Washing and drying clothes can take a toll on your wallet and the planet – these easy tips make it better.
Americans love clean clothes, so much, in fact, that we do an estimated 660,000,000 loads of laundry a week. Just imagine all that water and energy, it boggles the mind.
While high-efficiency washers can reduce water usage by 30 to 60 percent and can use up to half as less energy of traditional machines – and high-efficiency dryers offer like reductions – there is still so much laundry being done that it seems prudent to make it as an efficient process as possible. Add to that our passion for cleaning products that do dreadful things for our health and the ecosystems where they end up after they've made our clothes smell like fake spring air and meadows, and it just seems like a good idea to clean up our act.
With all of that in mind, the following tips are easy ways to reduce water usage, conserve energy, and promote a toxic-free environment – think of them as simple ways to ease the burden on your wallet and the planet.
WashingElectricity and water usage varies from machine to machine, but is also affected by the way the machine is used. The first step is to simply wash your clothes less frequently, which saves money, water, energy and extends the life of your apparel. After that, consider these suggestions.
1. Instead of washing two medium loads, save up and do one larger load – though be sure not to overload your machine. Check your washer's manual for load capacity in pounds, then weigh out a few loads of laundry to get a sense of how much laundry your machine can handle.
2. Adjust water level (load size) to the lowest setting that makes sense to use. That is, don't think that washing a small load in "large load" mode is going to make things cleaner.
3. Use the shortest cycle needed for the job.
4. Many people use so much more detergent than they need; more is not better. Reader's Digest sums it up pretty convincingly: "Using too much detergent can actually create more problems, including stain or residue on clothes, odor left behind in the washing machine from trapped excess residue, loads not having a chance to drain properly, resulting in wetter clothes, increased wear and tear on the washing machine’s pump and motor from the suds acting like a brake, and greater energy required to wash clothes since the machine automatically adds extra rinses and pauses to break down excess suds." Read your detergent's instructions and follow them.
5. Wash and rinse temperatures have a dramatic impact on overall energy use and thus, cost. Usually, the temperature of the rinse water does not affect cleaning, so always set the washing machine for a cold water rinse. For pre-soaking, a cooler wash temperature may be fine.
6. Experiment with different laundry detergents to find one that works well with cooler water.
7. Turn down the thermostat on your water heater. Many manufacturers set the thermostat at 140F, but a setting of 120F is adequate for most home needs. By reducing your hot water temperature, you will save energy with either hot or warm wash cycles.
DryingAccording to the EPA program Energy Star, clothes dryers are by far the hungriest appliance for energy. They explain that if all dryers sold in the U.S> were Energy Star certified, Americans could save more than $1.5 billion each year in utility costs and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from more than 2 million vehicles. That said, even high-efficiency dryers still use a lot of energy.
Hanging your clothes to dry instead of using the dryer can save 700 pounds of C02 a year. Plus, there's nothing like sun- and wind-dried clothes! But admittedly, line-drying is not practical for everyone, and some communities don't even allow it. If you can’t line dry, try to follow these tips.
8. If your dryer has a sensor that allows for an automatic cycle, be sure to use it instead of a timed dry to avoid wasting energy. Over-drying can also cause shrinkage, generate static electricity, and shorten the life of your clothes.
9. A high spin cycle in the washer will result in better water extraction and thus reduce the energy required for drying; mechanical water extraction by spinning is much more efficient than using the heat of a dryer.
10. Separate your clothes and dry similar types of clothes together. Lightweight synthetics, for example, dry much more quickly than bath towels and natural fiber clothes.
11. Take clothes out before they are over-dried and as soon as they are done to avoid the need for ironing – another big energy user.
12. Don’t add wet items to a load that is already partially dried, it will just slow the whole thing down. Likewise, however, you can remove lighter items from the dryer that have dried more quickly.
13. Dry loads in succession to take advantage of the heat still in the dryer from the first load.
14. If you can line dry just a few items, choose the water sponges known as towels. Also, try hanging clothes made of synthetic materials in your bathroom – they dry quickly and removing them from the dryer will reduce static cling.
15. Always clean the dryer filter between loads; a clogged filter will restrict flow and reduce dryer performance.
16. Dry full loads when you can, but be careful not to stuff the dryer. Drying small loads wastes energy, but air should be able to circulate freely around the drying clothes.
17. Check the outside dryer exhaust vent. Make sure it is clean and that the flapper on the outside hood opens and closes freely.
18. For both washers and dryers, I can't emphasize this enough: Read the manual! Nobody knows your machine better than the manufacturers who made it. Manuals are chock full of smart instructions tailored to your machine.
Laundry productsConventional laundry products contain an array of chemicals that can trigger skin and eye irritation, cause allergic reactions and asthma, damage the environment, and may have harmful long-term effects. So much for infusing your clothes with the scent of Moonlight Breeze. (That's really the name of a laundry detergent scent. What does a moonlight breeze actually smell like?) Scientists suspect that some of these chemicals cause cancer; others disrupt the endocrine system and interfere with the reproductive health of both humans and wildlife. Most of these chemicals haven’t been tested for their long-term effects on humans and our lax household chemical requirements aren't helping things much. With that in mind, you best bet is to look for natural components in your green laundry products.
19. Surfactants made from corn, coconut, and soy create gentle sudsing action and have much less impact on the environment and human health than traditionally used surfactants like alkyl phenol ethoxylates (APEs), which are classified as endocrine disruptors. Although many companies are phasing out APEs, there is no telling if synthetic alternatives will be any safer.
20. Instead of using chlorine to bleach your clothes, look for hydrogen peroxide, which breaks down into water and oxygen, or sodium percarbonate, made by combining hydrogen peroxide with the nontoxic mineral sodium carbonate – they both brighten whites as effectively as chlorine. Chlorine can irritate the lungs, eyes, and mucous membranes. Even at very low concentrations, bleach can inspire respiratory disorders, asthma attacks, and even neurological and behavioral effects.
21. Look for products that use natural essential oils and citrus oils. The chemicals that give most conventional laundry detergents, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets their "creative" scents are synthesized from petroleum and can irritate skin, cause allergic reactions, trigger asthma, and harm the nervous system. Some ingredients used in fragrances are also known carcinogens and contain phthalates.
22. Instead of dryer sheets, if you must soften, use wash-cycle natural fabric softeners which contain vegetable-based softeners and essential oils to make clothes soft and fragrant. Scientific American reports that, "harmful ingredients in dryer sheets and liquid fabric softener alike include benzyl acetate (linked to pancreatic cancer), benzyl alcohol (an upper respiratory tract irritant), ethanol (linked to central nervous system disorders), limonene (a known carcinogen) and chloroform (a neurotoxin and carcinogen), among others."
23. To avoid dryer sheets, add 1/4 cup of baking soda or a quarter cup of white vinegar to the wash cycle. To reduce static cling (a goal I never quite understood; am I missing something?), dry synthetic materials separately from natural-fiber clothes.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but it's a good start! If you have other tips, we'd love to hear about them in the comments. And for more, see our related stories below.