Laundry is a necessity to keep our clothes fresh and clean. Although it is a tiresome chore, doing the laundry is something that all adults should be accustomed to. Unfortunately, this process uses chemicals, water and energy, which can harm the environment. This article explores how laundry, although necessary for clean clothing, can tax the environment and how people can do eco-friendly laundry to compensate for or limit it.
From the onset, laundry machines have been taxing on the environment. A lot of energy, gas and emissions go into the manufacturing of washers and dryers and their transportation from factories to stores to homes. The average washing machine uses between 13 gallons to 23 gallons of water per load, contributing to the moderate Canadian daily use of around 56 gallons of water and Canada’s estimated 4,400 litres-per-capita-per-day, which is much higher than other countries (Neighbour, 2020; Shrubsole & Draper, 2007). A lot of electricity is used to power washers and dryers. In the United States, residential laundry is estimated to emit 179 million tons of carbon dioxide annually (Cogan, 2020). Electricity is used to heat the water and run the machines, with Energy Star-certified models using 500 watts per hour, while dryers require 3000 watts per hour of use (Arcadia, 2017). Detergents and fabric softeners can sometimes contain harmful chemicals like phosphates, nonylphenol ethoxylate, sodium sulphates and formaldehyde, which can be detrimental to the environment as well as to humans over time (Team Attitude, 2023). When a person washes clothing made with materials like nylon and polyester, they accidentally produce microplastics, which drain and enter the water streams (Nizzoli, 2020). Microplastics are notably dangerous to aquatic animals as they mistake them for food and humans as we consume microplastics in our fish intake, and microplastics have even been found in our blood (Francis, 2022).
There are many ways that people can do eco-friendly laundry. People can make laundry detergent that effectively removes smells and stains from clothes. A few months ago, the Sustainable Community Aid Network (SCAN) hosted a Homemade Laundry Detergent workshop in partnership with the non-profit organization Value Life Humanitarian Services, run by the manager of the Bare Market, a zero-waste grocery store. One can buy laundry detergent, strips, brushes, and other laundry-related items, as well as the materials to do their laundry there. Making one’s own detergent only requires only a couple of ingredients. For powdered laundry detergent, a person just needs a bar of soap, washing soda and borax, while liquid detergent requires borax, washing soda, liquid Castille soap, water and essential oils (Leverette, 2009; Marr, 2023). People can also use cold water more often when doing their laundry. Using cold water is one of the most effective ways a person can be more environmentally friendly with their laundry. 90% of the energy used by washing machines is for heating and cold water is as effective for almost all types of laundry loads (Cogan, 2020). Moreover, clothing breaks down more in hot water and releases more microplastics than in cold water (Cogan, 2020). People should also try using their dryers less often. For larger and less personal pieces of clothing, one should opt to air dry their clothes. Whether it be in fresh air outside or somewhere inside, air drying one’s clothes lowers dryer usage. Other ways include always running full loads as machines use the same energy every load, using higher speeds on the dryer to decrease the time, using ENERGY STAR-certified washers and dryers, and leaving the front door of the washer open after use to allow the moisture to evaporate, preventing excess damage (Cogan, 2020).
Arcadia. (2017, July 17). Electricity costs for 10 key household products. Arcadia.com; Arcadia. https://blog.arcadia.com/electricity-costs-10-key-household-products/
Cogan, C. (2020, July 18). What is the environmental impact of laundry? Blueland. https://www.blueland.com/articles/what-is-the-environmental-impact-of-laundry
D. Shrubsole and D. Draper, “On Guard for Thee? Water (Ab) Uses and Management in Canada,” In: K. Bakker, Ed., Eau Canada, UBC Press, Vancouver, 2007.
Francis, A. (2022, October 5). How much microplastic am I eating? And is there any way to avoid it? Bon Appétit. https://www.bonappetit.com/story/microplastics-food
Leverette, M. M. (2009, February 3). How to make your own homemade laundry detergent. The Spruce. https://www.thespruce.com/how-to-make-your-own-laundry-detergent-1387952
Marr, K. (2023, April 16). DIY homemade liquid laundry detergent (recipe). Live Simply. https://livesimply.me/homemade-liquid-laundry-soap-all-natural-detergent/
Neighbour, J. (2020, September 16). Does Canada need to conserve its water? National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/partner-content-where-our-water-goes-canada
Nizzoli, G. (2020, July 29). Dirty laundry! The environmental impact of washing clothes. Projectcece.com. https://www.projectcece.com/blog/423/dirty-laundry-the-environmental-impact-of-washing-clothes/
Team Attitude. (2023, January 19). 8 laundry detergent ingredients to avoid. Attitudeliving.com. https://ca.attitudeliving.com/blogs/lifestyle/8-laundry-detergent-ingredients-to-avoid