5 tips for healthier, Earth-friendly laundry
Save money -- and green your laundry -- with these simple changes.
Mon, Apr 12 2010 at 4:13 PM
COLD WORKS WELL: About 80 percent of the energy used in conventional laundry goes toward heating the water. (Photo: Loren Sztajer/Flickr)
It's laundry day! Actually, if you have kids, you know there's no such thing as "laundry day." Every day is laundry day and will include several loads, depending on your lifestyle.
That's a lot of water and energy. And a lot of expense, too. Want to save some money, while being kinder to the Earth at the same time? Let's make our laundry eco-friendly!
Wash in cold water
But doesn't hot water get clothes cleaner? Yes, if we're talking about clothes with greasy dirt. But these could just as easily be pre-treated before tossing them in with the rest of the wash.
Eighty percent of the energy used in conventional laundry goes toward heating the water. Most homes could save at least $60 a year just by switching to cold. You'll also stop putting over 1,200 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year by reducing your energy needs.
You don't even need one of those commercial cold-water cleaners. Most detergents will dissolve just fine in any temperature water. If yours doesn't, switch brands, move to liquid, or dissolve your regular detergent in two cups of hot water before adding it to your machine.
With cold water washing, your clothes will last longer, too. Most of the world washes in cold. It'll work fine for you.
Switch to a vegetable-based detergent
Most commercial laundry detergents are petroleum-based. Apart from the fact that petroleum is an increasingly precious resource, switching to a vegetable-derived cleaner is a quick way to reduce your family's output of things that aren't good for our land and water.
You're washing clothes in a chemical soup. Phosphates are linked to algal blooms which choke the oxygen out of water and kill aquatic life.
And you really don't need those dyes, optical whiteners and heavy perfumes — particularly if there are people in your household with sensitive skin.
There are lots of natural detergent options these days, including Seventh Generation's Free and Clear Laundry Liquid (it also comes in powder form). You can also try EnviroRite detergent. Neither product is tested on animals — something which can't be said for most commercial laundry products.
Wash early and late in the day
For most people, power costs the same, regardless what time of day it's used. But doing the laundry produces heat, and there's no point paying to cool your living space unnecessarily. Do the laundry before it warms up.
Revive the family clothesline
Humans have used the sun and wind to dry their clothes for thousands of years. While modern dryers are certainly fast and convenient, you can save money and energy by hanging a few loads a week.
A clothesline can be something as simple as a rope between two trees. But if you're going to be doing big loads, you'll appreciate the capacity of an umbrella-style dryer. These can usually be found for around $50 USD, and will quickly pay for themselves.
An added benefit to line drying — other than that great "fresh laundry" smell — is that the sun's UV rays do a great job disinfecting clothes. The clothesline is a great companion to cold water washing.
Consider more efficient washers and dryers
Hooray for the front-loading washer! Less water, and much less energy when it's time to dry thanks to their aggressive spin cycles. They're easier on fabrics, too.
Washers and dryers are big-ticket purchases. But when it's time to replace yours, look for one of the energy-efficient models. Standard washers use up to 40 gallons of water per load; the new resource-misers only require 18-25.
EnergyStar has developed a rating system for washing machines. You can get a rated model in either front- or top-loading styles. You'll find EnergyStar’s current list of recommended models here.
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