By Brit and Shana
Organic cotton, hemp and recycled PET, are fabulous alternatives to water and pesticide heavy conventional cotton; however, clothing ‘use’ actually has a higher environmental load than ‘production’, so learning how to green your laundering is an important step. According to Treehugger, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) studies show that even in a short 2 year life span, over 75% of the energy consumption for apparel, comes from their laundering. People are now researching ways to improve fabrics to resist dirt and mitigate cleaning needs; however until self-cleaning clothes are invented, there are easy and important ways to reduce the environmental impact of laundering.
If you make doing your laundry more ecological, you’ll not only save money and ensure your clothes last longer, but you can do wonders to your skin. Here are 10 easy tips to make your laundering greener without buying a thing.
(1) Ordinary Loads. Some people do laundry as if their clothes were caked in mud or had been into a coal mine even after one wear, e.g hot washes, powerful detergents, and high-temperature drying. Yet, the fact of the matter is, extreme washing is not necessary for ordinary loads (90% of cleaning needs). In fact, we can reduce the overall need for doing loads to begin with by wearing clothes more than once.
(2) Removing Stains. For most everyday clothes, one simple step is to pre-treat any stains, then do a cold wash. This will get clothes nice and clean with almost any kind of dirt or stain. Speaking of pre-treating stains, Ed Begley came up last week in our post on Green Celebs and he has a line of eco-friendly cleaning products one of which is a laundry stain remover (supposedly one of his best products).
Forget harsh bleach or chemical stain removers, many stains can be removed more effectively with vinegar, baking soda, milk and sunshine. It’s a matter of tailoring your approach to the stain, rather than zapping it with a one-size-fits-all commercial stain remover.
The sun has a natural bleaching effect too, so hanging bedlinens and other whites outside to dry will help them to stay white.
(3) Heavy Dirt. In addition, you can set aside truly dirty clothes and wash those separately at a higher temperature when enough have accumulated to make a load. Always rinse on cold, not warm.
(4) Washing Machines. When in the market for a new machine, look out for energy star rated machines, which use around half the water that an older machine uses. Europeans have been using front loading machines for an eternity, but they are still a novelty in the US. Front loaders cost more to buy – Frigidaire make the cheapest on the market at the moment – but they cost less to run, using less water and less electricity than top loading machines. They also spin clothes much dryer, cutting drying costs. And they save bra straps from the Spinning Spindle of Doom, an object peculiar to top-loading machines.
(5) Laundry Detergent. In the 1950s, detergent manufacturers were embroiled in bitter competition as to who could make the soapiest, bubbliest detergent. All those bubbles that washed down the drain ended up in lakes and rivers, and at Niagara Falls columns of soap suds rose half way back up the falls.
Today’s detergents are kinder to the waterways but they still end up there – along with ingredients like bleach, pthaletes, and the commonly-used surfactant nonylphenol ethoxylate, an endocrine disruptor and estrogen mimic which does weird things to fish.
Perhaps it’s echos from fifties advertising, but detergent is one of those products that I had doubts that it would work in ecological form. Grist.com’s Sarah Van Schagen tested several eco-friendly detergents and rated Seventh Generation the best, with a very respectable performance in cleaning, and stain removal.
It’s not possible for your washing machine to rinse every last bit of detergent out of your clothes – some of it will always stay in the fibers. It’s kinder to your skin, as well as the local fish, to use a eco-friendly detergent.
(6) Tumble Dryers. are a heinous waste of energy, and shorten the life of your clothes to boot. Think about what that stuff in the lint screen is. It’s your clothes. Dryers are especially harsh on natural fabrics like cotton so if you have to dry, use a low heat, or fluff with air. So the bottom line is don’t tumble dry unless you have to. Place clothes on a drying rack, a line, or use solar energy. For more info see treehugger.com
(7) Line Drying. Even better, line dry on fine days, or on an airer, or on your radiators in winter. Drying clothes in your home raises the humidity of the air (obviously not a plus in Florida in the summer) but where there’s dry heat in the summer, and parched central-heated air in the winter, extra humidity can make the difference between cracking, dry skin, and softer, calmer skin.
Line Dryer, Photosource: Treehugger.com
Hanging garments to dry on clothes hangers simplifies laundry slightly, meaning they can be put straight into the wardrobe when dry.
(8 ) Dry Cleaning is not a very green cleaning process. In fact, ‘dry’ cleaning is not really dry at all. Though it means without water, the process actually involves a number of often toxic chemicals (solvents) thrown into a giant industrial washing machine with the clothes. The water in this case is being replaced by the chemical solvents.
The most common solvent used is perchloroethylene, classed as a “potential carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Less toxic dry cleaning solvents, including liquid CO2, are being developed, but are not widely available. In most cases, dry cleaning entails a whole host of non-environmentally friendly chemicals, many of which can easily leach into your skin after the dry cleaning process. Nowadays, there are some ‘ecofriendly alternatives’ to dry cleaning. However the jury is still out in terms of how clean and green these really are…best to avoid the process altogether. Its worth checking these out in your area though.
Perhaps most important is to read labels carefully and if they read ‘dry clean only’ seriously consider whether it is a must-have. In addition however, many dry-clean only clothes, like silk, wool, and rayon, are happy to be gently hand washed, using a gentle soap (eg a mild detergent with a pH below 7 for wool, such as Infinity Heavenly Horsetail or a mild liquid castile soap such as Dr. Bronner’s baby soap for cleaning silk). For more information on hand washing silk and wool see Care2.com. Never wring or twist, press excess water out with a towel, and lay flat to dry.
(9) Minimizing washing. Going back full circle to our point #1, wear clothes more than once. Pants, trousers, skirts, blouses – this should be easy to implement. Remove stains quickly and then you don’t have to wash the whole garment.
(10) Mindful purchases. Finally, being mindful of clothing purchases makes an important difference to the planet, and the health of farmers and garment workers across the world. Buy less, buy green, and recycle & reuse what you have.
Every garment is manufactured once, but will be washed many times. Up to 75% of the environmental impact generated by garments occurs in the first 2 years of wear and maintenance , not in their production, so be mindful of how you care for your clothes.
If you are getting rid of an old washing machine or want to make creative use of old style washing boards, baskets and machines…check out these catchy laundry garden pots! Tell us what you have done to green your laundry. Are we missing anything? Let us know….
Garden washboard, photosource: flickr.com