How To: Eco-Laundry

A while back, we did a piece on self cleaning clothing. We cited some LCA research, that indicated 75% of the energy consumption in apparel, was not in its manufacture or distribution, but in the laundering thereof. So the question came back, "until self cleaning threads are commerical, how can we reduce that environmental impact?" Let’s have a look:
• Don’t tumble dry to begin with. Use solar energy and air dry on a line. Your clothes will smell better and last longer as well. Turn them inside out, if you have colourfastness concerns. If it's raining or snowing, use clothes airing racks (like the one pictured).
• If you must tumble dry, visit the local laundromat - their industrial driers are more energy efficient than domestic versions. (Same is true of their washing machines.)
• Avoid ironing. Hang clothes up soon after the the wash cycle is finished, and the water still in them will work with gravity to pull most wrinkles out. For wrinkle-prone clothing like linen, leave out the final spin cycle, so more water is retained in the clothes for extra weight while drying. Fold dry clothes where you want creases to be and put them under clothes in your dresser. Weight of the other clothes will help press them, just liked they’d been ironed. • Use a front load washing machine. They use at least 40% less water and up to 65% less electricity compared to a top loader. Front loaders are kinder on your 'smalls' as well, due to less twisting actions.
• Only use the Cold setting on your washing machine. Masses of energy go into heating water otherwise. Select an appropriate cold water detergent.
• Yeh, we know about washballs or laundry disks that are detergent alternatives but most lab reports suggest they are ineffective, at best. Some even require the use of hot water to work, negating any supposed benefits.
•Buy powered detergents. Don’t pay for someone to ship the added water, in liquid detergent, around the country. Why use a greenhouse-gas-emitting 18 wheeler, when you’ve already got water plumbed into the washing machine! And make sure your deteregent is phosphate free - our waterways and wetlands have enough to contend with, without high nutrients loads setting off algal blooms.
• On the same premise use roll-on pre-wash stain removers, rather than squirt bottles or aerosol options. End up with the solution on the stain, not half in the air.
• Always fill up the washing machine with a full load, to maximise the water and energy used. If required (and it’s provided) select the ‘Half Load’ setting.
• Read care labels before buying apparel. Avoid where possible, any clothing that is ‘Dry Clean Only’. Although there are few more benign drycleaning processes these days, most still use a strong mix of nasty chemicals.
• Wear clothes more than once before washing them. Easily practical with pants, skirts, jackets and sweaters. But also possible with shirts and blouses, especially if you choose darker colours, less prone to showing marks. And select natural fabrics less likely to cause you to perspire. Merino wool is particularly good at masking body odour. Linen and hemp are not so bad either. Similarly, having a wardrobe of classic styles in a complementary colours, allows you to wear some of the same clothes, even in the same week, while looking like you’ve a different ensemble each day. Air clothes in the sun and moving air, before wearing again - UV light is a good sterilising agent.
• [by WM]

The image at the top is of a Traditional Solid Wood Concertina Clothes Airer. £12.99 from Argos