Change in the Wash

July 26th, 2010 by Andrea Bennett

One company challenges us to change our laundry practices

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Could you live without your clothes dryer? How about washing your clothes in cold water and drying them on a rack?

Seventh Generation, the maker of nontoxic laundry and household products, is challenging people to do both this summer. Certainly saving the energy is a responsible thing to do: According to the US Department of Energy, about 90 percent of the energy used for washing clothes in a conventional top-load washer goes toward heating the water. Project Laundry List, a nonprofit consumer education organization, calculates that switching from hot to cold water can save $70 a year on a household energy bill, and $25 per month on your electricity bill.

But as with many responsible things, it’s up to consumers to weigh the cost savings against the inconvenience of drying everything on a rack, adding in the feel-good value of having done something good for the earth.

With a husband addicted to hard yard labor, an exuberant black Lab retriever, and a 15-month-old baby, I felt I had a decent grip on our laundry needs, and decided to take on the challenge… the day before aforementioned husband surprised me with a six-week-old, non-housetrained, equally exuberant second Lab. I quickly went through a list of convenient rationalizations to ditch the challenge, including the fact that if I were to take it on for one week, that fraction of my household savings would only amount to around $7. But I’d committed. In order to do this the right way, I even had to dismiss the temptation to use my $7 savings on bulk paper towels for cleaning up after the puppy.

The good news is that I survived the challenge, whose benefits—including hopefully reducing long-term wear and tear on our clothes—have convinced me to do things differently from now on. Will I forsake my dryer all the time? Probably not, but I’m making compromises that roughly match up to poll results taken by Seventh Generation. The company found that six in 10 people are wearing their clothes more than once to save money on laundry in this economy, and four in 10 have cut back on what they send to the dry cleaner. And 57 percent are washing clothes in cold water, while three in 10 are line-drying wet items to save money. To sweeten the deal, the company is rewarding people who make a pledge on their site.

If you decide you just want to make a few modifications, the Department of Energy suggests these changes (find more here):

“Wash and dry full loads. If you are washing a small load, use the appropriate water-level setting.

Dry towels and heavier cottons in a separate load from lighter-weight clothes.

Clean the lint filter in the dryer after every load to improve air circulation.

Use the cool-down cycle to allow the clothes to finish drying with the residual heat in the dryer.

Periodically inspect your dryer vent to ensure it is not blocked. This will save energy and may prevent a fire. Manufacturers recommend using rigid venting material, not plastic vents that may collapse and cause blockages.”

I’m developing my own set of tricks. For instance, I’ll air dry the laundry, but in order to avoid ironing, I’ll throw it in the dryer for just a minute or two when it’s almost completely dry to fluff it up. Tell us your thoughts: have you made any modifications to your laundry practices? If so, did you do it to save money, or be good to the earth, or both?