Wear it one more time
It doesn’t go for everything (unmentionables and socks come to mind), but the simplest way to cut back on your laundry’s impact is … (drumroll, please) just do less of it! Wearing your clothes more than once before tossing them in the dirty pile is the first step in greening your laundry habits. The United Nations Environment Programme did its homework and discovered that you can consume up to five times less energy by wearing your jeans at least three times, washing them in cold water, and skipping the dryer or the iron.
Use green laundry detergent
Conventional detergents can contain ingredients that aren’t good for you, your clothes, or aquatic ecosystems where the dirty water we wash down the drain can end up. Phosphates in conventional laundry soaps can cause algal blooms that negatively effect ecosystems and marine life. To shop for more eco-friendly detergents, look for labels that indicate a product is readily biodegradable and phosphate-free, and made from plant- and vegetable-based ingredients (instead of petroleum-based), which means they’re healthier for the planet, from production to rinse cycle. These are often gentler on skin, too. Other alternatives include soap nuts, which are made from certain tree seeds, produce a soapy substance when they come in contact with water, and can be composted after being used up. (A liquid version is available, too.) Fabric softeners, by the way, can be replaced by a cup of white vinegar added to the washer during the rinse cycle. Vinegar naturally balances the pH of soap, leaving your clothes soft and free of chemical residue.
Make your own laundry detergent
Do-it-yourself laundry soap is perhaps the greenest way to go. You’ll need just a handful of ingredients that can all be found at most grocery stores, and you don’t need a master’s degree in chemical engineering to put them together. Best of all, you’ll know exactly what’s going in (and what you’re keeping out) of your formula, and, after some practice, you can customize your mix with essential oils for a fresh fragrance. Ready to get started?Check out some recipes for liquid and powder detergents.
Wash it in cold water
A whopping 90 percent of energy used for washing clothes goes to heating the water, costing you $100 or more every year. With more and more detergents specialized for cold-water washing, your whites will still get white without the hot (or warm) water. Next, be sure to wash only full loads of laundry, which ensures that your machine is operating at peak efficiency. If you can’t manage to fill ‘er up, the “load size selector option” (if you have one) ensures that smaller loads use less water. The same rule applies to the dryer, by the way.
Hang it out to dry
There are upward of 88 million dryers in the U.S., each emitting more than a ton of carbon dioxide per year. Because dryers uses so much energy, skipping it altogether can make a real difference. Added bonus? Clothes last longer when you line dry because there’s less wear and tear than when you use the dryer.
Maximize your dryer
Line-drying doesn’t have to be an all or nothing choice. If you’re sticking with the dryer for part (or all) of the time, cleaning the lint filter frequently will increase efficiency and shorten drying time. If your dryer has a moisture sensor, use it. This will automatically reduce the amount of drying time or shut off the machine when it senses that clothes are dry, which reduces wear and tear on your threads and saves lots of energy. Though Energy Star doesn’t rate dryers, a good moisture sensor is the best thing to look for if you’re shopping for a new clothes dryer.