There are so many aspects of our daily lives that affect our planet’s health. The neverending amount of dirty laundry that makes its way into our clothes hampers (or onto our bedroom floors…who are we to judge?) is one of them.
Laundry is a recurring chore: how often we do it, and how we do it, has a cumulative effect on the environment.
The good news is there are sustainable measures you can take to help lessen your impact on this vital world.
1. You can wear the same clothing more than once
Without even thinking, many of us just toss our clothing into the hamper, regardless of how long we’ve worn it. It’s a reflexive move when, in fact, many of those clothes don’t need to be washed.
We’re not suggesting you put on that shirt you wore while doing yard work. Or re-wear that top you had on during a stressful job interview. That would be gross unsanitary.
But there’s no shame in wearing clothing again that you may have had on for a few hours while lounging around. Dressy pants and skirts that you’ve worn for a short amount of time to a special occasion probably don’t need to go through the wash immediately either.
And with certain clothing items, like blue jeans, there’s a general consensus to not wash them as frequently. Levi’s recommends laundering denim after ten wears—which, I don’t know, seems like not enough? 🤷🏽♂️ Since they’re the denim experts, though, we’ll take their word for it.
Think of it this way: a standard washing machine uses, on average per load, 41 gallons of water. Doing laundry less frequently means not only consuming less water, but also using less electricity.
And when someone asks you, “Didn’t you wear that shirt yesterday?”…
Proudly answer, “Yes, yes I did.”
2. Do a full load every time
Whether we’re just too lazy to properly sort or we’re in a rush to wear that one special thing, we’ve all been guilty of throwing just a few items into the washing machine for a quick cleaning.
Make it a habit to only do laundry when you have enough clothing for a full load. You’ll save water and electricity while also cutting down on the time it takes to do this chore over and over with smaller amounts of clothing.
3. Hang your clothes up to dry
While they don’t occupy enormous space in our homes, washers and dryers do suck up a huge amount of energy. In fact, they make up on average 6% of a home’s total energy use.
If you live somewhere with ample sunshine, why not harness the rays of the sun to dry your clothing?
Hanging your clothes to dry lessens the energy you use, and it also has another positive effect on the environment. The EPA has identified two known carcinogens that are given off by clothing washed with scented detergents when they’re spinning in the dryer. Hanging up your clothes eliminates this avenue for these potentially harmful compounds to make their way into the atmosphere.
There’s also another great byproduct of using a clothes line: with less of the rough and tumble of machine drying your clothes, they’ll be exposed to less wear and tear—keeping them in tiptop shape longer, and saving you money in the long-run.
4. Use environmentally friendlier laundry detergents
Many regular detergents have carcinogens as well as toxic compounds, like bleach and brighteners. Eliminating your reliance on them can make a difference.
Environmental awareness has increased demand for greener consumer products. There are now a number of safe laundry detergents out there that are more sustainable than the rows of plastic jugs occupying the shelves of your local supermarket.
Look for natural laundry detergents that are devoid of dyes, preservatives or fragrances. Instead of relying on synthetic chemicals for their cleaning power, many natural laundry detergents utilize environmentally-friendly, plant-based ingredients to get your clothing clean.
There are even brands out there that offer “zero waste” laundry detergent that comes in reusable metal cans or recyclable paper containers. It might take a bit of internet research, or a visit to a supermarket well stocked in alternative natural products, but a small bit of effort can help lessen your own contribution to pollution.
Another green option is to buy concentrated laundry detergent. You get more washes per container than regular watered-down detergents. This means you’ll go through a smaller number of containers of laundry detergent over a longer amount of time. You’ll also decrease gas burning trips to the store when you run out more often.
As for those who want to go the DIY route, there are plenty of recipes out there for homemade laundry detergent using less harsh ingredients like bar soap, baking soda, and essential oils.
5. Get an energy efficient washer and dryer
In case you’re wondering about that clunky washer and dryer that haven’t been replaced since Journey had a top ten radio hit? Each appliance uses a gigantic amount of electricity.
Look for modern washing machines that have an Energy Star Label. Compared to old school machines, they use around one-quarter of the electricity and three-quarters of the amount of water.
As far as your appliances from the 80s go, it’s time to stop believing.
6. Skip the hot water
It’s a misconception that hotter means cleaner, as most of your clothing can be washed just fine in cold to warm water. If you’re unsure about what’s right for a particular piece of clothing, look at the label to see what the recommended temperature is.
Hot water requires energy. The less energy you use the greener your household will be.
7. Try hand washing
Why not forego electricity-powered machines altogether? Not only will you save on electricity, but you might get a great workout in the process.
You can go the pioneer route of using a washboard, but there are also more modern hand washing tools, like laundry plungers, that you can use with buckets to get the job done.
And there’s no shame in bringing a shirt or some other item into the shower and doing a quick clean. Your secret is safe with us.
Help save the planet by changing your laundry habits
It’s easy to forget that we’re a part of something bigger. The way that we live our lives has an enormous effect when you multiply the number of people across the planet. The good news is that our vast multitudes can have a huge impact when we adopt better practices. Doing the laundry may seem like a trivial thing but, when we all follow more sustainable practices, the planet is far better off.