Laundry is one of life’s unavoidable chores. But it doesn’t have to be unavoidably harmful to your health or the environment. To decrease the impact of your laundry, try these tips for getting your laundry both clean and green.
Your Washing Machine is a Pig
Washing your clothes uses a lot of energy and water. Heating water for laundry accounts for 36 percent of total household hot water use and 80 to 85 percent of the total energy consumed per wash. To save energy, wash and rinse your clothes in cold water. You can purchase detergents sold specifically for use in cold water, but I have not noticed any difference in cleanliness using regular liquid detergent or predissolved powder detergent. Heavily soiled loads will still get clean if you pre-treat and soak them.
Washing machines are also big water hogs. Conventional top-loading machines use around 40 gallons of water per load and some use even more. For the most efficient use of energy and water, only wash full loads; two partial loads use more water than one full load. If you are in the market for a new washing machine, consider buying an Energy Star front-loading washing machine. These horizontal-axis washers use 30 to 50 percent less energy and only 11 to 25 gallons of water per load. The spin cycle is more efficient as well, resulting in shorter drying times for clothes.
Let it All Hang Out
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, driers are the second biggest user of electricity in the home and account for 6 percent of its energy use. They also strip fiber from your clothes (what do you think laundry lint is made of?), and can dry wrinkles into your clothing.
To save energy, prolong the life of your clothes, and reduce your need for ironing, consider line drying your laundry. To avoid stiff line-dried clothes, add 1/2 cup of vinegar to the wash cycle, line dry outside on a windy day, or pop the clothes in the dryer for a few minutes before hanging them up. Sunlight is a good disinfectant and stain remover, but it can also fade laundry, so the best spots to hang laundry are on a covered porch or balcony, or inside next to a breezy window. During the winter or on rainy days, set up your clothesline or drying rack in a warm, dry place indoors. Hanging clothing right next to a space heater, radiator, or woodstove would be a bad idea, of course. Drying on a line takes longer than in a clothes drier and your hanging space may be limited, so doing laundry several times a week rather than several big loads all at once might be more practical.
If you use a drier, maximize your drier’s efficiency by keeping the lint filter clean. If you are in the market for a new drier, buy one with a moisture sensor, which will tell the drier to shut off when the clothes are dry instead of running for a set time. You may also want to consider buying a gas drier, since they have a lighter impact on the environment than electric driers, according to Consumer Reports. Energy Star does not rate driers because it has not found a significant difference in their energy efficiency.
Do You Want That Next to Your Skin?
Conventional laundry products are made of chemicals that are hard on your health and the environment. Companies are not required to disclose all the ingredients in their products because of trade secret laws, and claims of being organic or biodegradable are often just marketing jargon, not fact. Instead, buy products that list all the ingredients and check the label to see what is and what isn’t in the product.
Avoid products that contain nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), linear alkylbenzene sulfonate (LAS), or alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs), which disrupt hormones or harm waterways and aquatic life. You should also avoid products with synthetic fragrances and dyes, which can cause asthma, respiratory problems, and skin irritations.
Reduce static cling by drying synthetic and natural fibers separately and adding 1/2 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle instead of using chemical fragrance-laden fabric softeners and drier sheets. Static cling is not a problem if you line dry.
Remove stains by treating them directly with your eco-friendly laundry soap or using chlorine-free bleach alternatives like hydrogen peroxide or oxygen-based bleaches, since chlorine bleach creates dioxins when released into the environment.
Your Laundry is Waiting
Laundry is unavoidable, remember? So set the temperature to cold and get washing!
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