Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Air (dry) that dirty laundry WEEK

It's no surprise that the laundering of clothes is extremely energy-intensive. All that water and hot air doesn't exactly scream "eco-friendly". According to life-cycle analysts, 75% of the energy consumption in the life of a piece of clothing is in its washing/drying. Since we know manufacturing is an extremely energy-intensive experience, the fact that it only accounts for 25% of all energy used indicates that our laundry habits are a little, er, dirtier than we would like to think. Here are some tips for cleaning up the mess.

If you have a house or access to a yard, there's nothing stopping you from air drying your laundry the majority of the time. Hang a line and buy some clothes pins! You'll get the real sun-kissed smell that all the detergent brands are trying to market. I long for the day when I get to hang my very own laundry line in my own yard! Unfortunatly, for the moment I'm stuck in an apartment so I had to get creative. I asked my landlord if I could hang a line in the back of the building and that was a no-go (He thought it would look tacky, even though it wouldn't be visible from the street--unlike his cooler, bbq, and chairs that ARE. Sigh...). But, I've found a decent alternate solution. I got the rack you see above from Target. It's good for socks, undies (not pictured), shirts, and workout clothes. I put jeans and other bulky items on hangers that I distribute around my place. I've had it for a couple months and the only loads I've had to machine dry are towels and sheets. Even with the cold and damp weather we've been having, I've been pleasantly surprised that most pieces dry within a few hours. And supposedly, even if you only air dried during spring and summer, you would save 700 lbs. of carbon dioxide and $75 a year. So give it a try. In addition to the model I have that folds up tidily, there are lots others out there--just Google "laundry rack". Avoiding machine drying will also make your clothes last longer. And remember, until just a few years ago, air drying was what everyone did-so we can make it work too!

According to Energy Star, between 80 and 85% of energy used for washing clothes is in the heating of the water. So steer clear of using the hot water option. Just switching from hot to warm cuts your energy usage in half, per load, and warm or cold should be ok for most of your laundering needs. If you own your own machine and have choices about where to put it, try to get it as close as possible to the hot water tank so that heat isn't lost in long pipes, and then insulate those pipes. And obviously, if your machine has the option, use the least amount of water needed for each load.

The mainstream detergent brands are yet another petroleum-based product full of chemicals you probably don't want anywhere near your skin. Buy non-toxic, phosphate-free, non-petroleum based detergents, found at any natural foods store, or Trader Joe's. Treehugger also has this to say about laundry soap: "Buy powered detergents. Don’t pay for someone to ship the added water, in liquid detergent, around the country. Why use a greenhouse-gas-emitting 18 wheeler, when you’ve already got water plumbed into the washing machine!...On the same premise use roll-on pre-wash stain removers, rather than squirt bottles or aerosol options. End up with the solution on the stain, not half in the air."

I'll be following these suggestions when I dry my linens, or on the occasion when I need jeans dry ASAP...until I get that laundry line (or a tree, like my dad's).

* Try to avoid keeping your drier in a cold or damp location, because it will make the machine have to work harder.
* Use the high spin option on your washer to get as much moisture out before you start drying.
* Dry similiar fabrics together--this will maximize drying time. Especially avoid drying towels and heavy cottons with normal, light-weight clothes.
* Use the permanent press option. I always wondered knew what this function was! You probably already knew this: it blows cool air at the end of the drying process to cut down on hot air usage. Genius!
* Check to see if your machine has a moisture sensor that will automatically shut off when the machine when the clothes are dry. If it does--use it!
* Dry loads back to back to maximize the residual heat that is still in the machine.

There it is, people. Go forth and launder gently!

1 comment:

Sara said...

One astute reader asked me about the best way to use Shout and other stain removers, which reminded me of something Treehugger pointed out that I forgot to include in the post. They recommend using the roll-on kind, because a lot of the product gets wasted in the spray. Also, as with liquid detergent, the sprays are heavier so are more energy intensive in their transportation. So roll away!