Written by: Union of Concerned Scientists
Though the end result of doing laundry is clean clothes, the laundering process itself is not necessarily clean. A typical top-loading washer uses approximately 40 gallons of water per load, and a dryer can use up to five kilowatts of electricity per hour. So the next time you head to the laundry room, keep the following tips in mind to save water, electricity, and money:
Much of the energy consumed by a washer is used to heat water, so wash clothes on the "cold" or "warm" settings rather than "hot" whenever possible.Detergents designed specifically for cold-water washing are now available. Wash full loads to make the best use of the energy required to run the machine. If you must do a smaller load, adjust the water level accordingly. Improve efficiency by sorting clothes according to fabric type, color, weight, and degree of soiling. Wash heavy items such as towels separately from light items. When the time comes to buy a new washer, choose an Energy Star-rated model. Energy Star washers not only use less water per load (18 to 25 gallons on average; front-loading models use as little as five gallons) but also extract more water from clothes, reducing drying time.
At this time, there are no dryers that carry the Energy Star label, so look for one with a moisture sensor that automatically shuts the machine off when clothes are dry. If you have some flexibility in where to position your dryer, choose a warm location so less energy will be needed to heat the air. Clean the lint filter before each load to improve air circulation and efficiency. Dry full loads to make the best use of the energy required to run the machine—but not so full that air can’t circulate around the clothes. Take advantage of retained heat by drying two or more loads in a row. You can also use the dryer’s "cool-down" setting (which may have a different name depending on your model) to complete the drying process without actively heating the air. Consider air-drying a load to cut down on dryer use.
You can make your laundry routine even "greener" by using environmentally friendly detergents, fabric softeners, and stain removers. Look for phosphate-, petroleum-, and chlorine-free products, and use only as much as needed for a given load. If you have hard water, you may need to use more detergent than the packaging suggests.
For more information:
U.S. Department of Energy—Energy Use of Some Typical Home Appliances
EPA—Laundry Detergent Ingredients
The Harmony Foundation of Canada—Laundry
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