By Josh McGrillen
Washing clothes is a part of life, an inescapable part of day-to-day hygiene. We all know that clean clothes are a necessity but it can be done in a way that is better for the planet and for your wallet by washing as efficiently as possible.
We can all dress more sustainably by re-wearing our clothes, mending and caring for them to keep them at their best for as long as possible. Caring for our clothes in an efficient way helps to save energy and water while also often extending the life of the clothes themselves.
By making small changes to our washing routines everyone can save energy and money on their bills. So what changes can people make to washing their laundry to make washing as green as possible?
Wash at 30°C
One of the biggest myths when it comes to laundry is that a high heat is always required to properly wash your clothes. However, studies have proved that washes at 30°C are still very effective when it comes to cleaning your clothes and removing stains while saving as much as 38% of the energy usage. If you are still using powder detergents it may be helpful to switch to a liquid detergent which are often specifically formulated to work at lower temperatures.
Washing at 40°C is still preferred by many, but for many cases this isn’t needed and simply uses up more energy and costs you more money in the long run. Although washing at 40°C is the best option for some items, especially for heavily-soiled clothes, but it’s not needed as often as you may think.
Clothes you can wash at 30°C include colours, t-shirts, shirts, sportswear, denim, acrylics, wools, silks and lightly-soiled garments. 40°C is still suggested for cotton, bedding, underwear, towels and heavily-soiled garments; but there are plenty of items you can wash at 30°C that you might be regularly putting into a 40°C wash. Some clothes like denim are often better washed at lower temperatures, if they are only lightly soiled, as it helps preserve the shape and colour.
There are some machines that allow you to wash your clothes at 50°C, 60°C and some even 90°C, but aside from bed linen and towels you would rarely need to use these temperatures for a normal laundry cycle and may even end up causing damage to some types of clothing washing at such high temperatures.
Some washing machines even allow for a setting at 20°C, and you can use this setting for lightly-soiled clothes in order to save on electricity and money on your washing cycle. Washing at 20°C can reduce running costs by up to 62%!
Use Energy Efficient Appliances
When you’re doing your laundry, how efficient your washing machine is plays a key part in how green laundry day is.
Whilst it can be beneficial from a resources point of view to keep an old washing machine running, it can become expensive when it starts to fail with the cost of repairs but also older machines will cost you more in the long run due to high running costs.
Older washing machines are more likely to be manufactured to less energy-efficient standards, meaning your washing machine will use more energy and water per cycle than a newer, more energy-efficient model. Buying an energy efficient washing machine may have a higher initial cost but can save you hundreds in the long term.
And it’s not just about the amount of energy it uses on a standard cycle, as modern washing machines have a number of different features to help you make the most of your laundry pile, no matter the size. There are a range of wash settings to choose from, including eco modes, quick washes and water-saving cycles. By adjusting the settings on your washing machine for the size of your load and the type of clothes you’re washing, then you’ll ensure there’s no energy and water wastage when it comes to washing your clothes.
Modern motors for washing machines are not only quieter than their older counterparts, but they’re more energy-efficient too, ensuring that less energy is used up when the motor is being used. The reduction in energy means it’s not only good for the planet, but it means that you’ll save on the costs per cycle – a win-win situation.
Adjust Spin Speeds
When you’re washing clothes, the spin speed can be something of an afterthought, but it’s an important part of the laundry cycle, along with the temperature and the time taken for each load. A washing machine will typically be set to 1200 or 1400 revolutions per minute (rpm), but you can adjust your washing machine’s spin speed depending on what exactly you’re washing.
For example, if you’re washing cotton you might want to go for 1400 rpm (although you can do 1200 rpm), and wool is typically 1200 rpm. For items like denim this can be reduced down to 900 rpm, whilst things like shirts and delicates can be washed at 600 rpm, half what a regular load would require. By adjusting your spin speeds per every load, you can ensure no energy is wasted.
Using the Right Detergent
With multiple different options available at the supermarket, it can be difficult to work out what you should get to ensure that your clothes are washed properly and that the method you’re using is good for the planet. So what are the options available to you, and how much of an environmental impact do they have?
The best way to be green is by using an eco-friendly cleaning product, and there are a number available on the market. Brands like Ecover and Smol are dedicated to providing eco-friendly laundry solutions, whilst legacy brands like Persil also have green options.
There are a number of factors that can make a laundry product environmentally-friendly, including being free from harsh or harmful ingredients. Products that are biodegradable are a big plus, as are those that are phosphate-free. You should also look out for seals of approval from organisations like the Vegan Society and the Soil Association to verify a product’s green credentials.
The packaging used is also a big factor, some products are completely plastic-free, whilst others use recycled and recyclable plastic. You should also keep an eye out for more concentrated detergents, which allow you to use less liquid per wash. It can keep costs down but also save on the amount of liquid produced and transported, which reduces the environmental impact.
Wear More, Wash Less
One of the best ways of reducing your environmental impact when washing clothes is to wash your clothes less. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wash heavily-soiled clothes, but it does mean maximising the use of your clothes before throwing them in the laundry basket.
This can apply to many items of clothing, where you can wear an item of clothing multiple times before deciding to wash them. How many times have you worn a t-shirt once and then decided it needed to be cleaned? Sometimes in the pursuit for cleanliness you can go overboard and clean things more often than they need to be. Washing items less can also ensure your clothes last longer too.
There are a number of items of clothing you can apply this to. Underwear and socks will still fall under the ‘use once and wash’ category, but things like jeans, shorts and tops can be worn multiple times before they require a trip to the washing machine. Layering items like jumpers and cardigans can often be worn many times before washing as they aren’t in direct contact with the skin. You can use the ‘sniff test’ for items which have no visible soiling and have only been lightly worn, to determine if they need a wash.
By making this change you can dramatically reduce the amount of clothes you’re sending to the laundry room, which in turn will reduce your ecological footprint. In Levi’s ‘Life Cycle of a Jean’ report they found that ‘Washing every 10 times a product is work instead of every 2 times reduces energy use, climate change impact and water intake by up to 80%’, so it’s a worthwhile practice to apply across all items of clothing you have.
Maximise and Sort Your Loads
Whilst it can be tempting to throw a small load of laundry into the washing machine, be it to clear the backlog or to wash your favourite jumper, running a laundry cycle with only half a load isn’t the best use of energy and water. It will lead to more electricity and water being used per item compared to a full load.
So one way to fully maximise the energy efficiency of your laundry piles is to wash your laundry when you’ve got enough for a full load. This might be a departure from what you currently do, especially if you have a designated laundry day and you just wash whatever’s in front of you, but holding off until a load is big enough can ensure your washing is more efficient. It can also lead to your washing machine being used less often, saving you electricity and money.
Another way of maximising your laundry loads is by sorting your washing into separate piles, allowing you to judge what requires washing and when. It’ll make it much easier to judge when similar colours and fabrics require washing, meaning you can adjust your wash settings whilst also ensuring each load is large enough before putting it in the washing machine.
You can divide your laundry into whites, darks and colours, whilst fabric types include cotton, synthetics and delicates like silk and satin. Dedicated sports washes allow moisture-wicking performance clothing to be washed effectively at lower temperatures.
Combining all these tips and tricks you can reduce the energy usage of your laundry day, making a positive difference to your wallet and the planet.
About the Author
Josh McGrillen works alongside NE Appliances as a marketing specialist, helping to create quality content about domestic appliances. He’s able to share the expert knowledge NE Appliances has regarding the latest high-tech appliances and the services they offer.