By Betsy Dudash, SNCW board president
A new year is a good time to evaluate whether your laundry habits are as gentle on the environment as possible.
Let’s start with how often you wash your clothes. Instead of automatically throwing every item into your laundry basket every day, wear items like pants until they’re truly dirty. Some types of materials need to be washed more than others. Hemp garments, for instance, are naturally antibacterial and odor-resistant and can be worn longer.
To remove stains, rub some Fels Naptha laundry bar and stain remover on them before washing. Add some baking soda or washing soda to especially dirty loads to get them cleaner and fresher. Baking soda, sodium bicarbonate, is a non-toxic (or we wouldn’t use it in baking!) natural deodorizer and cleaner that can brighten colors, whiten whites, and soften water. Washing soda, sodium carbonate, also softens hard water so detergents work better; it works especially well on greasy stains. If items are extra dirty, like dog blankets, I let them soak in the washer for a few hours before running it.
So, what’s the best temperature to use? Modern detergents are formulated to dissolve in all temperatures, so cold water is best. Heating the wash water uses up to 90% more energy than using cold water. Another way to conserve energy is to wash only full loads, since the same amount of electricity is needed for any size load.
The detergent you choose might have the biggest impact on how eco-friendly your laundry habits are. Those big plastic laundry jugs are generally filled with detergents made from petroleum, though some plant-based brands such as Ecos and Seventh Generation also come in plastic jugs. Did you know that globally, only about 9% of all plastic has been recycled? And remember, locally only plastic bottles, jars and jugs labeled #1 or #2 can go into your recycling bin, and only when clean and dry.
Those heavy bottles of detergent are mostly water and require more fuel for shipping, so they have a bigger carbon footprint. Portable, lightweight detergent sheets like Tru Earth, Earth Breeze, Blue Water, and others are a growing trend. Ask your friends, read reviews, and check ingredients to help you find one that you like. Check for these products wherever you shop, including locally-owned shops and bigger stores.
Another step you can take to make washing clothes more eco-friendly is using a GuppyFriend Bag to trap microplastics from synthetic fibers before they end up in our waterways.
How you dry your items may make the biggest difference in energy usage. Clothes dryers use 1,800-5,000 watts compared to 350-500 watts for washers. If you choose to use the dryer, select the lowest setting; heating the dryer uses more energy than tumbling, plus high heat can degrade some fabrics. Using a clothesline or racks for drying requires no energy except your own. We use drying racks in the basement during winter (and smoke season!) and on the back porch during warm weather. In the summer, laundry dries in just a couple of hours, plus we’re not adding hot dryer air to the blistering heat outside. Another bonus is that UV exposure, even through clouds, helps lighten stains.