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.


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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.
Soaking

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.  

COst

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. 

Summary

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!

Cleaning without Chemicals – UV Light

You all know that I try to avoid synthetic chemicals.  What you might not know is that I am also a science nerd.  And while I dislike clutter, I love useful, functional gadgets.  And this is how I found a simple and inexpensive method for cleaning without chemicals, using a UV light wand.


Note: I am not a doctor or a scientist, and I cannot make claims about the effectiveness of this product.  I am only reporting my beliefs, based on my research and personal use. 


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


cleaning without chemicals title with UV wand

I have this really bad habit of perusing Kickstarter when I am bored.  It’s fun to see the new projects different people are working on, and I come across some pretty neat products.    

UV Light for cleaning without chemicals

One day I was perusing Kickstarter, and came across a product that claimed to kill some viruses and bacteria using a specific wavelength of light.  Ever curious, I began researching this claim.  And soon came to believe that it is true.  According to several studies, (Study 1Study 2, Study 3, Study 4, Study 5Study 6, and many more studies) certain wavelengths on the light spectrum can be used for cleaning without chemicals!  How cool is this?!  No synthetic chemicals, no natural chemicals, just whatever goes into making a light and its holder.  Which, I realize, does have chemicals and waste associated with it.  But, assuming they’re like other flashlights and electronics that I use, these devices can last years, with only the one time waste produced.   I’ll take that over exposing my skin and lungs to synthetic chemicals every time I need to clean!

Caution:  The wavelength of the UV light in these products can burn skin and eyes.  NEVER look at the UV light (also avoid looking at the reflection of the light) and keep bare skin away.  I wear long pants and socks when using the UV light on low surfaces.  NEVER shine the light at any people or animals.  Heed all cautions on product packaging.

cleaning without chemicals UV wand top
UV light wand

UV light wand

After learning this awesome new fact, I started researching on Amazon.  How much do these products cost?  And do users feel that they work?  I came across several UV “wands” and really liked this one.  Two things really sold me on the UV wands, and one thing sold me on the Kendal UV wand in particular.  I was very excited to try a new product for cleaning without chemicals. 

Note: the original product that introduced me to cleaning with UV light is not yet available, so I have not tried it and cannot review it at this time.

A microbiologist’s test

As I read through the reviews, I was looking for facts.  Which can be tough for a common person in relation to cleaning.  No matter how thoroughly I feel I have cleaned, I don’t really have a way to know if I have succeeded.  So [the nerd in me] was so excited when I found a review from a microbiologist.  (Yes, I know, I have no proof that this person is a microbiologist.  But I asked myself, what would this person have to gain by lying about this? — nothing that I could see.  And is there evidence to back up the claim? — yes: photos of “a common skin bacteria, Staphylococcus epidermidis, on … agar plates.” This seems real enough for me.)

Anyway, this microbiologist took samples of a common skin bacteria, put them in containers, held this UV wand over the container for either 0, 5, 10, 30, or 60 seconds, and provided photos of the containers with bacteria visible.  

The results showed a significant decrease in bacteria after 5 seconds (proving to me that this works!).  The photos showed not much more decrease in bacterial with more time under the light.  Which told me something else useful – holding the light over the surface which I am trying to sanitize for about 5 seconds is all that is needed.  If you want to see the photos, scroll down to the reviews and click on the photo for the Kendal UV wand.

cleaning without chemicals UV wand bottom, light on
UV light wand – with bulb ON
The bathroom test

This one is a little gross, but also to me proved effectiveness.  Have you ever been in a bathroom that had an unpleasant urine smell?  Worse yet, was it your own bathroom?  And despite scrubbing every surface with various cleaners, you can’t get the smell to go away?  This UV wand may be the answer to your prayers.  Several reviewers commented that the UV light made that awful smell go away.  This is honestly what sold me.  For over a year, I had this problem in my guest bathroom.  I scrubbed and scrubbed and still, especially on hot days, it stunk.  I think urine got in the grout around the tiles, but I was not looking forward to re-grouting my floor. 

My success

So I bought this UV wand.  And in a slow, sweeping motion, ensuring the light stayed over each spot at least 5 seconds, I “sanitized” my entire guest bathroom toilet, floor, sink, and door knob (only took 5-10 minutes, it is a small half bath).  The next morning, I went in the bathroom, and no stink! Yay!!

I was so excited about this find that I told several of my friends.  A couple months later, one of those friends told me that her toddler missed the toilet and now the bathroom smells unbearable despite intense cleaning.  She borrowed my UV wand and reported that it worked like magic!

I have noticed in my bathroom that, after a month or two, the smell starts to come back.  This further supports my thought that the urine or whatever is causing the smell (some bacteria?) is in the grout around the tiles.  I guess that the light kills whatever is on the surface, but that some bacteria is deeper in the grout and continues to grow, reaching the surface and starting to stink again after several weeks.  But, all I need to do is slowly run the light over the likely stink-producing surfaces once a month or so to keep the bad smell away.  

cleaning without chemicals UV wand cleaning bathroom sink
using the UV light wand to clean the faucet
Additional note on my selection of the Kendal UV Wand

There were two reasons, unrelated to the effectiveness of the UV wand, why I selected the Kendal UV wand.  One reason was the price – I paid $19.99 (April 2017).  The other comparable wands at the time were around $70. 

The second reason was a safety feature – or lack thereof.  Many of these UV wands have a safety feature where the light automatically turns off when the bulb is turned upwards.  This is so you cannot accidentally shine the light in your eyes.  But, how can I use this the clean the underside of a door knob? Or the outside underside of a toilet bowl?  The Kendal UV wand does not have this safety feature, which makes cleaning with this wand easier.  But, be careful not to shine the light in your (or anyone’s) face!

Purchasing note: It appears that the Kendal UV wand is no longer readily available as of October 2017.  This wand appears identical with the exception that the label sticker contains multiple languages.  

Have you used any alternative products for cleaning without chemicals?  Please share in the comments below!