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March 01, 2010

Clean, green washing machines

Having a cleaner environmental conscience starts with a green laundry

L. Sara Bysterveld

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When it comes to making your home more energy and water efficient, the three rooms with the highest potential for change are the kitchen, bathroom and laundry room. There are obvious steps that can be taken in each, including buying more efficient appliances and installing water-saving fixtures. In the laundry room, a number of practices, appliance switches and product choices can vastly reduce the environmental impact of cleaning clothes.

“Choosing a green laundry lifestyle will leave you with clean laundry instead of a cleaned out pocket-book, and your clothes will last longer,” asserts Claudia Fromme, president and co-owner of Claudia’s Choices, which manufacturers an eco-friendly laundry detergent and runs an online eco store based in Nanton, Alberta.

The biggest impact can be made in the kind of laundry machines you have and the choices you make once you’re using them. Choosing a cold wash is significant, Fromme says, as washing four out of five loads in cold water can cut 1,000 pounds of CO2 from your carbon footprint in a year.

She explains that 90 per cent of the energy used to wash a load of laundry is consumed in heating the water. Switching to an Energy Star rated front loader automatically cuts water consumption, and doing the same with the dryer cuts energy consumption.

According to Climate Change Central, switching from a top load to a front load, an Energy Star washer can save the average family of four up to $150 on annual utility costs, conserve 33,000 litres of water and prevent one tonne of greenhouse gas emissions from being released per year.

An even better option than switching to a more efficient dryer is hanging laundry to dry, as the clothes dryer is the second biggest drain of energy in the average Canadian household after the refrigerator.

Hanging clothes to dry and skipping the dryer can save one tonne of CO2 per year, Fromme says.

Drying the laundry on a clothesline outdoors not only saves energy but gives you the additional benefit of the sun’s brightening and disinfecting powers. When weather prevents you from this, Fromme says there are a few inexpensive indoor drying racks, using this also has the added benefit of humidifying the home as the laundry dries.

Picturing crisp, rough towels and stiff jeans? According to Fromme, a dryer is not necessary for any specific piece of laundry. Although she suggests fluffing towels in the dryer for ten minutes when nearly dry to get them soft if crispier towels are unacceptable.

Aside from energy and water conservation, there are choices to be made in the products used that can directly impact both health and the environment. The issue with many detergents, explains Fromme, is that the chemicals in most detergents that can be found in the supermarket, cause algal blooms in waterways, “negatively affecting aquatic ecosystems.” Her list of requirements in a detergent include the ability to clean effectively in cold water; a concentrated formula that requires less packaging; zero residue; and if necessary, low sudsing and HE washer appropriate. Shop for a detergent that is plant-based to avoid petroleum based products.

On top of the environmental impacts, laundry products with scents, dyes and other additives can also cause skin irritation and allergies and over time may contribute to the accumulation of synthetic chemicals in the body.

Though decidedly not for everyone, Fromme offers one lasting eco-friendly tip: “For an ultra-green laundry lifestyle and zero C02 emissions, you can always use a traditional washboard instead of a washing machine. And nothing beats a good old-fashioned washboard for powering out stains.”

Washboards are still being made by the Columbus Washboard Company in Logan, Ohio and are available from the Claudia’s Choices online store.


12 Tips To Make Your Laundry Day Cleaner and Greener

1] Wear clothes multiple times before washing and only wash when actually dirty.
2] Only wash full loads.
3] Wash at least four out of five loads in cold water.
4] Hang clothes to dry and avoid using the dryer as much as possible.
5] Choose a biodegradable, concentrated detergent made from plant-based ingredients.
6] Soften water using a water softener or magnet ball. Keep in mind that water softeners, aside from being costly, may also introduce unnecessary salts into the water system.
7] Make the switch to Energy Star appliances. High  efficiency washers fetch a $100 rebate; check http://www.climatechangecentral.com
for more details.
8] Skip the chlorine bleach; opt for a non-chlorine bleach instead.
9] Use your dryers moisture sensor instead of the timer.
10] Clean your dryers lint trap and exterior exhaust regularly.
11] Check out natural stain removers in the form of bars or gel, or try benign options like baking soda or vinegar.
12] Trade your dryer sheets for a reusable dryer cloth.
They really work!

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