The average modern family has a very close relationship with their washing machine, piling it with clothes loads throughout the week. It may lead to clean clothes for minimal effort, but what about the numerous negative factors linked to this practice.
Using the washing machine uses electricity which not only costs money, but is using the planet’s resources. It uses a large amount of water, and leaches detergent filled waste water into the environment.
Furthermore, machine washing damages your clothes, meaning that they get worn out quicker and need to be replaced (costing both money and the environment). And were your clothes even dirty or did they just need freshening up?
Research has found that by far the largest energy impact from the life cycle of a cotton t-shirt is in the consumer use phase. The university led report Are We Well Dressed? (2006) found that 65 mega joules of energy is consumed by the average t-shirt if washed, tumble dried and ironed 25 times. This not only leads to a large environmental footprint but costs you a lot in electricity bills.
There are ways to be savvy with your washing practices to save money and the environment. Take note of energy star ratings when looking for a new washing machine, wash at lower temperatures and use ecologically safe washing detergents.
In fact, instead of using chemical stain removers why not make your own environmentally friendly alternative? Stubborn stains can be removed by making a paste of baking soda and vinegar. Leave the paste working into the stain for at least half an hour, then rinse and wash as usual.
Tullia Jack is an academic at the University of Melbourne who has been working on a research project to better understand consumer washing practices. She offers these tips for greener washing:
- When taking off a garment, hang it straight back on the hanger in a well ventilated place.
- To freshen garments, leave them in the steamy bathroom while you shower, or hang them outside in the sunshine (this also negates the need for ironing, leading to greater energy savings).
- Spot clean with a moist cloth to remove visible dirt.
- Hand wash in cold water using a biodegradable detergent like soap nuts.
- Wait for a full load, set the water levels to low and temperature to cold and dry on the line (buying extra smalls helps to extend laundry cycles).