Dear Sustainability Sam,
Not only do I hate doing laundry, but it also seems so wasteful when you consider the energy used, plastic bottles for detergent, and dryer sheets ending up in the trash. Do you have tips for how I can be more sustainable while doing laundry?
Laundry is something most of us do at least a few times a week. It’s also a place in our home where we can have a significant impact on the environment. Doing laundry uses energy and water and the products we use to do laundry can add unnecessary and sometimes dangerous pollutants into our waterways. For this reason, it is important to be conscious of our laundry practices. Here are some tips for doing laundry in a more eco-friendly way.
- Do less laundry. This may sound sarcastic but 1 load of laundry can use at least 40 gallons of water so the less laundry we do the more water we save. While there are certain clothes that need washing after every wear (exercise gear, socks and “unmentionables”, for example), most of our clothing can be worn 2-3 times or more before washing. This not only saves energy and water, but prolongs the life of your clothes. The Levi’s corporation, in fact, recommends that your jeans only be washed every 2 weeks. So hang those gently worn items of clothing back in your closet instead of throwing them in the hamper after every use. Laundry tends to be a tedious chore so this tip should be easy to adopt- the less laundry you do the more free time you have for other things!
- Only launder full loads: To save water and energy, make sure you are doing only full loads of laundry each time you wash.
- Wash your clothes in cold water. As much as 90% of the energy used in washing clothes is used to heat the water so washing clothes in cold water is much more energy efficient. In most cases, washing clothes in cold water is just as effective, especially if you use a detergent formulated for use in cold water.
- Use your dryer sparingly. In terms of energy consumption, your dryer is second only to your refrigerator in your household for energy usage. So the less you use your dryer, the more energy efficient your household will be. Hang your clothes to dry instead. It will not only save energy, it will prolong the life of your clothes. When you do use your dryer, make the sure the lint trap has been cleaned and the dryer vent isn’t clogged. Lint in the vent and the trap is not only a fire hazard, it also makes it take longer to get the clothes dry. You can also use dryer balls when drying heavy clothes. Dryer balls will absorb moisture and speed drying.
- Use a powder detergent instead of a liquid detergent and find a natural biodegradable formula. Liquid detergents, by necessity, must come in plastic bottles. By switching to a powder, you can cut down on plastic use and prevent more plastics from entering landfills. Also, buy detergents that are concentrated to use less packaging. When using concentrated detergents, you may only need a tablespoon per load! Also, look for a powder detergent that is free of phosphates and chlorine as these are dangerous pollutants we want to keep out of our waterways. Ideally, look for a detergent that is biodegradable and made from plant-based ingredients (not petroleum based!) and is formulated for cold water. Some examples are Method, Seventh Generation or bulk varieties found in zero waste stores.
- Avoid fabric softeners and dryer sheets. Fabric softeners and dryer sheets use many chemicals that aren’t good for the environment and used dryer sheets are not generally compostable or recyclable. There are some eco-friendly dryer sheets out there like Mrs Meyers Clean Day dryer sheets but you can use wool dryer balls instead (you can add essential oils to them for a fragrance, if so desired) or add vinegar to your wash cycle to soften clothes.
- Invest in high efficiency washers and dryers. If you are looking to replace or upgrade your washer, look for a high efficiency (HE) model. These use between 20% and 60% less water than traditional agitator models and are much more energy efficient. Be sure to use HE optimized detergents with these models to avoid needing more water for rinsing.
For more information on eco friendly laundry practices, this is a great article:
Thanks for all the great questions on sustainability! Keep them coming!