Reducing water and energy spent for washing and drying laundry requires choosing the right appliances and in some cases, changing the way we do laundry.
According to ENERGYguide.com, a clothes washer in a typical household uses about 15,000 gallons of water per year or roughly 15% of the total household consumption.
- A standard top loading machine uses considerably more water and energy than newer front loaders. Front-loaders use a third to half the energy and water, and because they remove more water during the spin cycle, you’ll use less energy drying your clothes. They also clean clothes with a third the detergent needed for top loaders. Front loaders cost more than top loaders, but you can save approximately $100 a year in utilities due to the water and energy savings from using such a model.
- Energy Star labeled clothes washers use up to 50 percent less water and energy than conventional washers.
Most of the energy used by clothes washers—80 to 85 percent—is used to heat the water.
- Wash loads in cold water most of the time. Today’s improved detergents don’t necessarily need warm water washes and rinses to work well.
Number of Loads
Reduce the number of loads you wash, and as a result water and energy use.
- Run only full loads.
- Wear your clothes and use towels and sheets a reasonable number of times or length of time before laundering. Examine and sniff your clothes to determine if they are truly in need of washing or just in need of a fluff or pressing. Generally, towels that are hung up to dry between uses can be used for a week. If you are clean when you lay down on your sheets at night, they can last a week or more without laundering.
Conventional laundry powder can contain phosphates, synthetic perfumes and problematic chemicals.
- Use an earth-friendly brand of laundry soap or flakes that is phosphate free, chlorine free, nontoxic and biodegradable. Don’t let the slightly higher price you’ll pay for ”green” laundry powders or liquids deter you. Most are concentrated to deliver results with less product, so 10 lbs. of a concentrated powder can last 4 to 8 times as long as 10 lbs. of a non-concentrated powder. This is especially true if you have a high-efficiency washer which calls for less laundry soap/powder per load.
- Soap nuts (the fruit of the Chinese Soap Berry Tree) have been used for thousands of years in Asian cultures to clean clothes naturally. They contain saponin—a natural substance known for its ability to cleanse and wash, are low-sudsing (perfect for HE machines), and biodegradable. Ask for them at your local health food store or shop for organically grown soap nuts online.
Conventional laundry whiteners contain chlorine bleach, a poisonous toxin. Chlorine and organochlorines are released into the environment everyday where they can combine with other molecules to form new toxins that accumulate and last for years.
- Buy nonchlorine whiteners such as those that use sodium percarbonate or hydrogen peroxide.
Conventional fabric softeners and dryer sheets can contain harmful chemicals, and prolonged exposure to these chemicals can lead to health problems. Below is a list of some of the chemicals to look out for:
A-Terpineol: Can cause respiratory problems, including fatal
edema, and central nervous system damage
Benzyl acetate: Linked to pancreatic cancer
Benzyl Alcohol: Upper respiratory tract irritant
Ethanol: On the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA)
Hazardous Waste list and can cause central nervous system
Ethyl Acetate: A narcotic on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list
Camphor: Causes central nervous system disorders
Chloroform: Neurotoxic, anesthetic and carcinogenic
Limonene: The synthetic version is a known carcinogen
Linalool: A narcotic that causes central nervous system disorders
Pentane: A chemical known to be harmful if inhaled
- Static cling in the dryer is caused by dry clothes tumbling together and creating friction, which causes an exchange of negative and positive electrons—a perfect recipe for an electrical charge! To reduce static cling in the dryer, don’t overdry clothes, and dry natural fibers seperate from synthetic fibers.
- Skip the dryer and dry clothes on a clothesline to eliminate static. This especially makes sense for synthetic fibers that dry quickly in the open air.
- Reusable and chemical-free anti-static sheets are available through health food stores that sell laundry products. A single sheet will last the typical family a year.
- Add a 1/4 cup of baking soda or 1/4 cup of white vinegar to the wash cycle to soften laundry.
- An electric dryer is half as efficient as one that uses a gas burner to create heat. (Note: A gas dryer will still use some electricity to turn the drum and operate the fan.)
- Clothes dryers are neither part of Energy Star’s program nor are they required to display EnergyGuide labels. What you can do is check for the highest energy factor number when comparing different models.
- Look for models with moisture sensors and cool-down features–both save energy.
- Locate your dryer in a heated space.
- Clean the lint filter in the dryer after every load.
- Use the straightest and shortest metal duct available for venting.
- The moisture sensor on a dryer is designed to automatically stop the dryer when clothes are “dry enough,” but to get the energy saving benefits, you must select the sensor setting to override the timed setting. The setting not only saves energy but eliminates “baked clothes” that will suffer the abuse of tumbling in excessive dry heat over time.
- Use a drying rack for delicate or lightweight items. Items that can and should be air dried include lightweight synthetics, all wool, all silk or wool/silk blend fabrics. Diverting such fabrics from the dryer will help lighten dryer loads for more rapid drying and extend the life of fabrics that will air-dry overnight.
- During the summer, dry clothes outside on a clothesline.
- Shifting appliance use to off-peak hours will help reduce pressure on our power grid during peak hours (peak-hour demand has the effect of convincing producers that more power plants should be built, when conservation and demand redistribution could easily solve energy needs). Run the washing machine and clothes dryer during off-peak hours. Off-peak hours are typically from 9 pm to 7 am. Your utility company may also offer off-peak energy rates, in which case you can save money by running appliances during lower rate periods. Call your utility company to find out if they offer off-peak rates and during what times.
Most dry cleaners use perchloroethylene (PERC) to clean clothes, and it is toxic. The EPA says it contributes to the contamination of drinking water wells and is a suspected carcinogen.
- Instead of taking your garments labeled “DRY CLEAN ONLY” to the dry cleaners, consider professional wet cleaning instead. Professional wet cleaning is an effective and environment friendly alternative to cleaning many of the items you are now dry cleaning.