Tips for Cleaner, Greener Laundry


Earth-Friendly Laundry photo by KasiaWe need to air a little dirty laundry here: Conventional washing and drying of clothes are two of the least eco-friendly activities in most households. Thankfully, however, laundry is a very easy area in which to reduce our environmental impact and at the same time lower our energy costs. If you take the following tips to heart, both the Earth and your pocketbook will thank you.

Keep Cool The first step to eco-friendly laundering is very simple: Wash your clothes in cold water or at the coolest temperature possible. A quick comparison of cold- versus hot-water washes is telling. The kilowatt usage and cost per load for a hot-water wash are, respectively, 4.5 kWh and 68 cents, while a cold-water wash uses just 0.3 kWh and costs just 4 cents per load. This small modification could save you nearly $250 per year, while significantly decreasing unnecessary carbon emissions.

If you think cold water doesn’t wash as well, use a warm pre-soak or at least a cold rinse at the end of the wash cycle. This won’t cut carbon or decrease cost as dramatically, but it will create some savings on both counts.
Size Matters The size of the load you wash makes a big difference. Washing one large load is much more efficient and cost-effective than a few small loads. So save up your laundry until it fills the machine. That said, never, ever overload your machine. Doing so makes the wash less efficient because it’s harder to get the clothes clean when they’re packed together. Read the manufacturer’s directions to strike the right balance.

If you have just a few things to wash, and they absolutely must be washed before you’ve collected a full load, then adjust your washing machine’s water level accordingly; most machines have a small-load setting. If not, you can manually fill the machine to just above the level of your clothes.  Or better yet, use human power and wash them by hand.

Front Versus Top Load Front-load washing machines are best by far. Typical top-loaders use approximately 40 to 57 gallons of water per load, while front-load machines use 40-75% less water and 30-85% less energy. That’s why newer front-load machines carry an Energy Star certification—a spec to seek if you are in the market for a new washer, dryer or any appliance for that matter.
Low Suds or No Suds There are no laws that require companies to disclose all of the ingredients in their cleaning products. Also, the government does not have rules defining “natural” or “eco-friendly.” But always purchase detergents made without nonrenewable, petroleum-based chemicals, and those that are biodegradable, plant-derived and contain no optical brighteners, dyes or artificial fragrances. And certainly, as alternatives to chemical-laden modern cleaners, you can use venerable multi-use products like baking soda, vinegar, salt and lemon juice. They are natural, sustainable options that have proven stain-fighting prowess.

Also, you should consider using soap nuts in place of a commercial laundry detergent. They are a completely natural fruit that contains the naturally occurring chemical, saponin. This low-sudsing solution is hypoallergenic, biodegradable and residue free—meaning absolutely no chemical traces and brighter clothes. Soap nuts are also great deodorizers that naturally soften fabric, so there is no need for a fabric softener. They lift out tough dirt and stains—in cold or warm water—just as well as leading name-brand detergents. They are great for the planet, too: A single one-kilogram bag replaces nine 32-load plastic detergent containers. Finally, they are inexpensive, about $30 for a one-kilogram bag—enough for 250-350 loads of laundry!

Earth-Friendly Drying Electric dryers are energy hogs, accounting for 5-10% of a home’s electricity usage and generating nearly 7 pounds of greenhouse gases per load of laundry. So why not forgo one of these atrocious machines and use an age-old alternative, thus saving money and the planet? That is, hang your clothes on a clothesline or clothes rack and let the sun and air do the drying. Yes, it’s that simple. We all have access to the wind and sun, so no one really needs a dryer. It even works in the winter, although clothes dried in freezing temperatures will be stiff until warmed up indoors.

If you want to use an electric or gas dryer, select a low temperature setting to just partially dry and fluff up your clothes, then hang them until fully dry. Also, as in washing, larger loads are more efficiently handled than smaller ones.

Remember to clean a dryer’s lint filter before every use. This allows for maximum air circulation and dries your clothes quicker. Also, be sure your dryer’s exhaust vent has a flap on the outside that opens only when the dryer is in use. And there should be a tight seal between the vent and the hole in the house it goes through. Otherwise, it may be letting in cold air and allowing heat from your home to escape unnecessarily.

Invasion of the Dryerpods Although the name sound like a monstor from a 1950’s science-fiction film, a Dryerpodis one of the most innovative ways to dry your clothes. Essentially, it is a piece of attractive wood furniture that covers a floor duct of your home’s forced-air heating system. It uses the circulating airflow and heat to dry a load of laundry. Not only does this save energy, because it allows you to forgo powering an electric or gas dryer, but it also humidifies the interior air. This makes your home feel warmer with less heat—saving you even more energy and money. Additionally, Dryerpods cause less wear to clothing, create no lint, are quiet and leave your clothes static-free. Of course, this only works if you have forced-air heating from floor vents and during the home heating season. In warmer weather, you can use a traditional outdoor clothesline.

Other Green Laundry Tips

  • Try to do several loads of laundry at the same time. This will allow each load after the first to take advantage of the heat the dryer has already built up. This speeds drying time and saves you money.
  • Avoid using irons to reduce energy consumption. Fortunately, many clothes are permanent press these days and don’t need to be ironed.
  • If you must dry clean, find an environmentally friendly dry cleaner.

Efficient Washers Washing machines have gotten more energy efficient over time; today they use about half the energy they did in 1981. Here are a few of the best:

  • Maytag Maxima – Uses 82% less water and 86% less energy. Maytag boasts that the machine uses only 11.5 gallons of water per load. It also has an “optimal dispense” setting, which injects detergent intermittently throughout the wash cycle to increase its cleaning efficiency.
  • LG SteamWasher – Features ColdWash, which provides warm-water performance with cold-water energy savings. And its enhanced washing motions help the water penetrate deep into fabrics, while remaining gentle to the clothes.
  • Bosch’s Nexxt – Energy Star-certified, it promises to reduce energy consumption by 72% and water usage by up to 7%. And the Bosch washer spins your clothes so fast that they practically dry before you move them to the dryer, meaning even more energy savings.
  • GE 4.0 cu. ft. IEC King-Size Capacity – This front-load washer offers energy savings at a bargain price, under $700. It is Energy Star-rated and receives high marks in water and energy use (as well as performance) from Consumer Reports.

Efficient Dryers There has also been a lot of progress toward energy efficiency in dryers. Here are a few with impressive stats and features:

  • Siemens ultraSense – This electric dryer’s design features a drum with 685 holes to increase air velocity. As a result, it quickly dries clothes at lower air temperatures, and it has a digital moisture sensor so it knows just when to shut itself off. According to The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a dryer with a moisture-sensing control uses 15% less energy than a model that offers only a time-dry setting.
  • GE Profile Harmony – This gas dryer uses a moisture sensor with two sensing bars. Drying temperatures are matched to fabric types for better fabric care, and the de-wrinkle and tumble settings use cool air to reduce wrinkling, further saving energy. And keep in mind that, according to Consumer Reports, gas dryers use 60% less energy and dry clothes 40% faster than their electric counterparts.
  • The Maytag Maxima EcoConserve – This electric dryer uses 48% less energy when paired with a Maxima washer (see above). It has an Advanced Moisture Sensing system that helps evenly dry large, heavy loads and reduces the risk of shrinking. Its steam-enhanced cycles relax wrinkles and refresh clothes.
  • LG XL Capacity Electric Dryer – It can detect the moisture in the drum, so it automatically adjusts the drying time and temperature for optimal fabric care. It pairs well with the LG SteamWasher mentioned above.

So remember to cool down your laundry to cool down the planet. That means to employ low-temperature washer water and little or no machine drying. And use homemade or truly all-natural clothes-cleaning products. If you put into practice even half of the above tips, you’ll be well on your way to more eco-friendly laundering—and save some money to boot. That can make for a much happier laundry day—for you and the Earth.



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