This post is Part II of Going green in the Laundry Room–3 Easy Steps + MORE.
Laundering clothes with natural products rather than petrochemical detergents can help extend the life of clothes, and contribute to a cleaner environment.
How to go green Between 75 and 80% of our clothing’s lifecycle impact comes from washing and drying, according to reports by Proctor and Marks & Spencer, because it takes so much energy to heat the wash water and run the dry cycle. Clearly, there’s huge potential to reduce your personal energy and water use–and your environmental footprint—by greening your laundry habits, as GreenPlanet.Discovery.com points out.
The average household does almost 400 loads of laundry each year, consuming about 13,500 gallons of water according to Energy Star. Switching to an Energy Star-qualified top-loading (or “horizontal axis”) machine can save as much as 7,000 gallons of water per year. Over the approximately 11-year life of a washer, that’s enough water to fill up three backyard swimming pools or provide a lifetime of drinking water for six people! An Energy Star-qualified clothes washer can also save you $550 in operating costs over its lifetime. Many new efficient washers can easily pay for themselves over the course of their lives. (Hint: If you purchased your washer before 1994, it’s time to consider replacing it.)
If you don’t mind a little exercise and are tight on space, you could always try the WonderWash, a hand-operated, very inexpensive, electricity-free alternative purporting to wash a 5 pound load in just a coiuple of minutes. When shopping for a natural laundry detergent and fabric softener, keep in mind that product labels such as “environmentally-friendly”, “green” or the ambiguous “natural” have been interpreted by the product’s manufacturer; Unfortunately, your definition of “natural” is not necessarily theirs. Industry labeling standards do not fully define these terms, leaving the manufacturers to choose how to determine their meaning. (What qualifies a detergent as “natural“?)
First and foremost, look for products marked “phosphate-free”. Phosphates are surfactants, chemical wetting agents capable of reducing the surface tension of a liquid in which it is dissolved. As the Research and Development guys at Ecover explain, “Phosphates have nothing to do with cleaning. They only and rivers causing harmful consequences. However, phosphates have proven to be powerful stimulants to algal growth when flushed into lakes. Surfactants interfere with the protective coating from the skin of aquatic creatures such as frogs and fish with dire consequences, Excessive algal growth or ‘blooms’ as they’re commonly known lead to oxygen depletion, causing death of fish and aquatic life.”
A truly natural laundry detergent will be made from a plant- and mineral-based derivative to soften the water, but biodegrade fast enough so the frogs and surfactants never meet. See A green approach to laundry–whiter whites and making it yourself for an excellent list of recommended detergents, and a recipe to make your own natural detergent and fabric softener.
A major energy drain Second only to your refrigerator, your dryer checks in at number two on the list of household energy hogs, costing the average household more than $70 per year in energy, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. There are approximately 88 million dryers in the country, each emitting more than a ton of carbon dioxide annually. Opting for a clothesline or drying rack (even occasionally or for delicate items) can help you save on your monthly utility bills—or eliminate the need for buying and maintaining a dryer altogether. Consider also the number of dryer sheets you use per month, and then multiply that by 88 million dryers. Sure, not everyone is using them at the same frequency, but you’ll get a glimpse of what goes into our landfills. Or let me do the math for you: If every U.S. dryer owner uses one sheet for just one load of laundry per week, that’s 18,304,000,000 sheets in landfills per year.
What about wrinkles? According to GreenPlanet.Discovery.com, to avoid looking like you just rolled out of bed, simply hang clothes up immediately after the wash cycle is complete. The water still in them will work with gravity to pull most wrinkles out. For wrinkle-prone clothing such as linen, cut the final spin cycle, which will leave even more water in the garments, creating yet more pull. Then fold dry clothes where you want creases to be, and place them under other clothes in your dresser, which will further help to press them. This may be easier said than done; you have to be home when the cycle is complete, and have ears perked for your washer’s final chime of completion. And, if you have a spouse like mine, you may have to convince your partner to agree to room-temperature, unfluffed clothing. Your eco-friendly habits in the laundry room will benefit the environment, but you will also pocket extra cash by greening your regimen.
For more info: See A green approach to laundry–whiter whites and making it yourself for a list of recommended detergents–and a recipe to make your own natural detergent and fabric softener at home.
- Some homeowners’ associations and municipalities oppose hanging clothes out to dry,. A pro-line drying movement, headed up by Right to Dry, is putting up a good defense for your right to harvest free solar energy.
- Learn how Katy Wolk-Stanley has learned to “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”
- Learn more about the Airwash, a waterless, detergent-free concept product using negative ions, compressed air and anti-bacterial deodorants to clean clothes, which may be available “as soon as” 2020.
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