Want Greener Clothes? Try Our 8 Tips for Less Laundry

Otto white shirt LCA photo

Photos: Otto International

The German mail order company Otto Group, who quietly rival Amazon.com for their international coverage, found that simple white long-sleeved cotton shirt was responsible for 10.75 kilograms of CO2 and other greenhouses gases during its production lifecycle.

Ecotextile News has reported that the largest proportions of CO2 emissions were linked to the consumer use phase, i.e.: washing, drying and ironing. For example, using a tumble drier each time you launder add 7 kilograms to the shirt's carbon footprint. But that's not the half of it.The manufacture of a white long-sleeved cotton shirt contributes 3.0 kilograms of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent), but the a dark coloured is even heftier on the scales at 3.4 kilograms, a 13% increase. Yet even though the shirt had travelled over 35,000 from fabric source to Otto's warehouse its transport emissions were just 300 grams.

The study released a couple of months back reinforces what we already knew. It is not so much the materials, production or business-to-business shipping of clothing that creates it's biggest environmental burden. It us, the users and our laundry practices, that's where the greatest change can be wrought.

Not that this is new news, by any stretch of the imagination.

Earlier Clothing Life Cycle Assessments
In 2008 we observed that electric clothes dryers use 6% of residential electricity in the United States, making the second largest consumer of household energy.

In 2006 we noted a French study that found 47% of the ecological impact of a pair of jeans came from washing, drying and ironing them. (I know, who would bother ironing jeans?)

In 2002 we referenced a study by Britain's iconic department store chain Marks and Spencer, where they found that more than 75% of energy consumed during the two life of men's briefs and trousers could be attributed to consumer care.
(M&S; have since removed the file we linked to.)

But before all these studies, there was the oft quoted 1993 Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of a women's polyester blouse. This study concluded that "approximately 82 percent of the total energy requirements are related to consumer use. Most of this energy is consumed in the home laundry operation. Of this energy requirement, approximately two thirds of the energy is for washing (including heating water) and one-third for drying."

hills hoist clothes line sunshine photo

Photo: Warren McLaren / Inov8
Tips for Greener Clothing and Laundry
So what to do? Simple really:
1. Choose apparel in muted shades that won't readily show dirt or stains
2. Select textured fabrics over flat weaves for the same reason
3. Read care labels before you make a purchase
4. Don't buy clothes that need dry cleaning
5. Don't buy clothing that must be hot washed
6. Wash on cold cycle, preferably with a front load washing machine
7. Line or air dry, instead of using tumble driers
8. Fold clothes straight off the line, so they don't need ironing

For more on the carbon footprint project the Otto Group undertook with Systain Consulting under the umbrella of the German Federal Ministry of the Environment check out EcoTextile News.

More Green Clothing and Laundry
Eco-Tip: Choosing Green Clothing
Q&A.; Green Business Suits
Is Bamboo Clothing Truly Green?
Q&A.; Is Silk Green?
How To: Eco-Laundry
What would your perfect t-shirt be like?
How to Go Green: Wardrobe

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