Sunday, June 30, 2013


You can lower your wash day energy use and your carbon footprint, beginning today, by doing these four Earth-friendly things. And, the best part is that  you won't have to face any big struggle. I've done all this for months and years with great results. And I'm sure my laundry chores don't take much longer or more sweat than those of other people who follow the philosophy: “ I'm doing-what's-easiest-for me.” 

Stop using small to medium-sized plastic detergent bottles
One of the worst things that we've done to ourselves is to embrace the plastic age as if it were some miracle. It's not a miracle. It's a world-wide nightmare producing destruction of wildlife habitats and slowly poisoning everyone of us. The situation is really grave. Some studies show that there’s more plastic than plankton in parts of our oceans. So, reduction of our use of all kinds of plastic is an absolute necessity for both health and the ecology. And one of the worst plastic items that you can buy for home use is the detergent bottle.

Many people are buying small and medium plastic laundry soap containers several times a month. If plastic bags are a bad idea – which they are, those heavier plastic bottles are even worse. What's more, the liquid detergent in those bottles doesn't wash any better than the dry products and takes up a more space, on a wash-by-wash basis. Changing out from plastic detergent bottles to cardboard boxes or large plastic containers is a good place to start. You'll be doing Mother Nature, your own family, and generations-to-come a favor by refusing to buy small, plastic laundry bottles and keeping those items out of the trash, once and for all. And, if you want to, you can buy good laundry detergents in small or medium cardboard boxes. But, if you do industrial-sized laundry during the month, go ahead and buy the largest container - cardboard boxed or plastic - that you can find at the big box store. 

The plastic detergent bottles that you have right now can be easily recycled at home or given away to someone who'll use them. Recycle those huge plastic buckets  for use as a storage container for non-food items like for garden or barbecue tools. If you have some regular-sized plastic detergent bottles, recycle them as clothes pin holders or put small amounts of dry detergent in them so you won't have to carry about or dip into those larger detergent containers for every wash.

Hang some clothes on a line
Line-dried clothes smell better 
There's a big problem with tumble dryers that use electricity to generate heat. They require a lot of electricity and create a huge carbon footprint. How big are we talking about? More than you would imagine. One source says a tumble-dried load produces more than 5 pounds of CO 2 emissions when washed at 40°C. (That, of course, includes the major part that happened at the electric plant.) And, while gas dryers produce somewhat less carbon, the very best thing that can be done is line drying. And line-drying is doable most anywhere on a line or clothes rack. Not ready to hang up all the laundry? Then, start hanging up some part of it. It is super easy to hang up the towels and bed linen on a clothes line. Just doing this faithfully will eliminate several rounds of machine drying and save a lot on energy bills.

And, of course, with the mild to hot weather these days, the very best place is outdoors where the summer sun will dry them fast and leave them with a heavenly meadow-fresh odor. I hang up just about everything in the summer months, eliminating a lot of energy costs and enjoying the sweet smells of of line-dried laundry. Maybe, for some reason, you can't leave clothes hanging outside now or at other times of the year. Even so, you can hang up some lines, in the basement, in the garage or a breezeway and make good use of them. With a little ingenuity, even apartment dwellers can find space to line dry a part of their laundry.

Years ago, when we were kids and the family lived in an apartment, my Mom hung up the linens and towels all winter long in the kitchen to dry overnight. She had Dad hang the lines in such a way that we could walk around the clothes, if necessary. The small items were hung on a wood dowel drying rack near the gas stove in the living room. Most of the time, the laundry did dry by breakfast time. If not, she left them a few more hours. Slightly damp towels could be rehung in the bathroom, awaiting use there. 

While, these days, I don't need to follow closely the steps my Mom took to dry our laundry, I still swear by line drying. Thankfully, now, I have a nice outdoor area where I can hang up clothes and good drying weather almost year-round.

Wash the clothes with cold water
As you can imagine, the higher the water temperature of the wash, the more electricity you'll use. And, hot water wash is not good for clothes or for the ecology. The U.S. Department of Energy says that, in a conventional washer, more than 80% of the energy used for laundry  goes to heat up the water. So, save yourself some money and lower your carbon emission footprint at the same time. It turns out that cold water works great for regular loads. When you have oily or other stubborn stains, try a pre-soak with stronger detergent or stain remover and then use warm water wash.

There are plenty of special, cold water laundry detergents available that can wash your clothes beautifully without hot water. And most modern detergents, including the cheaper ones, work equally well on regular laundry – even if they don't say they're cold water products.

Run the washing machine to its full capacity
You'll get higher wash day efficiency if you load the machine to capacity rather than with just a few clothes. Fill your machine to its limits. For regular loads, you can use your eye to judge when the machine is full. Heavier weight stuff might need to be weighed – to know for sure. Remember, just one large load takes a lot less energy than washing two loads on a lower setting. If you need socks or underwear or a particular shirt for the next morning, wash it out by hand and hang it up somewhere where the air will get to it. It doesn't take long to do.

When I was a child, it was considered “good hygiene” to wash out your own underwear, socks, and handkerchief in the bathroom sink when you prepared for bed. I routinely did this and left the hand wrung-out clothes on a hanger on the back of my bedroom door. They could stay there as long as necessary to finish drying. Our towels were also hung on a towel bar on the back of our doors. Back then, it was considered unsightly to hang a lot of stuff around in the bath room. Although I don't do all of that, today, with just my husband and me at home, I think those habits were more than justified. When I visit in the homes of other people, I continue to do these simple things. And, if my hosts haven't put up hooks on the bedroom door, I hang up my towel and washed out underwear in the closet space that they've left for me. It keeps down on bathroom clutter and helps save on washing machine loads.

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