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Greening Your Laundry

By Larraine Roulston:

Your laundry loads have a bigger eco-footprint than you might initially imagine. If you are accustomed to washing all your clothes after a single wear, using hot or warm water, purchasing non-biodegradable soaps and tossing everything into a dryer, there is potential for you to alter a few habits to aid our ailing planet.

First, your clothes will last longer if you wash them less frequently. The process of repetitive washing and use of a dryer weakens the fibers. With each washing, microfibers enter the water system and often are digested by fish. University of California researchers discoveredthat, on average, synthetic fleece jackets release 1.7 grams of microfibers with each wash. Even manufacturers of denim recommend that jeans should be worn several times before laundering. Two solutions are being investigated: a filter to be installed on washing machines, and the development of waterless appliances whereby textiles are washed in pressurized carbon dioxide.

Today’s modern washing machines are much more energy and water efficient. When purchasing a new appliance, look for an Energy Star front loading machine. Compared to older models, these appliances can save an estimated 27,000 gallons of water over the machine’s lifetime. Operate your washer during your area’s lower hydro rate times.

Hand washing is another option when you have just a few items. If you have a machine that empties the spin cycle water into a laundry tub, the water can be captured to wash floor mats, slippers or cleaning rags. Some people, myself included, are inclined to wash a few articles as well while taking a shower.

Use a concentrated soap, one made from plant-based ingredients, rather than from petroleum. When my children were in elementary school, one of their school fundraisers was Froggy’s Laundry Powder, which came packaged in a sturdy paper bag. The instructions recommend using one tablespoon per load and claim to clean everything from silk frillies to shop rags. It is certified biodegradable, nontoxic, hypoallergenic, made from sodium silicate and coconut oil, and will dissolve quickly in cold water. I’ve been using it ever since. You can also purchase soaps in bulk where available, and select brands that allow you to refill their containers to reduce packaging.

Save money and energy by washing full loads in cold water. Home laundering can account for 20% of your total hot water consumption. Typically, 90% of this energy is devoted to heating the water. This reduction could save you upwards of $50 annually.

Your dryer is one of your household’s biggest energy hogs. Each load of clothes will generate over 3 kilograms of greenhouse gases. If you are fortunate enough to have an outdoor clothesline, you will benefit from wearing that glorious fresh air scent. During rainy days, use an indoor drying rack. If you must run your dryer, clean the lint filter before each use to increase its efficiency and shorten drying time. As part of its “Right to Dry” mission, Project Laundry is a grassroots organization that aims to legalize air drying laundry in communities that ban outdoor clotheslines.

Avoid using dryer sheets, which contain chemicals that can break down fibers. For top loaders, add a cup of white vinegar to your rinse cycle.

Don’t forget to recycle the packaging! Whether your soap container is sold in a box, paper bag or a plastic bottle, it will be accepted in your recycling program.


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Larraine writes a children’s book series on composting and pollination at www.castlecompost.com

About Larraine Roulston

A mother of 4 with 6 wonderful grandchildren, Larraine has been active in the environmental movement since the early l970s. When the first blue boxes for recycling were launched in her region, she began writing a local weekly newspaper column to promote the 3Rs. Since that time, she has been a freelance writer for several publications, including BioCycle magazine. As a composting advocate, Larraine authors children's adventure stories that combine composting facts with literature. Currently she is working on the 6th book of her Pee Wee at Castle Compost series, which can be viewed at www.castlecompost.com. As well, Larraine and her husband Pete have built a straw bale home and live in Ontario.

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  1. I do wash my clothes after one wearing, but mostly because I tend to do messy things.
    Today, I was lucky enough to have a new monarch butterfly void its system of the last meal as a caterpillar. How special!
    I also tend to walk out and do gardening when I need to think.
    And some stains are a total mystery.
    But I only use the dryer for my clothes for about 2 minutes, to ‘shake out’ the wrinkles, then I hang them.
    So I guess I’m doing ok.

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