Center for American Progress

It’s Easy Being Green: It All Comes Out in the Wash
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It’s Easy Being Green: It All Comes Out in the Wash

Switching to efficient and energy-conscious washers and dryers can reduce the water and energy cost of the typical laundry routine.

Use a conventional washer and dryer set, and you’re airing your environmentally unfriendly laundry in public. The average household does almost 400 loads of laundry each year, consuming about 13,500 gallons of water. Washer and dryer energy use is close to 2,000 kilowatt-hours per year out of a total household use of 11,000 kWh. Luckily, there are ways to give your laundry room a much-needed green makeover.

Energy Star, a joint program between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, is a good resource to use when picking out a new energy-efficient washer. Qualified clothes washers save 7,000 gallons of water a year, reducing energy and water use by 40 percent. Over the typical 11-year life of the machine, that would provide a lifetime supply of drinking water to six people.

Energy Star’s website offers a search engine that finds energy-efficient washers to fit every need and gives related pertinent information. Whereas conventional clothes washers use about 40 gallons of water for a complete cycle, resource-efficient models use less than 25 gallons and often include water-level adjusters for the size of the load.

Generally front-loading washers are much more efficient than conventional top-loading washers, since they don’t have to fill the tub completely with water. This eliminates the central agitator, a mainstay in top-loaders. Also, efficient motors spin clothes 2 or 3 times faster during the spin cycle to extract more water and cut time and energy in the dryer.

If buying a new clothes washer is not a feasible option, there are still everyday ways to decrease wash waste. Clothes washers use approximately the same amount of energy regardless of the size of the load, so run full loads whenever possible. Also, 90 percent of the energy used to wash clothes goes to heating the water. This makes the solution simple: use cold water. Unless you’re dealing with oily stains, the warm or cold setting on the machine will do a good job of cleaning your clothes. Even simply switching the temperature setting from hot to warm can cut energy use in half for one load.

Unfortunately, Energy Star does not provide labels for clothes dryers as their energy use does not vary significantly. However, consumers can turn to past practices to provide inspiration for the future—air drying can save energy and money.

There are many types of clotheslines and drying racks available on the market, from the basic clothesline to ceiling-mounted indoor laundry racks. They exist in every shape, size, and type to match your needs. Not only is this a great way to save energy, but less equipment and energy can save you money as well.

However, you can also increase the efficiency of your current clothes dryer. Be sure to dry similar fabrics together and dry multiple loads right after each other to take advantage of residual heat. Also, cleaning the lint filter after each use will keep the hot air circulating efficiently through the dryer.

If the dryer has an auto-dry setting or some sort of moisture sensor, use that technology instead of the timer. Not only will that reduce wasteful energy, eliminating overdrying can also reduce wear and tear on your clothes.

By reducing water consumption, more efficient clothes washers help protect lakes, streams, and oceans. By using less energy, washers and alternative dryers decrease air pollution and greenhouse gases. Avoid the inefficient and wasteful conventions and cross out an item on an ecofriendly laundry list.

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