That laundry basket fills up fast. But washing dirty clothes and linens uses tons of water and power, and most dry cleaners include toxic chemicals. Follow these tips to help keep the planet as tidy — and abundant! — as your wardrobe.
Lighten the Load
Why: Washing machines can use as many as 40 gallons of water per load, and a typical clothes dryer produces more than 1,400 pounds of CO2 each year (from the electricity used to run it and heat the water).
What to do: Cut back on the number of loads you wash by spot-cleaning and hand-washing your garments. Use cold water washes unless clothing is super-dirty- most clothes don't need a warm water wash. Besides conserving resources, it makes your clothes last longer and colors stay darker. Make sure to always choose the appropriate wash size. Some new models of washers automatically adjust, but if yours doesn't, use the knob that indicates whether a wash is small, medium or large.
Why: Most detergents contain phosphates, which can cause overgrowth of algae in water, and is harmful to aquatic life. Many also contain synthetic fragrances and chemicals that are not biodegradable. Chlorine bleaches and some fabric softeners contain toxins, too. Even if your town or city processes wastewater most of these chemicals persist though the filtration process and end up in our water supplies.
What to do: Buy plant-based or castile soaps for laundry, and opt for fragrance-free detergents. Detergents with phosphates in them will say so on the bottle. Baby shampoo works well for hand-washing. Try treating stains with lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar before you wash. Get rid of fabric softeners, which are totally unnecessary and pollute local air (really- a study showed asthma is exacerbated by fabric softeners and dryer sheets). A few companies like Ecover and Seventh Generation make all-natural spot cleaners and fabric softeners if you must use them.
When it comes to drying, use a rack next to your washer for socks, undies, polyester 'sport' fabrics, and thin cotton fabrics, so you can cut down on your dryer time. Even better; use a clothes line to naturally freshen your clothes and dry them for free. Bonus: Hanging up clothes on a line is a good workout!
Try a New Dry
Why: "A lot of dry cleaners use chemicals with some type of by-product that uses a bleaching solvent, which is harmful and also bad for the clothing,” says Bob Smerling, owner of Brentwood Royal Cleaners in Santa Monica, who uses only environmentally-friendly methods and cleaning agents. Conventional cleaners also use perchloroethylene (perc), a chlorinated solvent that accumulates in body fat and is recognized as a possible human carcinogen.
What to do and where to go: If you have a garment that simply can’t be hand-washed or washed on the delicate cycle and hung dry, find a dry cleaner that uses carbon dioxide (CO2), Green Earth solvent or other hydrocarbon cleaners. If you had something dry-cleaned the traditional way, take the garment out of its bag and hang it outdoors to reduce the amount of perc vapor you bring into your home.
And always save your dry-cleaning bags, clips and hangars to bring back and reuse next time. Why pile onto a landfill?
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