Last week I discussed some green alternatives to using chemical- based dry cleaning. While many of us have clothes that need more special care, a large part of our wardrobe consists of cotton, polyester, and blends that can stand the weekly washing. So how can I add some “green” to my regular laundry routine?
Trekking down two flights to the dark basement, I stumble through the dark as I grope for the light switch. Cobwebs brush my face as I turn on the light. It’s just me, my clothes, the washer, and the dryer. Now this is where I’m stuck–do whites go in one wash, colors in another wash? Do I need different water temperatures for different washes? I decided this whole process needed simplification. So whether you brave the depths of your cellar or the local laundromat, I have come up with some laundry tips that not only make this weekly chore less stressful, but will save energy, decrease dependence on chemicals, and have less of an impact on the earth.
Before we begin, it is good to establish a baseline of our green laundry practice. The Sierra Club has a great quiz you can take to determine how “green” your laundry habits are. I scored an 85 (out of 100), so I know there must be some of you out there who can do better than that.
Green Laundry Tips
1. Use cold water
Did you know that 90% of the energy we use when washing our clothes comes from heating the water! No kidding! Unless you have clothes with a really bad stain, you do not need warm or hot water in your wash cycle.
I think many of us know that phosphates in laundry detergents cause algae blooms, which have harmful affects on our waterways. Unfortunately, manufacturers are not required by law to disclose their ingredients. There are, however, a number of detergents that have been tested and do not contain chemicals that can harm your health or the environment. Co-op America recommends Ecover, Oxyboost, Sun & Earth, and Seventh Generation. You can also read this great post on Grist.com that reviews the pros and cons of six different laundry detergents.
It is also easy to make your own detergent at home–but we’ll save that for another post!
3. Line Dry!
Now some of you may be saying: in New England?! I know–line drying outside can really only happen for 3 weeks out of the year (do I exaggerate?), but those wooden fold-up drying racks are just as good, especially in the winter. Buy a couple of them and see how much less you use your dryer. Whether you are drying your clothes in the house or outside, line drying saves you money, energy, and a second trip to the basement. And if you have cranky-yankee neighbors who complain about your clothes fluttering in the wind, check out Project Laundry List. They are a non-profit based in New Hampshire with a simple mission: “making air-drying laundry acceptable and desirable as a simple and effective way to save energy.” Their site is packed with great resources and you can also subscribe to their blog.
Worried that you line-drying will give you stiff, uncomfortable clothes? Try adding 1/2 cup vinegar to your wash load to help keep your clothes soft. Learn about this and other tips.
4. Buy Energy Star Washers
If you are considering purchasing a washer, be sure to look for machines with Energy Star label. They use half the energy of standard washers. Dryers, however, do not have this label, as most of them use similar amounts of energy.
Do you have other tips on greening your laundry routine? Do you know of green dry cleaners and laundromats in Maine, New Hampshire, or Vermont? We would love to hear about them and share the information with our readers.