Many of us hate laundry day, and it’s likely that our planet would have the same opinions about that mountain of clothes in the hamper.
While the fashion industry is problematic for many reasons, a lot of the impact of what we wear comes from our wash and dry cycles. The experts at Fashion Revolution have determined that around 25% of a garment’s footprint is associated with how it’s laundered.
According to McKinsey & Company’s Fashion on Climate report, we could reduce 186 million tons of carbon emissions, just by skipping one in six loads of laundry, using cold water, and occasionally air-drying.
What a simple way to make a big change, right? And there are even more ways we can lighten the laundry load for our planet.
8 Earth Friendly Laundry Tips
1. Wash Less
This is an obvious one, and not only does it help our planet, but it means less work for you, too!
Many of us have gotten in the habit of washing clothes after they’ve been warm once, even if we aren’t performing vigorous activity in them, spilling food or drinks on them, or getting them dirty in any way. Simply put, our clothes don’t need to be washed nearly as often as we’re washing them.
Not only that, but washing them more means greater release of microplastics over time, as well as additional wear and tear on your clothes.
According to the Dropps (one of our favorite eco-friendly detergent brands), here’s how often you should hit the washing machine start button for certain types of clothes:
- After Every Wear: Socks, swimsuits, underwear, t-shirts, tank tops, tights, workout clothes, whites.
- After 1-3 Wears: Leggings, yoga pants, dress shirts, dresses, sweaters, shorts, khakis.
- After 3-4 Wears: Bras, suits, pajamas, *jeans.
- After 5-7 Wears: Skirts, jackets, sweatshirts, cardigans, dress pants.
Jeans might be an exception to this list. If they’re made from 100% cotton, they might never need a run through the spin cycle. In fact, the CEO of Levi’s suggested that we never wash our jeans. Ever.
You can also use that nose of yours and your own best judgment to determine if a garment needs washed or not. If there’s no odor or stains, you can stretch out these wearing periods even more.
You can also refresh some “dirty” clothes with a spritz of rose water or vodka. To invite your sweater to happy hour, just pour vodka in a spray bottle and spray on your clothes. The alcohol will evaporate, and will lift any odors away with it.
2. Wash Full Loads
While the laundry footprint of a dryer is based on its energy consumption, that of your washing machine will come from its water use. An average top loader will use around 30 to 35 gallons of water for every load.
Bigger, fuller loads are a more efficient use of water. Wait until you have a full load, and try to avoid washing just a few garments. Bigger loads are also better from an energy-efficiency standpoint.
3. Cold is Better, Too
When it comes to your washing machine, nearly all of its energy requirements are associated with what’s needed to heat the water. In fact, just 10% is attributed to actually running the motor.
With this in mind, cold water is absolutely the way to go. Not only does it help to save energy, but it can also help your clothes last longer by minimizing shrinkage and preserving colors. It’ll save you money, too!
4. Use an Eco-Friendly Laundry Detergent
Here are some quick and dirty recommendations for clean laundry, and a clean planet:
- Check for the words like “biodegradable” and “phosphate-free” on the label. Avoid anything that contains artificial colors and dyes, chlorine bleach, artificial fragrance, NPEs, PEG, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), quaternary ammonium compounds, or optical brighteners.
- Some brands are backed up with a certification like EPA Safer Choice, EWG Verified, EcoCert, Leaping Bunny Cruelty Free, Certified B Corporation, or USDA Certified Biobased. These are all good to look for, too!
- Skip the bulky laundry detergent bottle and use a zero-waste laundry pod instead! The pods from Dropps are gentle, perfect for sensitive skin, great for natural fibers, and made with plant-based ingredients. They come in compostable packaging, too.
- The fragrance used in scented laundry detergent and dryer sheets contains hazardous chemicals and is known to produce at least two known carcinogens. Avoid if you can, and use essential oils instead! You can even make your own laundry detergent with horse chestnuts (recipe here).
- You should also consider ditching the dryer sheets altogether. They’re generally made from polyester and, in addition to releasing toxic chemicals, are single-use! Wool balls are a great, reusable alternative.
5. Upgrade to Energy-Efficient Machines
An ENERGY STAR certified washer can use up to 40% less water and 25% less energy than a normal washing machine. Dryers have a similar positive impact, they use 20% less energy, which means an average saving of around $70 for every household each year.
Because many ENERGY STAR products meet US EPA energy efficiency specifications, some machines are even eligible for rebates. Check out their website for more information.
If you’re in the market for a new washing machine, also consider that front loading washing machines produce up to seven times less microfibers than top-loaders. They’re also more energy efficient!
6. Air Dry
The summer sun makes for a great eco-friendly dryer. You can hang a line between trees, wrangle something up on your deck, use a retractable clothesline, or even an indoor drying rack. If you’re skipping the dryer, you’ll save up to $100 a year, and can help save our planet, too.
Plus, you know all that lint you clean out after every load? That is literally your clothes wearing away, so keeping them out of the dryer helps to expand their life, too.
If you do decide to use the dryer, only do so after using the high spin cycle on your washer. That will squeeze out more of the water, meaning that your dryer has less of a job ahead of it. Also, make sure you regularly clean your lint filter (after every single time you dry a load!) and use a low heat setting if your dryer’s got one.
7. Avoid Irons and Dry Cleaning
We often don’t think of the iron when we think of ways to cut our laundry footprint, but it is actually a good way to help minimize our carbon emissions. If everyone in the world stopped ironing their clothes, we might see some wrinkles, but we’d also have a lot more free time and decrease our carbon dioxide emissions—to the tune of 13 million metric tons!
If you want to still have a neat, crisp look, just hang your clothes near a hot shower and watch the wrinkles disappear.
According to the EPA, 70% of American dry cleaners use perchloroethylene, which is known to be not only a cleaning solvent, but also a very toxic air, water, and soil pollutant.
They also often use petroleum solvents, which are known to produce volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which have been associated with smog and a range of respiratory complications.
If you can avoid the dry cleaner, or purchasing clothing that requires dry cleaning, do so.
8. Avoid Synthetic Clothes
While you’re changing your clothes shopping habits, also consider avoiding synthetic fabrics!
The majority (60%) of our clothes are made with petroleum-based materials (AKA plastic). Not only does this involve a lot of negative production and end-of-life consequences for our planet, but washing synthetic clothes presents its own serious problem: microplastics.
In fact, washing synthetic textiles is the number one source of microplastics that end up polluting our oceans and impacting marine life.
While buying clothes made out of recycled plastic is better for our planet, the best thing to do is to avoid synthetics like polyester, nylon, and acrylic all together. It’s also better for your skin, too! If splurging on that 100% linen shirt is out of your budget, consider checking out thrift stores for clothes made with natural fibers.
If you do still wear clothes made with synthetic fibers (they’re hard to avoid in an era where leggings are the go-to pair of pants!), then consider using a guppy bag in your laundry. They trap microfibers so that they can be disposed of properly.
Final Thoughts on Earth Friendly Laundry Tips
Isn’t it great when an eco-friendly habit is something that saves you time and money? Cutting a few laundry days out of the picture can free up some Sunday afternoons, and help clean up our planet! Let us know if you have any other earth friendly laundry tips to share!