Get clean clothes and big savings
Today's high-efficiency clothes washers use half the gas or electricity of a standard washer. They also extract more water during the spinning cycle, which reduces drying time and energy. They offer oceanic water savings, too. Standard full-sized washing machines use 40 gallons of water per load, compared with only 18 to 25 gallons for machines that have earned the government's Energy Star label.
Clothes dryers, on the other hand, don't vary much in energy use. But their consumption does add up--dryers in the United States use the equivalent of 58 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year. That's about as much electricity as the entire city of Los Angeles uses annually. One of the easiest ways to help bring that number down, not to mention reduce wear-and-tear on your clothes, is to hang your clothes to dry, either on a line outside or on drying racks inside. Line drying is one of the oldest and most effective energy-saving (and therefore money-saving) technologies around!
- Wash less often. Sure, socks and undies need to be washed after each wearing, but how about those jeans and polos?
- Run only full loads. When it comes to energy and water use, full loads are the most efficient. So fill the machine, but don't overdo it. Stuffing the washer past full makes it harder to get your clothes clean.
- Adjust water levels. If you must do a smaller load, use less water. If you're lucky enough to have a washer with a "mini-basket," use it. Such baskets fit over the washer's agitator, enabling you to wash tiny loads with a minimum of heat and water.
- Wash in cold water. Roughly 90% of the energy used for washing clothes goes directly to heating the water. For all but the most stubborn stains, washing in hot or even warm water is unnecessary. Most detergents are now formulated to wash in cold water. When you do use the hot setting, turn your water heater down to 120 degrees F. ("Normal" on heaters without temperature markings).
- Air dry your laundry. Solar power doesn't get more direct than a clothesline. If you live in a rainforest or where the winters are long, things can still dry inside on a rack.
At the laundromat
- Try eco-friendly. If you don't have laundry facilities in your home, visit one of the ecofriendly laundromats that are starting to show up in many cities. They have more efficient machines, sell detergents without harmful additives (see our cleaning supplies article to learn more about additives), and may also offer wet cleaning, a less energy- and chemical-intensive version of dry-cleaning. Schlep your clothes to and fro in an organic cotton laundry bag or petroleum-free (non-plastic) basket.
When shopping, look for
- Energy and water efficiency. Choose a washer that has earned the government's Energy Star label. Many of the highest-efficiency clothes washers are front-loading models, but manufacturers now also make efficient top-loaders, so you can choose whichever suits your needs. Shop carefully, however, as there are still differences among Energy Star models. Choose an Energy Star model with a high Modified Energy Factor and low Water Factor. You can find MEF and WF on Energy Star's qualified product list.
- Moisture sensors. Some dryers now come with moisture sensors that shut off the machine when the clothes are dry. This saves energy and lengthens the life of your clothes.
- If your home has a gas hookup, it's more energy efficient to use a gas dryer rather than an electric one. New gas dryers have electric ignition, which does away with the money-wasting pilot light found on older models.
- Gas dryers should always vent to the outside because the exhaust air can contain unhealthy combustion gases. It's also a good idea to vent electric dryers outside so that you're not introducing too much moisture inside the home. Check with your local building department for code requirements.
- Washers and dryers contain a lot of recyclable steel. When your old one fails, be sure to have it recycled. Contact your local recycling or public works department or visit www.earth911.org for recycling options.
- Try using an environmentally friendly laundry detergent. It's not only easier on the earth but it's also easier on your skin.
...to your wallet
Although an Energy Star washer may cost more upfront than a standard machine, it can cut your utility bills by an average of $50 a year, saving $550 over an average 11-year lifetime. Line drying can save you $65 a year. It also reduces wear-and-tear on your clothes.
...to the Earth
According to the Energy Star program, the average household does nearly 400 loads of laundry each year, sending about 13,500 gallons of water down the drain. An Energy Star washer will save 7,000 gallons of water a year. Over the machine's typical 11-year life, that's enough for a lifetime of drinking water for six people!
Leaving the lint. If you forget to clean the lint filter after every load, your clothes will take longer to dry and use more energy.
Check with your local energy and water utilities about rebates on high-efficiency washing machines.