Ways to lighten and brighten your laundry's load

Washing clothes is more than just a chore; it also takes quite a toll on the environment. The good news is that there are easy and effective ways to do your part to conserve water and create less pollution even while you do the laundry.

A good bleach alternative for laundry is adding a cup of hydrogen peroxide to your full load of whites. Another option is to pre-soak your whites in a solution of 1 part white vinegar and 6 parts warm water. Let it sit overnight and then wash your clothes as normal. Don't worry about smelling like a salad — the smell of vinegar disappears when it dries.

When it comes to laundry detergent, it's important to choose one that's phosphate-free. When excess phosphates enter the water supply it acts as a super-charged fertilizer for algae.

The resulting algae bloom depletes the available oxygen, choking the life out of the surrounding aquatic habitat. It's also a good idea to seek out vegetable-based detergents.

Many of the conventional laundry detergents are petroleum-based, which means they are made in part from crude oil.

If you're looking for a greener fabric softener, simply add 1/4 cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle or the fabric softener dispenser. It's absolutely nontoxic and your clothes will come out of the dryer softer because vinegar's acidic properties help dissolve any soap residue left on your clothing. This also is a great solution for anyone that suffers from laundry detergent allergies.

And don't forget the basics. Don't use more detergent than you need. Wash only full loads of laundry and with cold water. Making the switch to the cold cycle will save about $60 a year on your power bill because you'll be giving the hot water heater a break.

Finally, when it comes time to replace your old washing machine, make sure to buy one with the government's Energy Star rating. These models use the least amount of water and energy and there are a number of rebates available this year.

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