by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC
Now that I’m thinking about appliances, I have to address the laundry issue. When I found out how much water is used in traditional top loading washing machines – 40 gallons! – I kind of freaked. I have an obsession with the wet stuff and can’t stand to see it wasted, so running my washer was starting to make me crazy. And, as the periods of drought in my area became more frequent, I knew something in my laundry lifestyle had to change.
The first steps towards efficient washing were darn simple. First, I stopped washing my clothes unnecessarily – sheets, towels, jeans, t-shirts and even socks can pull double duty more than you think (the smell test says all). I washed only full loads and even started using water from my rain barrel to fill the wash cycle. That felt pretty good, but not good enough.
When I eventually moved, I left my top loaders behind and was able to switch to a front-loading washer. I asked for the most efficient version and ended up with something that can wash 17 pairs of blue jeans at one time (long story), which I now love, but any front loading machine will give you significant water savings and there are more compact versions available. Front loading washers use up to 50% less water – as little as 17 gallons – and up to 60 percent less electricity than top loaders!
Although I hang most of my laundry to line dry, I live in a humid climate which can make this difficult at times so I ended up getting the front-loading dryer, too. (I now find I use it so infrequently that I would rethink this decision.) Energy Star appliances that use 18 – 25 gallons of water per load, are now widely available, as well as more creative options like what I heard about on engadget.com – a water-free washer, developed by Industrial Design students at the University of Singapore that uses negative-ions and compressed air. The future looks bright!
Washers always use a lot more energy when set on warm or hot. I’ve read in many places that cold water cleans clothes just as well and my experience over several years have shown this to be true. If you’re germ phobic, try adding a few drops of tea tree or eucalyptus essential oil, both natural and safe cleaning boosters with anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.
(P.S. If you haven’t already, ditch the toxic laundry soaps and look into the many available and effective green substitutes!)