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Laundry, it's a dirty word, but someone has to do it. In the course of doing the eco-friendly laundry, almost 75 - 80% of our clothes lifecycle impact comes from being washed and dried. This impact comes from the energy consumed in heating the water for washing and the energy used to dry the clothes in the dryer. If you green up your laundry habits the environmental impact of getting clean can be substantial.
You can save some bucks, quite a lot actually, by following an environmentally friendly clothes washing procedure. Every year the average household does approximately 400 loads of eco-friendly laundry. In washing those clothes approximately 13,500 gallons of water are used. Assuming that the average life span of a washing machine is 11 years, that's enough to fill three swimming pools in the backyard or provide enough drinking water for six people for a lifetime. If your washing machine is approaching that 11 year old mark, maybe it's time to switch to an Energy Star certified washing machine. One of these modern machines can save over half the water used in an older model that isn't very eco-friendly. Additionally an Energy Star certified washer would save you over $500.00 in energy costs over its lifetime.
You can put your energy hog dryer on a diet too. Dryers rank in at number 2 in terms eco-friendly laundry of energy consumption. The refrigerator is number 1. Simply trot down to the hardware store, purchase a couple of hooks, a couple of clothesline pulleys, some clothes line and clothes pins. Put up a clothes line or use a drying rack and you'll save over $70.00 per year in part time use. You don't need the added chemicals in your laundry detergent to make your clothes smell "clothesline fresh".
Your washer and dryer are only part of the equation when it comes to eco-friendly laundry. Making your laundry more eco-friendly laundry brings multiple benefits aside from reducing your wardrobe's carbon footprint. Doing your laundry in an environmentally friendly way saves on your clothes, your wallet and your environment
Eco-Friendly Laundry Tips
(1) Once is NOT enough of Eco-Friendly Laundry
Just because you wore it once doesn't mean that it has to go into the eco-friendly laundry basket. Most clothing items (socks and underwear are the exceptions) can be worn more than once. The first step to being eco-friendly is simply doing less laundry. If you wear a shirt for a couple of hours, and it's not dirty, stained or sweat soaked, hang it up for another day. In a study conducted by the United Nations Environment Program it was found that jeans worn for 3 wearings, washed in cold water and dried out on the line consumed almost 5 times less energy than jeans worn once and tossed into the hamper.
(2) What's in Your Eco-Friendly Laundry Detergent?
Unless you actually read the label when you bought your laundry detergent you probably have a laundry detergent that contains Phosphates. Phosphates have at best a negative effect on aquatic ecosystems and can cause algae blooms. It doesn't take the knowledge of a rocket scientist or an immense amount of time to read a label and find out if a product is biodegradable and phosphate free. If a product is biodegradable it means that it was created from plant and vegetable ingredients and aren't oil based. Biodegradable and phosphate free soaps are easier on your clothes, your skin and the planet. An alternative is soap nuts, which come from certain species of trees. These nuts produce a soapy substance when they come in contact with water. If you use fabric softeners, try a cup of white vinegar at the beginning of the rinse cycle instead. Vinegar balances the ph of the soap allowing your clothes to rinse cleaner.
(3) Bigger is better of Eco-Friendly Laundry
When you purchase your laundry detergent, look for he biggest size your budget can afford. Buying the larger size means less packaging and fewer trips to go out and buy more detergent. Also look for eco-friendly laundry detergent that is concentrated. Concentrated laundry detergent means that you use less per load and once again, fewer trips to the store to replace what you have used.
(4) DIY of Eco-Friendly Laundry
If you really want to know what you are washing your clothes with, take the time and make your own eco-friendly laundry detergent. There are many recipes on various websites that allow even those of us who don't have Chemical Engineering degrees to create our own laundry soap with common every day household ingredients.
(5) Get The Most Out of Your Washer of Eco-Friendly Laundry
If you walk out to the laundry room and see a top load washer, chances are that its using last century's technology to wash your clothes. Top load washers use approximately 40 gallons of water during each wash cycle. The new Energy Star certified machines, which are front loaders, use between 18 and 25 gallons of water to wash the same amount of clothes. Even if you are not ready to upgrade and replace your old washing machine there are several tips that you can use to minimize your impact on the environment when you do your laundry.
- When you do your laundry, wash in cold water. There are modern detergents out there that will get your clothes clean and keep your whites white in cold water. Since 90% of the energy consumed in washing goes into heating water, you can realize a substantial savings.
- When you do your eco-friendly laundry either fill the washer to capacity and do a full load or select one of the smaller load settings on your washer. This way, your washer will be operating at its most efficient point.
(6) Let it All Hang Out
In the United States alone, there are approximately 88 million clothes dryers in operation. Each of these machines emits a ton of carbon dioxide each year. Additionally the tumbling action of the dryer in the drying process of the clothes tends to damage the fabric of the clothes thus shortening the life of the clothing. Hanging clothes out on the line to utilize the cheap solar and wind power to dry your clothes is a viable alternative that will save you big bucks and keep tons of carbon dioxide out of the air each year. If your municipality or homeowners association has rules about clothes lines, Contact Right to Dry or LineDryIt to get some assistance in changing things around.
(7) Get The Most Out of Your Eco-Friendly Laundry Drying Experience
There are days when it's just not nice enough to hang clothes out and expect them to dry. When you do use your dryer, make sure that your lint trap is clean before starting a load of clothes. Additionally, you should clean the dryer hose to get all of the lint out of it so that the air can exhaust the way it's supposed to. There simple kits out on the market that have specialized brushes to do this chore. If your dryer has a moisture sensor, make sure that you use it. It will shorten your drying time and save you money. Energy Star doesn't rate dryers but when you are shopping for a new on, make sure that the one you select does have a moisture sensor. If you are using dryer sheets, the best thing you could do for yourself is to toss them into the trash. Dryer sheets contain chemicals that can include toluene and styrene. Both of
these chemicals are cancer causing and are neurotoxins. Additionally they break down organic fibers shortening the life of your clothes. If you want your clothes to smell pretty toss in a sachet of dried organic lavender; you'll be healthier for it.
(8) Iron is Out of Eco-Friendly Laundry
Ironing clothes is about as stimulating as watching ice melt. Aside from being at best boring, ironing consumes energy and deteriorates the fabric of your clothes. Nobody wants to wear wrinkled clothes so try this the next time you do eco-friendly laundry. Take a hanger and hang your clothes up, directly out of the dryer. The weight of the water in the clothes will pull the wrinkles out as they dry. If you have linens that you just washed, skip the last rinse spin out and hang the clothes up soaking wet. More water means more weight, which equals fewer wrinkles. When your clothes are dry, fold them where the creases should be and put them in the bottom of your dresser drawer. The other clothes in your dresser will help the creases "set".
(9) Be Commercial of Eco-Friendly Laundry
Commercial Laundromats tend to have larger capacity washers and dryers. This means that you can wash and dry a bigger load than you could at home. Additionally commercial machines tend to be more energy efficient than home machines. These two facts bring the energy consumption of you washday efforts down. If you drop your laundry off, or have it picked up to be done, ask them to use green detergents when they do your clothes.
(10) Dry(?) Cleaning of Eco-Friendly Laundry
Dry Cleaning establishments use a chemical called perchloroethylene (generally shortened to perc) to clean your clothes. This chemical has been known in studies to cause increased risks of cancer (cervical, bladder and eshphageal) along with eye nose and throat irritations. Oh yes and a reduced fertility. Just what you want your clothes cleaned in right? There are alternatives to dry cleaning though.
? Read the label when you buy clothes. Don't buy clothes that need to be dry cleaned.
? Delicate clothes including lambs wool and cashmere can be hand washed and line dried without harm.
If you do have clothes that do need to be dry cleaned, it's not a big thing. The idea is to reduce exposure if you can't live without that dress that absolutely needs to be dry cleaned. There is a light on the horizon though. In an effort to become environmentally conscious, dry cleaners are now using liquid CO2 instead of perc as a cleaning agent. You can find a list of these cleaners in the EPA pages. There are new processes that make dry cleaning wet cleaning. Computer controlled washers and dryers along with a very mild detergent coupled with professional pressers and finishers afford an
eco-friendly laundry alternative.
Green Laundry: By the Numbers
- 90 percent: Amount of total of energy used by a typical washing machine to heat the water; only 10 percent is used to power the motor.
- 34 million tons: Amount of carbon dioxide emissions that would be saved if every U.S. household used only cold water for washing clothes--that's nearly 8 percent of the Kyoto target for the U.S.
- 700 pounds: Amount of carbon dioxide emissions saved each year by line-drying your family's laundry. You'd save 75 bucks, too.
- 99 pounds: Amount of carbon dioxide emissions saved per household each year by running only full loads of laundry.
- 7,000 gallons: Amount of water saved per year by a typical front-loading washing machine compared to a top-loading washing machine.
- 88 percent: Average increase in energy efficiency for a washing machine between 1981 and 2003.
- 49: Percentage of laundry loads run with warm water in the U.S. 37 percent are run with cold water and 14 percent with hot.
SOURCES: StopGlobalWarming.org, CNN, Ready, Set, Green, Energy Star, Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, U.S. Department of Energy
Things you really ought to know
Eco-Friendly Laundry Detergents
Do you really know what's inside your laundry detergent or stain remover? Chances are you don't. Many laundry detergents and stain removers contain alkylphenol exthoxylates or APEs. APEs are a category of chemicals that are commonly known as surficants. These chemicals penetrate the surface of the fabric and allow it to accept more water allowing the cleaning ingredients to wash the stain away. Apes have the potential to damage the immune system and are potential hormone disruptors. Hormone disruptors can imitate hormones in the body's systems that regulate development and reproductive systems. The USFDA has also warned that the chemical family that APEs are in can potentially contain the carcinogen, 1,4-dioxane.
Chlorine Bleach of Eco-Friendly Laundry
The chlorine bleach that we commonly use is highly caustic and can cause skin irritation and redness. The chemical name for chlorine bleach is sodium hypochlorite. It is a sensory irritant that can affect eyes, nose and throat. It can be fatal if swallowed. In 2002, The EPA stated that 26,338 children were exposed to or poisoned by household chlorine bleach. If used as a cleaning agent for other than laundry chlorine can combine with other cleaning agents and become highly toxic. When mixed with ammonia, it creates chloramine gas. When mixed with acids, it forms chlorine gas, which can be highly detrimental to your airway. When you rinse the chlorinated water out of your washer it has the potential to escape in to the water ways where it can form organochlorines. Organochlorines are suspected carcinogens. Additionally organochlorines are toxic to reproductive, neurological and immune systems. Once released in to the environment it can take years of even decades for the environment to absorb and neutralize them.
Energy Star Standard of Eco-Friendly Laundry
Over the past thirty years from when energy standards were first proposed several formulas have been promulgated and utilized until today's current standard has been adopted. The current standard is known as the "Modified Energy Factor" and is expressed in the formula MEF=C/(ME+HE+DE) where C=Capacity of Washer, ME=The Amount of Electricity Drawn in One Wash Cycle, HE=the amount of energy used to heat the water for the wash cycle, DE=The Amount of Energy required to dry the clothes based on moisture content of the clothes and size of the load. All washers manufactured since January 01, 2007 must meet a minimum MEF standard of 1.26 to earn an Energy Star Certification. If you are really interested, the whole history including formulas is available from the DOE in a PDF document.
Vinegar? Of Eco-Friendly Laundry
If you use vinegar in your laundry, you won't wind up smelling like you just stepped out of an Italian Delicatessen. As a general rule commercial distilled white vinegars contain 5% acetic acid and have a ph of about 2.4. That PH puts them on the acid end of the scale. Most commercial detergents have a ph that ranges from 8 - 10 which puts them on the base end of the scale. Vinegar helps to maintain a balance, which allows your clothes to rinse cleaner and softer.