Q: My energy bill this summer has been outrageous so far, and I heard somewhere that besides the air conditioner, whose usage I try to keep to a minimum (we turn it off completely at night and usually have it on during the weekends only when we’re home), the biggest electricity guzzler is the washer and dryer. If that’s the case, are there any tips you have for greening our laundry routine?
A: Well, you’re right about the washer and dryer being huge energy suckers (sort of like a warehouse store in New Jersey on a Sunday). According to Energy Star, the average American family washes about 400 loads of laundry a year. And by the U.S. Department of Energy’s estimations, about 17 percent of your electric bill is the sum of all the appliances in your house, with your refrigerator, washer and dryer costing the most.
First off, if your washer is more than 10 years old, you are likely paying almost $150 extra a year than if you were using a newer, Energy-Star certified model. That’s because Energy Star washers usually don’t have a central agitator (making more room for clothes) and they also use less water per load — about 10 to 20 gallons of water per load instead of 30 to 35 gallons of water in a traditional washer. (Also, newer high efficiency washing machines are front-loading instead of top-loading.) In fact, if 20 percent of Americans with washers upgraded to high-efficiency machines, they would keep 3.5 million tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year.
What if you can’t make the switch now or you already have and are looking for other ways to green your laundry routine?
Try using cold water when you can — about 90 percent of the energy used by a conventional washing machine is used just to heat the water. Usually, washing in cold and warm water can be just as effective as washing in hot, unless you’re battling some serious stains (which, like any mother of a toddler, I often am). Seventh Generation concentrated detergent works just as well in cold as in hot water, and has helped me get some really tough stains out of my kids’ clothes (greasy potatoes, anyone?).
Next, make sure to fill the washer up when you use it. No, this doesn’t mean emptying out your sock drawer in order to fill up the load. It means waiting until you have enough to fill it up in the first place from the dirty clothes bin before you actually wash your clothes. Not only will you save water and energy; you’ll end up with more time on your hands.
Another way to save electricity is to line-dry your clothes instead of putting them in the dryer. Or, if you prefer, put them in the dryer for just a few minutes, and then hang them up still damp. Not only will this help you save on your energy bill, but it will also help get the wrinkles out of your clothes (saving you time and precious energy on ironing).
While we’re on the subject of dryers, do you use a fabric softener sheet each time you dry your clothes? I’ve stopped doing it, and with the exception of my towels, haven’t noticed one bit of a difference. We originally stopped using them because our family dermatologist thought that something in them may be causing my son’s allergic reaction, but after I read about the possible neurotoxins in them, I was happy to drop them from my routine altogether.
For more green laundry tips, click here.