May 18, 2011

Green Laundry

Laundry. I know . . . ugh! But it has to be done. And it's no surprise that with all we need to launder (clothes, towels, bedding, etc.), the washing machine and dryer guzzle a serious amount of resources. Home appliances account for 20 percent of overall home energy use and the washer and dryer come behind only the refrigerator in energy usage. With just a few simple steps though, you can not only green up your laundry, but save money and make your clothes last longer, too.

First, only wash full loads. If you must run a small load, set the water level accordingly. But really try to make sure most loads you run are full. This doesn't mean to overfill your washing machine – clothes still need to move freely in the washer in order to get clean.

Cold water rinses detergent out just as well as warm or hot water, so always select the cold rinse option on your washing machine. Most laundry can also be washed with cold water as well, so give it a second thought next time you go to wash something in warm or hot water. Using only cold water for washing clothes would save you at least $100 a year.

There are a few options for all natural stain treatments you can create with products you already have at home. You can spray most stains with a mix of equal parts water and distilled white vinegar. Lemon juice mixed with a little cream of tartar is also an effective stain remover. Gently rubbing a little salt into a fresh stain can help keep it from setting in.

Most laundry detergents these days come in concentrated form which is greener (than non-concentrated options) because they use less packaging. Plus, it's a little known fact that you really shouldn't use the manufacturer's suggested amount of detergent. Use ½ to ¾ of the recommended amount and you will save money, reduce the amount of suds polluting our waterways, cut down on detergent bottles sent to the recycling center, and get your clothes just as clean if not cleaner than before (un-rinsed detergent on your clothes can actually attract dirt!).

Still, laundry detergents can contain ingredients that are harmful to you, your clothes, and the environment. If you are in the market for an eco-friendly laundry detergent, opt for one that is plant-derived rather than petroleum-based, biodegradable, and free of phosphates, brighteners, dyes, or artificial fragrances.

Adding half a cup (quarter cup, if you have a front-loading machine) of baking soda to the wash helps boost your detergent's cleaning power. Adding it to your washer's rinse cycle will help rinse clothes better, ward off hard water stains, and make clothes feel softer.

Fabric softeners can also contain harsh ingredients. Instead, you can simply add a cup of distilled white vinegar during the rinse cycle (or in the softener cup, if your machine has one). Fabric softeners can build up on your clothes, reducing their longevity. Vinegar, on the other hand, neutralizes the water's pH, rinsing the detergent out better, eliminating static cling, reducing lint buildup, and leaving your clothes softer.

Chlorine bleach is a highly caustic substance that can cause eye, skin, and respiratory irritation. It can also be harmful to the environment. An inexpensive, and much better smelling, alternative is lemon juice. Lemon juice is a natural bleaching agent and can be used just as you would bleach.

Next time you're in the market for a washing machine, check out Energy Star certified front-loading models. These machines typically use 18 to 25 gallons of water per load, compared to 40 gallons for older washers. Today's washing machines are about 90 percent more efficient than they were 30 years ago, so if your washer dates back to the 80's, you probably want to shop around for a new one. You'll save about 7,000 gallons of water a year!

Green up the drying process by avoiding the dryer altogether. Hang your laundry on a clothes line or drying racks and your clothes will last longer, your household energy usage will drop, and you'll save up to $75 a year.

For the times you do use your dryer, make sure it is running efficiently. Check the exhaust vent every so often to make sure it closes tightly and clean the lint filter after every load. If doing more than one load, try to do one right after the other to take advantage of the leftover heat. Also, ditch the dryer sheets which are loaded with some unsavory chemicals that can actually contribute to the breakdown of certain fabrics.

Next time you are in the market for a dryer opt for one with a good moisture sensor that will automatically stop the machine once clothes are dry. It'll help you avoid over drying which wastes energy and wears on clothes.

Reduce how much you have to iron by hanging clothes up immediately after the wash is done. If you use the dryer, take items out immediately, smooth them out, and fold and store them neatly. Less ironing means less energy used, less wear on your clothes, and less work for you!

When the process of dry cleaning started over 200 years ago solvents like gasoline and naphtha were used. Over time other, not necessarily safer, solvents were developed for cleaning clothes. Today, 80 percent of all dry cleaners use perchloroethylene (perc) – a synthetic liquid solvent described by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a “toxic chemical with both human health and environmental concerns.” Luckily, there are alternatives. Click here for some green dry cleaning options.

The simplest way to cut back on laundry is to wear clothes more than once before washing. Lots of items (e.g., cardigans, jackets, jeans, some dress clothes) can be worn multiple times before really being soiled. In fact, the best way to preserve jeans is to wear them at least a few times before washing inside out and hanging up to dry.

Green laundry is not an all or nothing proposition. By implementing just a few of these suggestions, you can make a significant difference – in your carbon footprint and in your wallet.

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