simple answer is: soak, machine wash, tumble dry.

I have found that it is easy to keep reusable pads clean from a sanitary perspective, but they do not always look clean without additional effort. 

As I am sure you all know, blood stains.  The easiest way to prevent stains from setting is to wash before the stain dries. 

Before the stain dries

If I’m able to wash my pads before the blood has a chance to dry, I either rinse with cold water then place in a water-filled, covered bucket, or place directly in the water-filled, covered bucket.  This allows the stain to soak and come out easier in the wash.  I keep this bucket out of sight in my laundry room, so it doesn’t bother others in the household or guests.  I also use a ceramic cookie jar as my bucket, so no one can see what’s inside without removing the cover. 

The next time I’m ready to do laundry, I remove the soaking pads from the bucket and place directly in the washing machine.  Then I discard the soaking water in the sink or toilet, and rinse or wash out the bucket with a mild soap (I use Dr. Brommer’s or my homemade liquid castile soap).  I machine wash with my clothing – I always use cool wash/cold rinse to save energy.  If there is no visible staining on the pad, I toss in the dryer with the clothes to dry.  If there is visible staining, either air dry, or work on that stain right away.  Heat sets stains, so if you dry with a stain visible you’ll have a harder time removing it.  

After the stain has dried

To remove stains – either dried on when I removed the pad or still visible after washing, I use hydrogen peroxide.  It’s under $1 for 32 fl oz at Walmart (in the first aid section).  I soak the stained area with hydrogen peroxide, and keep reapplying more hydrogen peroxide until the stain fades or disappears.  I make sure to always keep the stain damp with hydrogen peroxide until I am satisfied that it is cleaned.  Then I launder with my clothing and air or tumble dry.

Sometimes, I take it one step farther to “sanitize.”  If the pad wasn’t stained (as often happens when I use it as a backup to my cup), after washing and drying I just put back in my cabinet for use next month.  I see it as no different from how I clean my panties.  If the pads were stained and I feel like I should take additional steps to “sanitize,” I either iron them (using heat to kill) or I use a UV light to sanitize

Note: I am not a doctor or a scientist, and I cannot make claims about the effectiveness of using heat or UV lights to sanitize.  I am only reporting my beliefs, based on my research and personal use. 

a reusable pad with longer wings
a reusable pad with longer wings
How long do they last?

I have been using my reusable pads for about 2.5 years.  I have been rotating through about 15 of these, and I use 1-2 per day about 7 days/month.  So I end up using almost all of them each month.  And they are holding up very well.  As with most fabrics, the flannel layers get a little “fizzy” looking, but they have not pilled, and they are remaining absorbent and holding together very well.  The reusable pads that I purchased, in particular, are holding up exceptionally well.  The pads I purchased advertised 3-5 years use in a rotation of 10 pads, and based on my experience I expect to get 5 years at a minimum out of each. 

How much to they cost?

Cost of reusable pads varies a bit, but the ones I purchased cost me about $28 for 5 (in 2015), and $62 for 10 (in 2016).   So, 15 pads cost me $90.  I estimate these pads will last at least 5 years.  Assuming an average 28 day cycle, that’s 13 periods/year and 65 periods in 5 years.  $90/65=$1.38 per period.  I estimate that when I was using disposable pads/liners, I was using at least 15 per cycle.  The (non-organic) liners that I used to use are $9 for 108, or about $0.75 per period ($9/108×15=$0.75).  If I was using disposable liners now I would insist on organic cotton, which are $16 for 72, or about $3.33 per period ($16/72×15=$3.33).  

Comparing cost of a reusable pad to a conventional disposable pad, the reusable is almost twice the cost.  However, if I was using organic cotton disposable pads (in my opinion better for my body and a little better for the environment), the reusable pads are less than half the cost.  Additionally, to me it’s about more than just the money.  A reusable cotton pad is more comfortable, better for my body, AND better for the environment.  

homemade reusable pads

Can I DIY?

Absolutely!  If you can sew, you can make your own pads.  As I mentioned, I have sewn a few of my own reusable pads, in order to customize the size and shape.  It simply required me to purchase plastic-coated fabric (PUL), bamboo fabric, flannel fabric (though you could use the bamboo on the inner side as well as middle layer(s), cotton twill tape for wings, and plastic snaps.  To be even more environmentally friendly, you could sew on metal snaps.  

Would you like to see instructions on how to sew reusable pads?  I could write a post about that if anyone is interested!  Let me know in the comments, or by sending me a private message using the form on my About Me page!


Have you tried any alternative products to reduce waste with your period?