Green Living – Saving the Planet One Sock at a Time

Ahh, don’t we all love the smell of freshly laundered clothes? But not many of us realize that although the end result of a day of doing laundry is a cleaner wardrobe, the laundry process itself can in fact have a very unclean impact on the environment. Furthermore, many laundry detergents contain phosphates and petroleum distillates which pollute the water supply.

Well, we all can’t swing by the world’s largest laundromat that uses solar electricity (just in case you’re planning to visit, this facility is located in Berwyn, Chicago, and has 36 solar hot water panels, 157 washing machines and 145 dryers!) or have self-cleaning clothes (researchers at Clemson University are working on this!), so here are our picks for doing laundry in a sustainable way:

Use lower temperature settings. Approximately 86% of a washing machine’s energy goes towards heating water. Use warm or cold water for the wash cycle instead of hot (except for greasy stains), and only use cold for rinses, since the temperature of rinse water does not affect cleaning. Experiment with different laundry detergents to find one that works well with cooler water.

Load the washing machine to capacity when possible. Most people tend to underload rather than overload their washers. Check your machine’s load capacity in pounds, and make sure that you are nearing this capacity during each wash cycle. Washing one large load will take less energy than washing two loads on a low or medium setting.

Use natural laundry soap. Studies have found that 69% of streams in the U.S. contain disinfectants and detergent metabolites. Detergents, fabric softeners and stain removers with natural ingredients (look for phosphate-, petroleum-, and chlorine-free products) are also softer on sensitive skin, and can be found at places such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods for very reasonable prices.

Don’t over dry clothes. Take clothes out while they are still slightly damp to reduce the need for ironing-another big energy user. If your dryer has a setting for auto-dry, be sure to use it instead of the timer in order to avoid wasting energy.

Clean the dryer’s lint filter after each use. A clogged filter will restrict the flow of heat and air and reduce dryer performance, resulting in as much as a 30% increase in energy usage.

Line Dry. Hanging clothes to dry on indoor racks is less wearing, and uses no energy at all. In warmer weather, consider hanging clothes outside and using totally free solar energy to do the drying.

Separate your laundry. Dry towels and heavier cottons in a separate load from lighter-weight clothes.

While you may be a single student who washes only 4 loads per month, keep in mind that the changes you make now will be important to carry forward as the size of your household grows. According to Energy Star, the typical American household washes eight times this amount of laundry, or almost 400 loads per year. Start preserving the environment now by making these small changes in your life.

The typical washing machine uses an average of 40 gallons of water per cycle, in addition to five kilowatts of energy per hour, which is equivalent to using 50 light bulbs for one hour.

March 12, 2007
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