EarthTalk tips for saving energy laundering clothes
Dear EarthTalk: I’ve heard Americans waste huge amounts of water and energy getting their clothes clean and dry. Do you have any tips for greening the laundry process?
— B. Jones, Troy, N.Y.
It’s true Americans use huge amounts of water and energy to keep their clothes clean, dry and soft. The average U.S. home expends about 12,000 gallons of water on some 300 loads of laundry per year. The nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) estimates as much as 20% of the water used in homes goes down a washing machine’s drain. And roughly 10% of a home’s total electricity use goes toward laundry.
Perhaps the quickest way to energy- and water-savings is to upgrade from an older laundry machine. Conventional washing machines (built before 2011) use some 40 gallons of water per load, while newer “HE” (high efficiency) machines can do just as good or better on 14 gallons or less. And since these HE machines have so much less water to heat up and are designed for maximum efficiency, they also use 50-80% less energy. They also spin faster, removing more water from the clothes and saving dryer time. Set any machine to “high spin speed” or “extended spin” to remove excess moisture from clothes and reduce the amount of time and energy needed in the dryer.
Line-drying clothes is by far the most energy-efficient route, yet most of us (80%) rely on dryers to do the job quickly, despite the impact. While HE washing machines have been around for a decade now, it wasn’t until the last few years that more efficient clothes dryers became widely available. Newer units, especially those that meet the federal government’s stringent EnergySTAR efficiency standards, automatically sense how long to run and when to shut off based on the size/weight of the load.