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