The Environmental Risks of
Doing Your Daily Laundry
By Ken Hyden
“What’s the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on.”—Henry David Thoreau
There’s no longer any point in denying that we have an impact on the environment. We’re seeing the effects of landfill spaces filling up, plastics filling the oceans, and pesticides affecting our food and water supply. But the environmental dangers of things like driving your car or buying too many items that need to be thrown away, are often easy to remedy. Harder is finding the balance between safely living your life, and taking care of the environment.
Take doing laundry. Laundry is a necessary chore that keeps you healthy and keeps you from throwing out stained or soiled clothes too soon. But it also has many negative impacts on the environment. How do you balance your needs as a person, and your desire to care for the environment? The answer is carefully, and with a bit more thought. With just a little knowledge of how you’re impacting the environment, you can make significant changes!
1. The Risk - Laundry Detergent and Chemicals
Some of the most common laundry soaps and fabric softeners may be chock full of chemicals that are affecting everything from your skin health, to your hormone level.
Bleaches, enzymes, and colorants found in conventional laundry detergent contain APE and can release toxic fumes into the air and water. Non-biodegradable laundry detergents don’t break down, so they remain in the groundwater and pollute both the earth and water supply.
Drinking or eating food touched by chemicals have been linked to allergies, cancers and birth defects.
The Solution – Green Laundry Detergent
Laundry detergents that don’t include a list of ingredients should be treated as suspect. Choosing mild, greener detergents, or making your own, can help you cut down on the environmental impact. Stick with organics, and add a cup of vinegar to your loads in place of bleach. The acids will help neutralize harsh chemicals, and stop them from transferring to your skin.
Also check out the best solution to use with your ultrasonic cleaner.
2. The Risk - Clothing particles in Air and Water
Research shows that washing 113 lbs of poly-cotton fabrics releases nearly 138,000 individual strands of microscopic fibers. That’s a fraction of the number of acrylic fibers released or polyester. Plastic particles and microbeads are being removed from personal care products and sponges, but to remove all plastics and microplastics from synthetic clothing would be impractical and almost impossible.
The Solution – Avoid Synthetic Materials
Poly-cotton blends release far fewer microplastics into the air and water, and pure cotton releases the smallest amounts of fiber. They’re also more likely to break down naturally when left in a landfill. That means sticking to natural fabrics, instead of synthetics can help avoid your clothes breaking down in air and water supplies. That’s good news for the environment and your favorite shirts!
3. The Risk - Water Waste
According to Energy Star research, a top load washing machine wastes twice as much water per load than a new machine. It can take 40 gallons of water to wash two loads of your laundry. That’s a lot of water waste. Especially when you compare it to the 28 gallons or less, you can use with a front-load, or Energy Star approved washer!
The Solution – Energy Star Appliances
Switching to Energy Star appliances is a great way to cut down on your water waste. You may also want to start washing clothes by hand part of the time. If you can’t manage to make those changes, set your washes to smaller loads. It can cut down on the amount of water, and energy used over time. Using commercial washers is another option. Take your clothes to a laundromat, and you're sure to get a more energy-efficient wash.
4. The Risk - Energy Waste
It’s not just water that gets wasted during your average wash cycle. Your energy bills go up every time you use the tumble dry, even on the gentlest cycle. And an incredible 90% of the energy used in the average wash cycle is spent just heating up the water. Considering that the average dryer uses 3.3 kilowatts of power, and the average washer uses about 4 kilowatts per load, it’s a massive drain on your energy sources!
The Solution – Cold Water Wash
With so much energy spent heating up the washer and dryer, a quick and easy solution is to wash in cold water. Saving 90% of the energy from your wash just by switching to a cold run can also preserve the dyes in your clothes, and keep your clothes looking newer for longer. All in all, it’s a great choice if you’re trying to conserve energy.
5. The Risk - Laundry and Your Carbon Footprint
We’ve talked about energy waste and the emissions of chemicals and fibers. But what is the carbon footprint of the average load of laundry? On average, washing and drying a load every two days creates around 440kg of carbon emissions per year. That’s a huge impact on your overall carbon footprint. It’s the same as a 3-hour flight!
The Solution – Hang Your Clothes
There are several ways to cut down on your carbon footprint. You can switch to gas operated tumble driers, which conserve more energy than electric. Or you can just hang clothes on the line instead of running them through the tumble dryer. It’s a great way to get a fresh, clean smell to your clothes without chemicals, too! And using the dryer less can even help your clothes last longer!
6. The Risk - Shorter Lifespan for Your Clothes
Washing clothes and drying them in a machine can drastically shorten their lifespan. From the chemicals in detergents, to the heat and speed involved in the washing and drying cycle all has its impact on your clothes. Clothing manufacture is one of the world’s most prominent causes of CO2 emissions. From the manufacturing to the disposal, the synthetic materials and chemical dyes, our clothes come with many environmental hazards. And the more you wash, the faster you wear through your clothes, the more clothes you’ll go through in general.
The Solution – Wash Less
Buying less clothing overall is another surefire way to cut down. And of course, when you need to get rid of clothes or buy new ones, donation, and second-hand is a great way to cut down on clothes waste.
Many of the tips we’ve covered also lengthen the life of your clothes. Hanging clothes out to dry and washing in cold water helps keep clothes look newer longer, thanks to fewer fibers and dyes being washed away. The heat can also affect the longevity of your clothes, breaking down fibers and causing discoloration in the thread. Keep your clothes longer by washing less. Wearing clothes two or three times before washing, or sticking to hand-washing will not only conserve water and energy but extend the length of your clothes, so they don’t turn up in a landfill anytime soon!
The human impact on the environment is well documented, and of course, ideally, we all want to cut back. But when it comes to things like staying clean and healthy, and taking care of your family, those choices aren’t always so clear cut. Follow the advice in this article, to make your chores a little greener, and your world a little brighter!
Ken Hyden is the founder of BestSeeker.com and father of a funny girl. He loves dad jokes and minimalism, and the occasional hot rod project.