Eco-friendly Laundry Practices

By Sharon Naylor

April 9, 2013 6 min read

If it seems you have endless loads of laundry to do, your observation is right on target. According to the eco-friendly website NaturallySavvy.com, "one person alone can create 3 loads of laundry every week or two, so imagine what a family of four can produce in dirty clothes!" That's a tremendous amount of energy spent, from your efforts and in the energy usage of your home. According to a recent report by TLC Home, "A standard top-load washing machine with a center post agitator uses 40 to 45 gallons of water per wash load. Since the average family washes 400 loads of laundry a year, that's a lot of water (16,000 to 18,000 gallons)."

And it's what's in those loads of laundry that also raises eco-friendly concerns. According to a recent survey of 1,000 people by the eco-friendly product company Seventh Generation, "nearly two-thirds of ... Americans (64 percent) say they are 'concerned' or 'very concerned' about potentially harmful chemicals and petroleum-based ingredients found in everyday personal care, household cleaning, laundry and baby care products." Seventy-five percent were concerned about long-term health effects of these products, and 71 percent were concerned about chemicals absorbing through the skin.

The Seventh Generation study says, "Nearly two-thirds (60 percent) reported that they are 'likely' or 'very likely' to seek bio-based products the next time they shop, 58 percent of respondents reported that they are 'actively searching for greener products,' and 58 percent of respondents indicated that they 'feel personally responsible to change daily habits and purchase practices to positively impact the environment.'"

Laundry is clearly a sector of your lifestyle than can use a "green makeover." Here are the top tips for greening your laundry practices:

--Use higher efficiency, eco-friendly laundry detergents, says the website Naturally Savvy. Be sure to read labels carefully to be sure products are concentrated, phosphate-free and scent-free. Green products are safer for clothes that come into contact with our skin, and they are also safer for the environment when they're released into the ecosystem after use. Sophie Uliano, author of "Gorgeously Green," says, "Choose eco-friendly detergents, stain removers and dryer products that are made with plant-based ingredients," and avoid products that contain chlorine bleach or artificial fragrances. You may also find product endorsements from environmental organizations you trust. Non-green laundry products may include unhealthy phosphates, chlorine that may create dioxins, phthalates, dyes and other chemicals.

--Wash clothes in cold water. It can use 80 percent more energy to heat a load of wash to a hot water setting, so washing in cold water can save a lot of money and avoid the risks of setting stains and shrinking clothes as hot water may do.

--Line-dry washed clothing, sheets and other textiles for that airy-fresh smell with no energy costs. TLC Home says that you can pop those line-dried clothes in your dryer for a quick, 10-minute softening if you prefer those results. Install a retractable clothes line or a permanent clothes line for a retro feature in your yard, or simply set out tiered dryer racks on your terrace as you may find at top island resorts. You can also line-dry indoors, producing valuable humidity levels in your home as clothes dry naturally.

--Invest in a new, energy-efficient washer and dryer set. These can cut water consumption by half or more, depending on the model you purchase. Front loaders are said to provide the greater amount of water savings. Energy Star models will show their projected savings in energy costs, and you may find rebates or tax incentives in your state for upgrading to a new, energy-conserving washer and dryer.

--Wash full loads. Throwing a single outfit into the washer, even on a low setting, is a waste of energy and water.

--Use the correct amount of detergent. Many high-efficiency washing machines only need a few teaspoons of detergent, not the half-cup you're used to pouring into the dispenser. Over-filling reduces the washer's efficiency and ejects pollutants into the eco-system when it flushes out of your machine. Use the measurements mandated on your machine's manual and on your product's label.

--Do multiple loads in a row. When you remove clothes from the dryer, the machine will still have residual heat in it, saving energy.

--Make better use of your specialty settings and timers. Your dryer set to delicates will take less time than when set to bulky towels.

--Look online for eco-friendly recipes for laundry products, provided by acknowledged experts and authors like Uliano.

--Teach family members to hang up their damp shower towels right away. They can air-dry the towels for another use or two during the week. That cuts down on energy usage and lightens your load in not having to lug all those heavy, wet things to your laundry room so often.

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