Originally Published: 12/13/10
Doing laundry can be fraught with environmental pitfalls, from the electricity-guzzling machines that use gallons of water, to the harsh detergents, bleach, and other chemicals that we use to get our clothes clean and fresh — but it's not all doom and gloom. Here are ways you can be a little more eco-responsible on laundry day.
Using the Washer
- Wash full loads. Although you can — and should — adjust the water levels for smaller loads, you are still maximizing the energy use of the machines when you fill them as much as possible.
- Use cold or warm settings for the water temperature. Because roughly 90% of the energy used to wash clothes is to heat the water, this saves a good deal of energy. What's more, washing in cold water will make clothes look better longer, since cold water is less likely to shrink or fade fabrics and dyes. The downside to using cold water? The detergent is not as effective, so you may need to use more. (To dodge that, try dissolving detergent, especially the powdered kind, in hot water before adding it to the machine, or look for detergents made specifically for cold-water washing.) Hot water also kills more germs and organisms than cold water, so it should still be used for sheets, towels, and dish towels.
- When you're on the market for a new washer, choose an ENERGY STAR option. These efficient machines use about 30% less energy and 50% less water than conventional washers. Front-loading machines are also more efficient than top-loading versions because they use less water. A note: There are currently no ENERGY STAR dryers on the market, because all dryers use similar amounts of energy.
- If you have spin options, select a high-speed or extended spin cycle, which helps to remove the maximum amount of moisture before your clothes go into the dryer, thereby shortening the drying cycle and saving energy.
Using the Dryer
- If your dryer has a moisture sensor, take advantage of it! The dryer will automatically shut off when the clothes are dry, rather than continuing to run needlessly. Some dryers also have an energy-saving cool-down setting, which uses the residual heat of the dryer to finish drying the clothes.
- Keep the lint filter clean. It will help your dryer run more efficiently. What's more, a full lint filter is a fire hazard, because the clogged filter can obstruct the flow of hot air out of the dryer, causing the dryer to overheat.
- Dry consecutive loads of laundry. This will allow you to make use of the retained heat in the dryer.
- Air dry your clothes, which not only saves energy (dryers tend to be among the highest energy-guzzling appliances in a house) but also helps extend the life of your clothing — the tumbling in the tumble-dry cycle doesn't necessarily treat clothing very well. On nice days, string up a good old-fashioned clothesline and drape or clip your clothes to the line to dry in the sun and fresh air. There are a variety of indoor and outdoor drying options available. If you're worried about your clothes fading in the sun, either hang them in the shade (but remember, they'll take longer to dry), or turn them inside out.
Detergents and Softeners
- Since scented laundry products sometimes emit more volatile organic compounds from the chemicals used to create the scents, seek out fragrance-free laundry products that are gentler on the environment.
- Consider ditching dryer sheets and fabric softeners, which can contain toxic chemicals ranging from chloroform to ethanol, and sometimes even tallow (rendered animal fats). You might be surprised to find how quickly you get used to the difference in feel and smell of your clothes and towels when they're laundered without softeners, but if you don't, there are plenty of less-toxic and animal-friendly fabric softeners on the market. Even more eco-friendly are reusable dryer balls, which help clothes become fluffy, soft, and wrinkle-free without the use of chemicals.
At the Laundromat or Cleaners
- Seek out an environmentally-responsible laundromat in your area. For instance, some laundromats are equipped with energy-efficient front-loading machines, and some even use solar power to heat their water.
- For clothing requiring dry cleaning, find an eco-friendly facility that uses carbon dioxide, professional wet cleaning, liquid silicone and other non-toxic methods to clean clothing rather than perchloroethylene, the solvent most traditional dry cleaners use; the results should be just as good as regular dry cleaners. You might also ask your dry cleaners if they recycle the hangers and plastic bags that they use on the clothing.