Laundry’s Impact On The Environment

Open washing machine with hand holding plastic-free laundry tablet with dirty laundry in a laundry basket in front of open machine

What does going to the gym, interviewing for a job, cleaning the gutter, and going on a date all have in common? The answer is simple: clothes. Whether it’s making sure you’re looking fresh on your big day, or cleaning up after a workout, you’re eventually going to have to wash your clothes. 

But there’s a hidden cost of sudsin’ those duds, and we don’t mean the quarters for the machine. Doing your laundry also has a significant effect on our environment, and not all washing cycles are as clean as they seem. So let’s take a spin around the process of cleaning your clothes, as we try to find the greenest way to keep your socks from turning green.

Laundry’s Impact On The Environment

According to a study by the Journal of Integrative Environmental Sciences, the U.S. is the second leading emitter of carbon dioxide, responsible for 22 percent of global emissions. The U.S. residential sector (i.e. not factories or businesses) is responsible for about 21 percent of all U.S. carbon emissions, and laundry cycles accounted for 8.29 percent of all residential emissions.

These percentages might be a little mind-boggling, so here’s another way to look at it: this study estimates that U.S. residential laundry emits 179 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year. That’s the equivalent to the full energy usage and emissions of 21 million homes. And if you think about all of the steps in the laundry process, it’s not surprising the effects are this significant.

After all, electricity is required to heat the water and run the machines (and electricity generation accounts for 33 percent of all carbon emissions). Large amounts of energy goes into manufacturing laundry machinery, and imagine the emissions produced by shipping washers and dryers all over the country. So while doing your laundry does help you get spaghetti sauce out of those white shirts, it also leaves a stain on our environment that may prove difficult to get out.

How Can You Clean Up Your Washing Routine?

Don’t worry, the answer isn’t ditching the rinse cycle for a bucket of water (even though that’s totally cool if you want to try it). Instead, here a few Energy Star approved tips to turn your washing machine green!

The first (and arguably most important) is to use cold water when washing your clothes. Heating the water accounts for 90 percent of the energy used by a washing machine, so using cold water drastically reduces the impact per load. There are times when hot water is necessary, (after someone is sick, or for sweat or grease stains), but most times cold water will do just as well. On top of this, cold water does not cause clothing to break down as much as hot water, which reduces the amount of microplastics released into the water and causes your joggers to last way longer.  The Cleaning Institute even found that switching your machine to the coldest setting (“tap cold” if you have it) can cause a single household to cut down on 864 pounds of carbon emitted per year!

But using cold water isn’t the only way to lighten your carbon load. Here are more Energy Star approved guidelines to make your washing and drying as green as can be:

  • Fill it up all the way.

Washing machines use about the same amount of energy every load, so run full loads whenever possible.

  • Activate the high spin speed option.

If your machine has spin options, choose a high speed or the extended spin to remove as much moisture from your clothes as possible. This decreases the amount of time it takes to dry your clothes.

  • Leave the door open after use.

Front-loading washers use airtight seals to prevent water from leaking while the machine is in use. When the machine is off, leave the door ajar for an hour or two after use to allow moisture to evaporate. This will keep the moisture from causing damage (or mold), and keep your machine as efficient as possible.       

  • Look for Energy Star

An ENERGY STAR certified washer/dryer pair will save energy and money (up to 200 dollars over a life cycle) while doing your laundry. Clothes washers that have earned the ENERGY STAR incorporate advanced technology and functionality to get significantly more water out of your clothes in its final spin cycle than a conventional model. This makes it easier for clothing to dry in an ENERGY STAR certified dryer using less heat. Less heat means energy savings and reduced wear and tear on your clothes caused by over-drying.

  • If you don’t have your own machines, check out Eco-Friendly Laundromats!

Earth-friendly laundromats are making the laundromat friendly for the planet and your pocketbook. If you don’t have in-home laundry machines, check out if there’s a green laundromat in your area!

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