Laundry duty is actually a great example of an activity that has the potential to be both resource intensive and a significant polluter. Doing the laundry can use a substantial amount of water and energy and release a pile of pollutants into the environment, too. You can make wash day more Earth friendly, though. With some tweaking, a blast from the past and maybe a shiny new appliance, you can make your laundry practices a whole lot greener -- and save money over the long haul, too.
Let's take a look at five green laundry tips that will make your kids call you the green goddess, or god, as the case may be.
In the olden days, before homes had two-car garages and central air conditioning, outdoor clotheslines were as common as rain barrels and victory vegetable gardens. In a society that recycles ideas more than objects, clotheslines, rain barrels and vegetable gardens are all coming back in style. In the case of clotheslines, this means you can once again dry your laundry in the fresh air without the neighbors thinking you've fallen on hard times.
Nowadays, clotheslines come in streamlined styles that can make it easy to line dry your blankets, towels and dainties indoors or out. This includes retractable lines that can be extended when you need them and hidden out of sight when you don't.
Giving up your dryer, part of the time at least, has some advantages beyond reducing your carbon footprint. Your clothes will last longer because they'll lose fewer fibers from being knocked around during the tumble drying process. They'll smell fresher, too. If you're doing the line drying honors indoors (which is easier than it sounds), you'll also be producing a humidifying station that will keep your home more comfortable during the winter months.
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). Switching to a high-efficiency washer will cut that water consumption by half or more, depending on the variety you choose. That's not all. Most of the energy expended washing clothes is used to heat the water. When your washer uses less water, you use less energy, too.
High-efficiency washing machines come in front as well as top-load varieties. If you go with a front loader, you'll probably get the most water savings. If you opt for a top-load, high-efficiency model, you'll still get water savings, and you'll gain up to 20 pounds of extra washing area over an old style top loader. Energy-efficient, top-load washing machines don't have center post agitators. They use a roiling tossing action to get clothes clean.
Small changes can add up over time. When you wash clothes, be energy smart with these tips:
- Wash full loads. It saves water, energy and time.
- Pay attention to the amount of detergent you use. Too much detergent reduces a washer's efficiency and dumps more pollutants into local ecosystems. Always read and follow the directions on your detergent box.
- Wash clothes assembly line style. When you use the residual heat in your dryer from the previous load to help start a new load, you save energy. So get in the habit of washing multiple loads sequentially. Pull one load out of the dryer (to fold elsewhere), and then put a new, wet load in right away.
- Use timed drying. Timed dryer settings are convenient and eco-friendly, so be sure to match the drying time to the load every time you dry clothes. For instance, nylon underwear dries faster than, say, a load of denim jeans.
- Wear your clothes more than once. You may change your clothes every day, but that doesn't mean you have to wash all of your garments after a single wearing. It's a good bet that many of the outer garments you throw in the laundry through habit aren't dirty at all. They may just need a few minutes in the dryer to get creases or wrinkles out.
The evidence is pretty irrefutable: Most of the energy you use in the laundry goes toward heating the wash water. Switching to cold water washing is the single greatest way to save energy in the laundry room. It can be a big adjustment, it's true, but there are ways to make the switch and still get clean clothes: Consumer Reports gave one cold-water washing formulation, Tide Coldwater, high marks based on recent tests. There are also lots more cold water cleaning options on the market today than there were even a couple of years ago. Washing machine manufacturers are also tweaking their products to make them work better with cold water detergents.
You don't always need a special detergent to clean clothes in cold water, either. Your regular hot water detergent will work fine for some cold water washing chores, especially if the items involved aren't white and don't sport greasy stains. Experiment with cold water washing, at least once or twice. The energy you save will be your own.
Laundry aids like detergent, fabric softeners, bleach and stain remover contain an alphabet soup of chemical ingredients that wash down the drain and into the water supply. A couple of decades ago it was easy to think that all that chemical stuff, like scouring powder, detergent and toilet bowl cleaner, just disappeared down the drain forever. Now we know drinking water can contain trace amounts of hundreds, if not thousands, of artificially introduced chemicals -- everything from cancer drugs to paint solvents. We may need legislative help to regulate some of the effluent in our water, but it's in our power to control the chemicals we decide to use and pour down our home drains.
Choose laundry products that are promoted as biodegradable, green or environmentally friendly. Don't stop there, though. Look for products that are made with plant-based ingredients, and avoid products that contain chlorine bleach or artificial fragrances. Whenever possible, look for product endorsements from environmental organizations you trust.
You might also consider using a few simple homemade options in the laundry: White vinegar makes an effective water softener. Lemon juice is a mild fabric bleach, and you can make a simple and effective laundry detergent using baking soda, borax and a few other common ingredients.
HowStuffWorks finds out how often you should wash your coffee cup or mug to avoid germs.
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