There is a groundswell in the yachting industry taking us towards more eco-friendly products and practices. To build upon this momentum, I'm encouraging stewards and stewardesses to incorporate green cleaning ideas onboard - a few small changes in the laundry room have the added benefits of being cheaper, healthier and highly effective to boot!
In Part 1, we explored a variety of natural alternatives to our usual harsh cleaning products. This week we will look at ways to use vinegar (my desert island cleaning product!) and how to cut out chemicals and waste in the laundry.
Vinegar: The most wonderful of them all!
Vinegar must be my all time favourite cleaning product. I have written about its magical properties before, in Vanquish with vinegar, but there's more to add. Let’s look at some handy tips for using white distilled vinegar on board and in the laundry room:
To stop red and other dark colours running in the washing machine: Red is notorious for running in the washing machine and making everything pink! It is NEVER advisable to wash coloured and white items together but pre-soaking a new red or dark coloured item in undiluted white vinegar before the first wash can limit the amount of red dye that is shed.
As a pre-wash stain removal agent: White vinegar can be mixed half and half with water in a spray bottle to deal with light, natural stains.
11 reasons to add vinegar to your laundry
Inexpensive white vinegar can be used in the laundry to whiten, brighten and soften clothes, and reduce odour, without resorting to harsh chemicals. It is safe to use in both standard and high-efficiency washers and is beneficial to gray water tanks and the environment.
All vinegars contain acetic acid that works to brighten, soften and kill odours in your laundry. When purchasing vinegar to use in the laundry, choose white distilled vinegar. It contains no tannins (natural plant dyes that can stain clothes) and it is less expensive. Distilled vinegar is usually less acidic than cider vinegars and ranges from 4– 7% acidity.
1. Brighten and whiten clothes with vinegar
The acetic acid in white distilled vinegar is so mild that it will not harm washable fabrics; yet is strong enough to dissolve residues (alkalis) left by soaps and detergents. Adding just ½ cup vinegar to the final rinse will result in brighter, clearer colours. If using an automatic dispenser, add the distilled white vinegar to the fabric softener dispenser or add the vinegar manually at the beginning of the rinse cycle.
The mild acetic acid in vinegar also acts as a whitener and brightener for gray, dingy clothes in the laundry. To get stained white socks and dingy dishcloths white again, add 1 cup of white distilled vinegar to a large bucket/sink filled with boiling water. Add the articles and soak overnight. This is best used on 100% cotton clothing and ensure that boiling water will not shrink the items (check care label).
2. Banish bad odours
Leaving wet towels in a laundry bag or a load of wet clothing in the washing machine can create mildew growth and a mildew smell. To get everything smelling fresh, add two cups of white distilled vinegar and run through the wash cycle. Then, run a normal cycle with laundry detergent. This works well for small amounts of mildew and sour smells.
3. Soften clothes naturally
If you don't like the idea of using heavily scented commercial fabric softeners (which should be avoided at all costs), but want softer clothes, white distilled vinegar acts as a natural fabric softener and leaves no residue on laundry. Just add ½ cup to the final rinse cycle. If you do like a light scent, add a couple of drops of essential oil like lavender to the bottle of vinegar. White distilled vinegar is safe and hypoallergenic as opposed to chemical-laden fabric softener.
4. Reduce lint
Just ½ cup of white distilled vinegar in the rinse cycle, will help prevent lint and hair from clinging to clothes.
5. Fight underarm odour
Fill a spray bottle with undiluted distilled white vinegar and keep it handy in the laundry room to remove perspiration odour and stains on washable clothing and crew uniforms. Spray the vinegar directly on underarm and collar areas before tossing them into the washing machine. The vinegar will help to cut through residual deodorant left on clothing and prevent underarm yellowing.
6. Erase hem lines
If uniforms are passed on to another crew member and pants or skirt hems have to be let down, it often leaves a mark. To get rid of the tiny holes left along a seam or hemline when a garment is altered, moisten a white cloth with white distilled vinegar, place it under the fabric and press. Select the correct ironing temperature and use a pressing cloth on top of the fabric to prevent scorching.
7. Vinegar leaves a blacker shade of black
Adding ½ cup white distilled vinegar to the final rinse cycle will remove soap and detergent residue that makes washable black clothes look dull and faded.
8. Keep an iron steaming with vinegar
Mineral deposits (lime scale) can clog an iron's steam vents and spray nozzles. To remove those deposits, fill the water chamber with a solution of equal parts white distilled vinegar and distilled water. Set the iron in an upright position on a heatproof surface and let it steam for about five minutes.
When the iron is cool, rinse the tank with water. Then refill the iron and shake water through the vents onto an old cloth. Then, iron then old cloth for several minutes to expel any residue before moving on to wearable garments. ***This should be used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instruction manual, as this will not be efficient in all makes/brands of irons.
To remove scorch marks from the faceplate of an iron, rub with a warmed-up solution of equal parts white distilled vinegar and salt. Finish by wiping down the faceplate with a cloth dampened with full-strength white distilled vinegar.
9. Clean your washing machine
Soap scum and mineral deposits can build up in the hoses of your washing machine, restricting water flow and performance. Once a week - remove soap scum and clean the hoses by running an empty regular washer cycle with hot water and 2 cups of white distilled vinegar. If you have automatic detergent or fabric softener dispensers, place the pure white distilled vinegar in the soap drawers to clean any build-up that may limit performance.
10. Cut through smoke odours
If your washable clothing reeks of cigarette or cigar smoke, add ½ cup white distilled vinegar to the wash cycle.
11. Kill bacteria in your washing machine
Because of the acetic acid content, white vinegar has bacterial properties - add 120ml white vinegar to your washing machine's rinse cycle. This can help sterilize cloths used to clean toilets or heavily soiled sheets or crew socks. White vinegar will naturally break down uric acid from underwear.
Other Uses for a Water and Vinegar Solution
Prepare a solution of water and vinegar (1/4 vinegar and ¾ water) and use in the following ways:
Mildly acidic white vinegar dissolves dirt, soap scum, and hard water deposits from smooth surfaces, yet is gentle enough to use in solution to clean wooden floors. Do not use vinegar on marble or granite surfaces!
White vinegar is a natural deodorizer, absorbing odours instead of covering them up. (And no, your yacht won't smell like fish and chips! Any vinegar aroma disappears when dry). With no colouring agents, white vinegar won't stain grout on tiled or varnished surfaces.
In the crew mess and galley, use vinegar-and-water spray to clean counter tops, lightly soiled range surfaces and backsplash areas.
In the heads, use vinegar spray cleaner to clean counter tops, floors, and exterior surfaces of the toilet (again, keep vinegar away from marble and granite).
For really tough head surfaces such as shower walls, pump up the cleaning power by removing the sprayer element and heating the solution in the microwave until barely hot. Add some baking soda to the mix for a wonderful fizzy cleaning agent. Spray shower walls generously with the warmed mixture and allow to stand for 10 to 15 minutes before giving it a scrub and rinsing thoroughly. The heat helps soften stubborn soap scum and loosens hard water deposits.
* NEVER use vinegar on or near marble, granite and other delicate surfaces! See my article on marble and stone care.
Uses for Undiluted White Vinegar
Undiluted white vinegar - straight from the bottle - makes quick work of tougher cleaning problems involving hard water deposits or soap scum.
Use undiluted white vinegar to scrub the inside of the toilet bowl. Before you begin, dump a bucket of warm water into the toilet to fill the bowl and allow access to the sides. Pour undiluted white vinegar around the bowl and add some baking soda and scrub with a toilet brush to remove stains and odour. Use a harder brush to remove any remaining hard water rings.
• Clean stainless shower heads that have been clogged with mineral deposits with undiluted white vinegar. Place ¼ to ½ cup vinegar in a plastic Ziploc bag, and secure the bag to the shower head with a rubber band. Let stand for 2 hours to overnight, then rinse and buff the fixture to a shiny finish. Only use this trick on stainless steal shower heads, not gold plated fixtures.
Add 75ml of undiluted white vinegar and 75ml baking soda to the laundry instead of commercial fabric softener. White vinegar softens clothes and cuts detergent residue - a plus for crew and guests with sensitive skin.
Removing wine stains: Wine stains can be removed from cotton and poly-cotton fabrics (if they are fresh!). Sponge undiluted white vinegar gently on the stain and blot with a clean cloth. Repeat until most of the wine stain is gone and then wash garment as per care label instructions.
Disinfect dishcloths (tea towels): Soak your dishcloth, washing up sponges and brushes in neat white vinegar and hot water for a few minutes, then rinse and let it dry overnight. You can also soak loofahs and natural bath sponges in vinegar to clean them. Rinse them off with clean water, and then revive them with a soak in a salt water solution. Finally, rinse out with fresh cold water.
Clean the inside of a dirty vase by filling it with vinegar and a handful of dry rice and give it a good swirl around. Of course, it is also great to put some vinegar and ice cubes down the yacht toilets once a week - it de-calcifies (removing lime scale) the toilets naturally and the ice acts as an abrasive in the pipes scraping them clean).
Banish fabric softener and tumble dryer sheets!
What is fabric softener? It is a combination of chemicals that coat the surface of textiles with a thin layer of lubrication. This makes the clothes feel smoother and helps them to resist the build-up of static electricity. The first fabric softeners were made from a combination of soap and olive oil or other natural oils. However, today’s fabric softeners are made of noxious chemicals combined with overpowering fragrances that mask theirchemical smell. Fabric softener actually makes fabrics less absorbent, which is not a great thing for your bath towels! It also ends up on your tumble dryer lint trap as an invisible film, increasing the chances that it could catch fire.
Let’s look at the negative environmental and physiological effects of using fabric softener and tumble dryer sheets:
Here is a list of just some of the toxic chemicals found in commercial fabric softeners:
Alpha Terpineol: Can cause damage to the central nervous system and respiratory problems
Camphor: Causes central nervous disorders, is easily absorbed through the skin
Chloroform: A carcinogenic neurotoxin
Benzyl Acetate: Linked to pancreatic cancer
Benyl Alcohol: Respiratory tract irritant
Ethanol: On the EPA’s 'hazardous waste' list and can cause central nervous system disorders
Ethyl Acetate: A narcotic on the EPA’s 'hazardous waste' list
Limonene: A known carcinogen that irritates eyes and skin
Linalool: Causes central nervous system disorders and depresses heart activity
Pentane: A chemical known to be harmful if inhaled
These toxic chemicals end up in the ocean every time you use them in your laundry. Even worse than liquid fabric softeners are dryer sheets, whose chemicals are heated and then shot into the air for you to inhale. That fresh-from-the-dryer smell that fabric softeners and dryer sheets impart to your clean load of laundry? Don’t breathe it in, if you want to look after your lungs. That super floral smell is masking seriously unhealthy chemicals.
Quaternary ammonium ('quats') compounds make clothes feel soft and wearable right out of the wash, but they’re known to trigger asthma and may be toxic to our reproductive systems. Check labels and product websites for these ingredients: Distearyldimonium chloride, diethyl ester dimethyl ammonium chloride, variants of hydroxyethyl methyl ammonium methyl sulfate or the vague terms 'biodegradable fabric softening agents' and 'cationic surfactant'. They are to be avoided.
Your fabric softener may contain phthalates (fragrances), whose role is to disperse the scent. These include synthetic musks such as galaxolide and they accumulate in the body along with any number of over 3000 more (mostly synthetic) chemicals, none of which are required to be listed on the label. Many of these fragrances are allergens, which can trigger and exacerbate skin irritations, such as dermatitis, respiratory problems and potentially cause harm to the reproductive system. Research indicates that scents also cause irritation when vented outdoors, especially for asthmatics and those sensitive to chemicals.
Like fragrance, the terms 'preservatives' and 'colours' or 'colourants' in an ingredient list may refer to any number of chemicals. The most worrisome preservatives in fabric softeners include methylisothiazolinone (Glutaral or glutaraldehyde), a potent skin allergen also known to trigger asthma and skin allergies. Glutaral is also toxic to marine life. Among artificial colours, D&C violet 2 has been shown to be moderately harmful to health and concerns have been raised about potential carcinogenic properties.
Commercial fabric softeners interfere with the fire retardant qualities of children's clothing, especially pyjamas, and should never be used with their laundry. The same goes for our sheets and linens on board.
The bottom line? You don’t need fabric softener or dryer sheets.
What can we use to replace fabric softener and dryer sheets?
Use a set of dryer balls in the tumble dryer or add a quarter-cup of baking soda and vinegar to your washing cycle and you will never have to use chemical fabric softener again. A rolled up ball of aluminium foil kept in the dryer will also eliminate static electricity, which will reduce the risk of fires from the tumble dryer.
Try adding ½ cup of distilled white vinegar to your washing machine during the rinse cycle. Don’t worry, the smell will not transfer to the clothes.
If you’re not line-drying in the sun (which of course is impossible to do on a yacht), run the tumble dryer with just your clothes inside. Not only do dryer sheets contain a variety of chemicals, but neither plant-based nor polyester types are reusable, creating extra waste.
Try 100% wool dryer balls. The natural lanolin in these solid balls of felted wool or felted wool wrapped around a fiber core will soften laundry and reduce static. This is generally safe for sensitive skin and the balls also lift and separate clothes in the dryer, reducing drying time and saving energy. You can buy ready-made balls or make your own.
Here’s how you can make your own dryer balls:
Take 3 tennis balls and stick each ball separately into a woollen sock (you will need 3 socks). Sew the top with thread to keep the balls in place whilst drying. Place these 3 balls in their sock containers into each load of wet clothes when you start the tumble dryer. You can also make 3 balls for white loads (white socks) and 3 balls for dark loads (black socks).
I hope you find these tips useful. Please comment below to let us know how you get on!
About the Author:
After working in the super yacht industry as a stewardess, chief stew and purser for 10 years, Isobel Odendaal moved back to her home country, South Africa, and co-started a training school for super yacht steward/esses, Super Yachting South Africa, the only accredited provider of GUEST courses in the country. She continues to learn and teach every day, enjoying responding to the questions she receives on the facebook forum Yacht Stewardess and Steward Tips and sharing her knowledge in a series of expert articles on OnboardOnline.
Photo credits: Vinegar, modified, Mike Mozart on Flickr, CC by 2.0; folded clothes, Frédérique Voisin-Demery, Flickr, CC by 2.0; iron, Colin, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0; wooden floor, MaxPixel, CCO; shower, Pixabay; laundry basket, Aqua mechanical on Flickr, CC by 2.0; waves, Pixabay; washing machine, Pixabay.