Green Living

Green Your Laundry

Simple ways to wash your clothes—and your conscience.
Green Your Laundry
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We've all been there: The dryer buzzes, you make a mental note of it, but don't actually check the clothes until they're cold and wrinkled hours later. So you turn the dryer on again–and waste lots of energy in the process. Not only are dryers energy hogs, but according to the Environmental Protection Agency, companies that make laundry detergent use billions of pounds of chemicals every year, many of which end up in our waterways, potentially harming us and wildlife. To ease your imprint, try these tactics:

1. Use energy–efficient machines.
Look for the Energy Star logo, advises Lawrence Axil Comras, president and CEO of Green Home, an online source for green living. These certified washers use half the energy of a standard machine and can save you 7,000 gallons of water a year. Eco–lifestyle expert Danny Seo recommends front–loading washers by Bosch or Samsung (check out lowes.com). Avoid top–loaders, he says, since they use more water and agitate your clothes in dirty water. And couple your washer with a dryer that has a moisture sensor, which shuts off the machine as soon as clothes are dry. Better yet, skip the dryer altogether and use a drying rack–find one at abundantearth.com or gaiam.com– or air–dry outside.

2. Recycle your old washing machine.
Once you decide to trade in your energy-leeching washer or dryer for a more efficient, modern version, you'll be faced with another eco choice: What to do with your old appliance? Nearly 90 percent of all household appliances are recycled nowadays, due to state and municipal laws banning their disposal at landfills. To find out what you can do with your machine, go to earth911.org, type in 'appliances' and your zip code then click on "go." You'll then be linked to a comprehensive listing of where to bring your old washer or dryer to dispose of it responsibly. Many utility companies even offer an incentive—usually $35 in cash or as a rebate toward an Energy Star replacement—to get rid of inefficient appliances. You should also check with your state energy office or local utility company to see if a tax incentive for purchasing energy-efficient appliances is available in your area; go to dsireusa.org for a listing of programs. And if you're getting rid of anything that's still a relatively efficient machine, consider donating it to a local charitable organization that accepts appliances.

3. Buy cleaner detergent.
The big three ingredients to avoid are phosphates, petroleum, and chlorine, says Comras. Labels that claim a cleaner is "free from" perfumes or dyes or that it includes "natural" scents such as lavender can be misleading; these don't guarantee a green product, and the detergent may still contain one or all three of the harmful ingredients. Find a brand you can trust, such as Biokleen (biokleenhome.com) or the Clean Environment Company (cleanenvironmentco.com). You may pay a bit more, but in the end you'll save money: You usually need only three–fourths of the recommended amount, says Comras. Also opt for concentrated laundry detergents. Smaller containers mean less wasteful packaging, water for production, and fuel for transportation. Try Arm & Hammer Essentials Free Detergent ($4 to $9; armandhammer.com), an unscented, dye–free concentrated formula that uses plant–based soap.

4. Use powder detergents, not liquid ones.
Liquid detergents contain up to 80 percent water (even concentrated formulas are about 40 to 60 percent water). Since your washing machine or dishwasher will add water anyway, choosing powdered detergents saves water. Another benefit: Powdered detergents usually come in biodegradable cardboard containers rather than oil-based plastic ones.

5. Skip the steam iron to save energy.
When ironing, avoid using the steam setting, since it uses more energy. Many fabrics will press fine with a dry iron. If your clothes need moisture, spritz them with a spray bottle beforehand.