Not only is laundry a necessary chore, but it’s a huge drain on both water and electricity. The average household does almost 400 loads of laundry each year, requiring 13,500 gallons of water using traditional machines. And the dryer is the second largest energy-consuming appliance in home (after the refrigerator), costing an estimated $70 each year. Thankfully there are plenty of ways to green your laundry routine and leave more green in your wallet.
A NEW LOOK AT LAUNDERING
Making your laundry routine more eco-friendly doesn’t have to be expensive or arduous. Try these quick and easy adjustments to make a big difference:
• Use cold water. Ninety percent of energy used by your washer goes toward heating the water, so wash in cold water whenever possible. Current research estimates that only 37% of U.S. laundry loads are run with cold water. If everyone switched to cold, we could prevent the release of 34 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
• Wash only full loads of laundry. To keep your washer running at peak efficiency, wait to run it until you’ve saved up a full load of clothes. Doing so can save as much as 5,200 gallons of water each year.
• Green your detergent. You don’t have to make your own detergent (although you certainly can!) but you should buy concentrated detergent to keep packaging to a minimum. Plus, concentrated detergent uses less water during the manufacturing process than traditional liquid detergents. Look for detergent brands that have earned an “A” rating from Environmental Working Group like Seventh Generation, Dr. Bronner’s, Martha Stewart and Green Shield.
• Line dry. The average dryer in the U.S. is responsible for one ton of CO2 emissions per year, so line drying is a big environmental win. An added bonus: line drying reduces wear and tear on your clothes, so they last longer. Short on time? Try partly drying using your machine and then line drying to finish.
• Clean out your lint filter after each load to maximize your dryer’s efficiency.
• Utilize the dryer’s moisture sensor, which will stop the machine once it senses your clothes have reached the desired dryness. Using the moisture sensor can cut CO2 emissions by as much as 10%.
• Run dryer loads back to back to take advantage of any residual heat that may still be in the dryer and reduce energy use.
ADOPT ENERGY-SAVING HABITS
• Wear your clothes more than once. The best way to reduce the amount of energy used to do your laundry is simply to limit your loads. There’s no need to wear dirty clothes, but try to wear jeans, sweaters and dresses more than once before tossing them in the basket.
• Only iron when necessary. Running the iron requires additional energy. To avoid wrinkles, shake out your clothes before placing them in the dryer, and fold or hang clothes as soon as the dryer cycle is done.
IMPROVE YOUR APPLIANCES
• Buy Energy Star-rated machines when you’re ready to upgrade. Energy Star washers use 50% less energy and water than traditional machines.
• Choose front-loading machines. Front-loading washers require less water because the tub rotates rather than agitating. Front-loading Energy Star washers use only 18-25 gallons of water per load, compared to 40 gallons for a top-loading machine, saving as much as 7,000 gallons of water per year. All in all, an Energy Star washer could save you $550 in operating costs over the machine’s lifetime. And Front-loading dryers save energy, too. They are able to spin faster, thus reducing drying time.
• Consider the water factor. When buying a washer, look at the water factor, which is the number of gallons of water used per cycle per cubic foot. The lower the water factor, the more efficient the washer.
According to retailers’ reports, 75-80% of the lifecycle impact of our clothing can be attributed to washing and drying. Taking steps to limit your laundry loads and opting to line dry will not only save energy and money, they’ll keep your clothes looking newer longer.
ANNA JOYCE GAYLE is an environmental journalist living in Virginia.