sustainability series: laundry

The dirty side of cleaning your clothes and how to develop a sustainable laundry rhythm.

For this week’s Sustainability Series article we are going to be discussing laundry.

Laundry is something that everyone does and has to do, which makes it all the more important to talk about. Did you know that the average household uses 13,500 gallons of water a year just by doing laundry? That’s a lot of water and to be honest, most of it is going to waste. The majority of households do laundry too much and wash clothes unnecessarily. For example, that sweater you wore once this week doesn’t need to go in the wash basket.

I am writing this article today to raise your awareness on what bad habits you might have gotten into when it comes to your laundry routine, their impact on the environment, and what you can do to change them. Without further ado, let’s get to it!

The dirty side of cleaning your clothes.

Doing your laundry can have several different negative impacts on the environment, and today we are going to be discussing the biggest contributors.

Firstly, let’s talk about the appliances that do all the work. The washing machine. Using a washing machine and a dryer contribute significantly to your carbon footprint. Did you know that washing and drying a 5kg load of laundry even just once a week releases approximately 130kg of carbon dioxide per year?! You can reduce this amount significantly just by not using your dryer – for a typical 40˚C wash, 75% of that carbon dioxide comes from the drying phase of your wash cycle.

And it’s not just the machine, the water contributes too. Washing in hot water or too much water has significant effects on your carbon footprint and your bills. 90% of the energy consumed per load is used to heat up the water for your wash. This energy usage will only increase over time, as your washing machine needs more energy to work properly the older it gets. Keeping your washing machine clean and swapping to a front-loading machine can save up to 7,000 gallons of water a year (your wallet will thank you for this too).

Now let’s think about what we are washing. The majority of the clothes that you’re washing are made from synthetic fibres such as nylon and acrylic. These synthetic substances, along with other microfibres, are being found on shorelines across the globe. Synthetic fibres from your laundry make up approximately 85% of all man-made substances found on these shorelines. When these fibres break down, they release toxic chemicals into the sea water, harming not only the water but everything that lives in it.

These harmful chemicals come from your detergent too. What you use to wash your clothes is doing more harm than good. Laundry soaps and fabric softeners are just not environmentally friendly. Substances such as enzymes, bleaches, perfumes, and colourants are released into the water supply with each use. These substances get washed into the sewage system and sometimes even the groundwater, damaging surrounding plant life and sometimes even the water we use for drinking.

So now you may be thinking ‘what can I do to change this?’. Let’s take a look at the following tips to find out.

Developing a sustainable laundry rhythm.

There are multiple ways in which you can improve your laundry habits to help the environment. Today, we are going to take a look at the simplest and most affordable changes (most of these will even SAVE you money).

The simplest change to make is to simply do laundry less. A lot of the clothes you wear each week don’t need to be washed as often as you think. The only clothes you really need to wash after a single use are your intimates and your socks, maybe your workout gear if it really stinks. Other clothes such as sweaters, jeans, shirts, pajamas, even bras, don’t need to be washed after every single use. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I washed the jumper I’m currently wearing (and no, it doesn’t smell and it’s not at all dirty).

The same thing goes for your bedding and bath towels. I wash my sheets once every two weeks in the cold months and only a little more often in the summer (it depends on how sweaty you get). As for bath towels, man you do NOT need to wash them after every use. Depending on how often you shower depends on how often you should wash your towel. If you wash every day or every two days then you probably only need to wash your towel once a week. If you shower less than that e.g. one to two times week, then you can wash your towel even less than that.

When you do need to do laundry, wash on cold. You can save so much energy and money just by switching to a cold wash (of course, you’ll need to change your detergent to one with enzymes that don’t denature at colder temperatures, but we’ll discuss detergents in a minute). As we’ve already discussed, 90% of the energy consumed in each load of laundry is used to heat up the water. By washing on cold, or even coldER than usual, you can save so much energy, money, and reduce your carbon footprint in the process.

Speaking of carbon footprints, ditch the dryer! Drying your clothes naturally (in the air) saves SO MUCH energy and reduces your carbon footprint significantly. In the summer, you can dry multiple loads of laundry on the line in a single day, due to warmer temperatures and dry air. For colder months or if you don’t have a garden, get yourself a drying wrack. In a well ventilated room you only have to be a little more patient when it comes to having dry clothes.

Now let’s talk about your detergent. As we talked about above, laundry detergents are responsible for the release of so many harmful chemicals into water systems, so I think it’s about time we made some changes. Mainstream laundry detergents, fabric softeners, and all those other totally unnecessary products e.g. dryer sheets (which you won’t need if you hang your clothes to dry) are having major impacts on the environment. By switching to a natural or eco-friendly or handmade form of detergent, you’re reducing the likelihood of these harmful substances being released. Eco-friendly brands of detergent are now becoming more common e.g. ECOVER

There are plenty of resources our there for you to make your own laundry detergents too, out of everyday household ingredients. The following article contains a great recipe for homemade detergent as well as some more information about the dangers of mainstream laundry products:

How to make your own laundry detergent – and help save the planet | Environment | The Guardian

Finally, just decrease the amount of clothing you own! You can greatly decrease the amount of laundry you have to do by simply owning less clothing. Honestly, my weekly outfit rotation probably consists of about five different pieces of clothing maximum (not including socks and undies) – I wear the same jumpers and tops and leggings all week, every week, and most of these items don’t get washed until they need to be e.g. they start smelling or I spill something on them. By owning less, wearing less, you can save yourself so much time, money, energy, water, you name it! Simplicity is the way to go.

And that concludes our Sustainability Series: Laundry article.

Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to learn more about the nasty side of laundry and what you can do to change your habits. I hope that this article was useful for you and provided you with valuable information to consider the next time you think you need to do your laundry.

Before we go, let’s go over what we can do to establish a more sustainable laundry rhythm:

  • Do your laundry less often.
  • Go for a cold wash.
  • Dry your clothes in the air.
  • Ditch the harmful detergent.
  • Just own less.

I hope that you take these changes into account the next time you wash your clothes, change your bedsheets, or mindlessly chuck your towel in the washing machine. Thank you for joining us on our fourth Sustainability Series article and we look forward to seeing you next week with out next one! To read the other articles in this series, click HERE.

If you enjoyed this article and found it useful, leave a like and a comment and we’ll get back to you! To keep up with us here at rhythm & green follow us on Instagram @rhythmandgreen

Until next time,

Katherine x

Resources I used to gather my information and statistics:

The Environmental Impact Of Your Laundry – And What You Can Do (cleanhomeguide.co.uk)

The Damage I Cause When I Wash My Clothes (the-sustainable-fashion-collective.com)

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