Don’t Get in a Spin: Easy Green Laundry Habits

Apparently, the average UK household uses their washing machine 230 times a year! The washing machine is an essential time-saving appliance that most of us wouldn’t want to live without. However, each wash undoubtedly uses energy and water. Then there is the carbon footprint of the manufacture of your machine to consider, as well as water pollution (from microplastics and toxic laundry products) and the emissions from drying your clothes.

So, how do you reduce the environmental impact of your laundry? There’s no need to get in a spin – read on for our revolutionary laundry tips!

Should you get a more energy-efficient washing machine?

If you’ve had your washing machine a few years, you may be tempted to replace it with a new more energy-efficient model. However, you may be surprised to learn that the most environmentally-friendly option is to carry on using the one you already own, as the embodied emissions of a washing machine (from its manufacture and delivery) make up most of its climate impact. According to Mike Berners-Lee (author of How Bad Are Bananas?), “for a machine you keep for 10 years and use efficiently, the manufacture and delivery of the appliance accounts for nearly 80% of the total carbon footprint of each wash”.

If your washing machine breaks down and is less than 10 years old, try to get it fixed to prolong its life. Often, it’s just a minor part that needs replacing and you should be able to find a local repairer to do an inexpensive fix. You could also try repairing it yourself with help from ifixit or eSpares. If you really need to replace it, buying second hand is a great way to reduce the environmental impact (and save some money). We have a great company near us that sells refurbished appliances with a full warranty. If you do decide to buy a brand new machine, go for an A-rated model and try to buy from a local company. If you can afford it, choose a brand that is designed to last, such as Miele. A more affordable brand recommended by Ethical Consumer Magazine is LG.

Lower the temperature and spin speed

An easy way to reduce energy use is to wash clothes at a lower temperature. 30 degrees is adequate for most washes and washing at 30 can prolong the life of your clothes compared to washing at a higher temperature. Mike Berners-Lee says an 8kg load washed at 60 degrees will produce 590g of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalents), compared to only 330g if washed at 30 degrees.

A lower temperature wash on a lower spin is less aggressive and is less likely to release microplastics from clothes made of synthetic materials such as polyester or acrylic. As even the Arctic has been found to be polluted by microplastic fibres from laundry (see this article for more info on microplastic pollution), we need to do all we can to stop plastic fibres escaping when we do our washing. Please consider signing the Marine Conservation Society’s petition to get microfibre filters fitted on all washing machines.

Consider a Guppy Bag

If you wash a lot of synthetic fabrics you may want to invest in a Guppy Bag, which is designed to trap microfibres from each wash so you can dispose of them responsibly in a bin. Neither of us has used a Guppy Bag (we don’t have a lot of synthetic clothing) and we’ve heard mixed reviews about how effective they are, but until there’s legislation in place to fit filters to washing machines, it may be worth a try.

Do a full load

To be as energy and water-efficient as possible, try to wait until you have a full load before doing a wash. Filling the machine up also has the benefit of reducing how much your clothes rub against each other, so fewer plastic fibres will be shed into the water and your clothes should last longer.

If you really need to wash a small pile of things, use the half-load/quick wash setting if you’ve got one, using a low temperature and spin speed.

Wash less often

It’s easy to get in the habit of chucking something in the wash after just wearing it once, but actually, washing clothes less often can help your clothes last longer as well as saving energy and water. Ask yourself if something actually needs washing instead of automatically putting it in the laundry basket. Unless it smells or is visibly dirty, why not just hang it up to air?

Look after your machine

Your washing machine will last longer, do a better job and be less likely to need a repair if you take care to look after it. There are simple things you can do to keep it running efficiently; don’t overload the drum, check that pockets are empty to stop items blocking the drain pump and clean the filter every month.

Only tumble dry as a last resort

Tumble driers not only use loads of electricity, increasing your bills and emissions, the aggressive drying action can also damage your clothes and release microfibres into the water. If possible, it’s much better for the environment (and your budget) to air dry your clothes on a washing line or use an indoor drying rack. To cite Mike Berners-Lee again, tumble drying an 8kg load results in nearly 4 times the emissions of drying on a line.

In reality, using a tumble drier is often a necessary evil, especially during the British winter! If you do need to use a tumble drier, choose an energy-efficient model when you buy a new one and look for one that detects when clothes are dry rather than running on a timer. If you’ve an older model that runs on a timer, try to work out what the optimum timing is for your average load of washing, to avoid running it for longer than necessary. As an alternative, you could invest in a heated airer, available from Lakeland, which cost very little to run compared to a tumble drier.

Use eco-friendly products

Mainstream detergents often contain a mix of potentially toxic chemicals that can pollute water and harm wildlife, including synthetic fragrances made from hormone-disrupting phthalates and ethylene oxide, optical brighteners called stilbenes that do not biodegrade, as well as surfactants such as LAS (Linear Alkylbenzene Sulfonate) that is derived from crude oil.

The same principles we outline in our Greener Cleaning post apply when choosing laundry liquids or powders: opt for eco-friendly brands such as Ecoleaf, Bio-D, Greenscents, Miniml and Faith in Nature; get refills from a zero waste shop (see our post on Zero Waste Shops) or buy in bulk to reduce plastic packaging. You could even try making your own (Caroline has had good results using laundry liquid made from conkers!).

We hope these easy eco-actions will revolutionise your laundry habits, reducing your impact on the environment, saving you money and helping your clothes last longer.

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