The Dirt on Laundry | Seventh Generation
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The Dirt on Laundry

Author: the Inkslinger

With a teenager, two dogs, and a life that includes lots of time outdoors, it seems like every day is laundry day in my world. I'm sure I'm not alone. Laundry can be all-consuming, and I mean that literally: It eats up time, electricity, water, and other things. So just how are we doing when it comes to doing the wash?

It's no idle question because the U.S. does around 35 billion loads a year according to estimates.(1)  Each of us generates about a quarter ton of dirty laundry every year! The average household washes about 50 lbs. of laundry a week and more than 6,000 articles annually.(2)  How we get all those clothes clean matters.

Which brings us to the summer issue of Hanging Out (pdf), the newsletter from Project Laundry List, which delves into new government data to divine the state of laundry today.

The big news is that the use of cold water washing is up 51% from 2001. Almost 43 million households (46% of all those with a washing machine) are now cooling it on hot water loads. That's great because 85-90% of the energy we use cleaning our clothes goes toward heating the water.

It also appears that air-drying is on the decline. Project Laundry List's analysis shows that just 5% of households with a washing machine are line drying. That's down from 10% in 2001, and that's a bummer because dryers have the second biggest energy appetite in the home after refrigerators, and cost some $85 a year to operate.(3)

This mixed bag of laundry news underscores a key point: It's individual actions that make the difference. Here's how we can each help ensure that laundry day doesn't wash away the environment:

  • First, use cold water! With most detergents now formulated for it, there's no reason not to.
  • Wash full loads to wring the most out of the water and energy you're using.
  • Launder consciously. Items like pants, sweaters, towels don't always need to be washed after every use.
  • Wash and dry similar items together so that things with longer drying times, like towels, don't extend drying times for quick-dry items like synthetic fiber shirts.
  • Air dry your clothes on a line or a rack.
  • If you use a dryer, keep its lint filters and vents clean. Your dryer works harder and runs longer when they're not. (It's a serious fire hazard, too!)
  • Take your clothes out while they're still slightly damp to save drying energy and even negate the need for ironing.
  • When it's time for a new washer, go for a front loader. These machines use roughly 40% less water and 55% less energy than top loaders.(4)  They're also gentler on clothes and feature a hypersonic spin cycle that almost dries laundry by itself.
  • Use natural laundry detergents. Conventional detergents contain polluting petroleum-based surfactants like alkylphenol ethoxylates, which are linked to hormonal disruption. Natural laundry products like Seventh Generation's, on the other hand, use biodegradable, plant-based ingredients.
  • Skip gimmicks like optical brighteners, which literally coat clothes with a light-reflecting chemical that tricks the eye into thinking laundry is brighter.
  • Lastly, forget chlorine bleach. It's terrible for clothes and a serious water pollutant. Hydrogen peroxide-based bleaches are far easier on fabrics and the planet.



reales1016 picture
I don't really care what repair men say. They only see the broken machines, not the ones that DON'T need repair. The bottom line is, in general, most front loaders are more efficient than HE top loaders. I am on my second FL set that is almost 2 years old now, no repairs. My first FL set, which is now over 10 years old, still running, has never had a repair. I have several friends and my mom all with front loaders between 5 and 7 years old in which only *one* had a (IN warranty) repair. The cold water issue is a bit bogus. Almost all machines made since 2009 regulate Warm @ 86, which is *technically* ATC Cold. My point is this, simply switching from a conventional washer to an HE washer will save a ton of hot water anyway, because HE washers only use about 1/3 the water of a conventional washer to begin with. Then there is the fact that Hot is only regulated @ 106 which is *technically* only Warm. Add the above facts in and the savings are exponential. I personally wash everthing on Hot just to get an actual warm wash. The savings is only pennies a month, a joke in my opinion. Cold water washing also contributes to mold in my opinion. My newer machine is almost 2 years old, I have never had mold or odor, and I rarely run the "cleaning" cycle. ALL I DO is leave the door open. Simple. I know someone who had to trash their HE toploader due to their clothes never getting clean and smelling like mold, who is perfectly happy with their front loader as well. Pretty much everything on the market is cheap garbage these days. Don't let the repair man make your decistions for you. Get what you like. If we really wanted to save the planet, we would DEMAND that manufacturers made machines that lasted 20 or 30 years like they used to. 5-7 years? You do the math. We nit pick a few gallons of water here and there, but junk appliances every 5 or so years when they should last 4 -5 times that. Think of the energy and chemicals used to constantly produce and transport new machines.
hedgewitch3 picture
My small apartment has washer/dryer hookups in the kitchen. BUT the layout allows for only a top loading washer to sit in the corner at the wall end of the counter with a dryer at right-angle next to it... or loose valuable limited space with a front load washer and move the dryer further into the dining area. sigh. So when the washer left behind by previous tenants finally goes the way of the dinosaur, I'll be looking for a nice energy efficient top loading replacement. As for the dryer? Well currently it is used as extra counter space as I've been using drying racks for well over two years. Yes, racks - I loved the first one so much I bought a second and can do several loads in a single day. On nice days, they sit outside the front door. On wet or winter days, they sit in the second bedroom we use as office & craft room. As we live in Colorado, indoor drying is not an issue - it's dry here and the wee bit of humidity from the laundry keeps the inside air more comfy for all.
bookwormsrus picture
I agree with tlk. We just bought a new washer and dryer and I was set on purchasing front loaders. But after weeks of research, reading reviews, consulting many editions of Consumer Reports and talking to repair technicians we learned that top load washers are now just as good and sometimes even better than front load washers. This is for several reasons: front load washers are guaranteed to grow mold and mildew because the water does not ever dry out of them completely, they sit on the floor unless you spend the extra $200 and get the stool it sits on, most top load washers don't have the agitators which was hard on clothes and required more water and electricity usage, plus the front loaders have more that can go wrong with them. Our local repair person said that he repairs more front loaders than top loaders by far. Do your research before purchasing. Don't ever let new-technology hype blind you into expensive purchases you don't need.
tlk picture
I highly disagree with your recommendation of purchasing a front loader. Sure, it might be energy efficient and have all of the bells and whistles, but I spoke with the owner of a local appliance store when I had to buy my last washer and dryer, and he advised against me against them. He said he sells them because that's what most customers want to buy, but at the same time those machines are the ones that have the most problems and require the most repairs. In his opinion, you are better off buying an "off-brand" machine made by a "brand-name" company. The general life span of the washers and dryers are 5-7 years no matter what company made it. Why waste your hard earned money? Something to think about.