In this blog post we take a look at the top eco friendly laundry tips to make your wash-day routine more environmentally friendly. Doing the laundry is not the most exciting thing in the world, however laundry is a chore that everyone has to do, so it is an area that we can all work on in order to reduce our environmental impact.
We will take a look at the top four changes that you can adopt to make your laundry routine more eco friendly, namely:
Tip 1. Do less laundry
Running the washing machine consumes electricity and water, as well as introducing chemicals and micro-plastics into the water system. Plus traditional laundry detergents use a lot of plastic packaging. All of which is a Bad Thing.
So the number 1 eco-friendly laundry tip is to simply Do Less Laundry!
Before tossing something in the laundry hamper, stop and think about whether it really needs washing just yet. Underwear, sportswear and clothes worn next to the skin generally need washing after one wear, but outer layers can usually go several wears between washes if they are not obviously dirty. And even if a top has a visible mark (thinking of my daughter’s sweatshirts here) they can often be spot cleaned with a damp cloth, rather than putting the whole item in the wash.
There is hot debate about how frequently household linens need to be washed, but there really is no need to wash bath towels after a single use. This is hugely wasteful of resources. (I find it hard to believe that people actually do this, but apparently some do…) So long as towels are allowed to dry out between uses, they should last many days without going musty. How often you wash your towels is down to personal preference, some people may start to twitch after a day or two whereas others can go happily for a week or more. If you are a very frequent washer of towels, maybe just try going an extra day or two between washes and work up from there.
Tip 2. Wash at a lower temperature
Lowering the temperature of your wash programme reduces how much energy you are consuming, as well as reducing the risk of colours fading, or shrinkage in fabrics like wool and cotton.
Washing at 30: Most modern washing machines now have an ‘eco’ cycle which runs at 30 degrees. Which magazine found that washing clothes at 30 degrees rather than 40 used 38% less energy, lowering your electricity bill as well as helping the environment.
30 vs 40 degrees: A 30 degree cycle cleans perfectly well for the average wash, but if clothing is particularly dirty or stained you may need to occasionally raise the temperature to 40 degrees for that extra little bit of cleaning power.
40 vs 60 degrees: Which magazine reports that using a 60 degree programme uses over 50% more electricity than a 40 degree programme, so ideally you should only use of this temperature when it’s absolutely necessary. A 60 degree cycle is typically recommended for towels and bedding (although we often wash ours at 40 with no ill-effects) and can also be useful for getting rid of greasy stains (although pre-treating with a laundry soap or washing-up liquid will often do the trick even at a lower temperature).
Bacteria: Some people like to do their laundry at 60 degrees because they believe that it kills viruses and bacteria, but this is not entirely the case. Some can survive a 60 degree wash on its own. What you need is a really good detergent as well as the temperature to kill them. Which found that in many cases, you could achieve the same hygiene effects by choosing a good bio detergent and washing at 40.
Tip 3. Use a more sustainable detergent
When choosing a more eco-friendly detergent, there are a number of separate issues to consider:
Packaging: Liquid and ‘pod’ type detergents typically come in plastic packaging, which is non-biodegradable and is not necessarily recyclable. If you use a liquid detergent, check for those which come in bottles made of recycled plastic, and which offer refill pouches. Powder, tablet and soluble strip type laundry products usually come in cardboard or paper packaging which is therefore both recyclable and biodegradable.
Carbon footprint: Liquid detergents contain water and are therefore bulky and heavy to transport, thus using more energy. Consider switching to a concentrated detergent to reduce the carbon footprint arising from transportation.
Chemicals: Traditional laundry products contain synthetic chemicals like phosphates, chlorine and bleach that can pollute our waterways and damage eco-systems. Instead, look out for products which are phosphate-free and which use only natural and biodegradable ingredients.
Animal testing: Eco-friendly products are not tested on animals. Look out for labels such as ‘cruelty free’ or ‘vegan’.
Some new eco-friendly laundry detergents take a totally different approach and sidestep all the above issues. For example:
Smol laundry capsules come via a monthly subscription in neat little cardboard boxes and are totally plastic-free.
The EcoEgg laundry egg contains detergent ‘beads’ which last for up to 70 washes, are then refillable, and are guaranteed to last 10 years.
Several different brands now make laundry detergent strips, where the detergent comes in the form of water soluble sheets which you just tear up and place in your machine. These typically come in compact paper envelopes - no plastic packaging, no bulky containers.
Tip 4. Don’t use a tumble dryer!
If at all possible, avoid the tumble dryer, as it eats electricity! At the end of 2021, Ideal Home magazine calculated that a typical vented or condenser tumble dryer cost just over £1.00 per load, whilst the new heat pump tumble dryers come in at around half this cost. If you tumble dry multiple washes a week this cost can quickly add up. Unfortunately these calculations were made just before the major electricity price-hikes came in, so these cost estimates will now be significant under-estimates. As well as the electricity costs, the other downside to tumble dryers is that they can also shrink your clothes and make them wear them out more quickly.
But, we live in the UK where it is often cold and damp, so what are the alternatives for drying clothes if we are to reduce our reliance on the tumble dryer?
Dry them outside: If you have space for a washing line, it is surprising how often you can dry your washing outside – even in winter. Hot and sunny days are obviously the best, but so long as the ground is dry, and especially if there is some wind, you can get washing at least partially dry during most months of the year. And even if the washing is only partly dry when you bring it in, then that’s still less drying time needed inside. (See our blog post 'Top tips for drying your clothes outside' for more hints and tips about line drying your washing.)
Dry them inside on an airer: A clothes airer works really well for drying laundry inside, especially if you can place it in front of a sunny window or even better, in a conservatory. If you don’t have the floor space but have reasonably high ceilings, you might find a clothes airer that hangs from the ceiling on a pulley system (eg a ‘Sheila Maid’) a good solution.
Dry them inside on a heated airer: If your house isn’t warm enough to dry laundry on its own, or if you need to speed things up, a heated airer is a good alternative. There are a range of models from simple heated rails, to complicated systems with multiple arms and covers to keep the warm air in. They all use significantly less energy than a tumble drier and typically cost pennies per hour to run (exact cost depends on the specific model).
Speed up the drying: There will always be some situations where you have to use a tumble dryer, so its a good idea to invest in some dryer balls. These can be made of plastic, wool or cotton, but all work on the same principle of separating the clothes to stop them from clumping together which has the effect of speeding up the drying time (by 25% to 30% depending on the product). This reduces your energy usage and saves you money.
Key eco friendly laundry tips
In summary, the four key areas to address when you are looking to modify your laundry routine to make it more environmentally friendly, are:
Do less laundry - most items don't need washing after a single use
Wash at a lower temperature - most clothes will get perfectly clean at 30 degrees
Choose an eco-friendly laundry detergent - avoid plastic packaging, harmful chemicals and animal testing
Avoid using the tumble dryer as much as possible
More eco-friendly tips
For detailed information on how to get the best out of drying your clothes on the washing line, see our blog post: Top tips for drying clothes outside
For ideas and recipes for homemade eco-friendly cleaning solutions:
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