Save energy, water when washing your clothes

Allecia Vermillion

When it comes to greening household practices, most people concentrate on the kitchen and bathroom. While these water- and heat-heavy rooms are obvious culprits in increasing your home’s carbon footprint, don’t forget about the laundry room — where the average family washes an estimated 400 loads each year.

Laundry creates several environmental issues. First, the process of washing and drying clothes requires a great deal of water and energy. Second, the soaps, fabric softeners, stain treatments and other laundry products tend to be laden with chemicals.

The good news: Small changes can make a big difference. Read on to get your whites and colors both clean and green.

In the wash

If you have an old washing machine, swapping in a new Energy Star model can cut washing-related energy costs by a third and water costs by half, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Wash clothes in cold water (or warm when necessary), because about 90 percent of energy required to operate a washing machine goes to heating the water. An extra spin cycle can also remove excess water and shorten time in the dryer.

In the dryer

Designed to produce heat quickly and for long periods of time, dryers consume major amounts of energy. The Energy Star designation doesn’t exist for dryers because energy use varies little between models.

The best way to cut your energy consumption on this front is air-drying clothes, either on a clothesline or drying rack. If this isn’t an option, consider the air dry setting, which doesn’t use any heat.

On the shelf

While your laundry detergent makes the biggest difference (see sidebar), doing away with chemical-laden dryer sheets and stain fighters can also help. Look for eco-friendly, phosphate-free products such as the lines from Seventh Generation.

Decoding detergents

Your choice of laundry soap can affect your clothes and the ecosystem.

High-efficiency Designed to create minimal suds, which can affect a machine’s washing and rinsing performance. Use only in front-loading, high-efficiency washing machines.

Liquid detergent Vastly more popular than its powdered counterpart and made largely from water, which adds needless volume and requires more resources to transport and store. Liquids also have higher levels of troublesome additives, such as sudsing agents, that harm animals and waterways. Also, a Consumer Reports analysis found that people tend to use much more liquid detergent than they need, wasting additional resources.

Powder detergent Far more Earth-friendly than liquid, powder detergents are more compact to ship and usually come in recyclable cardboard packaging. These products have a history of leaving residue on clothes — especially in cold-water cycles — but new formulations have corrected this problem.