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Clean Clothes, Happier Planet

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Clean Clothes, Happier Planet

Although I don’t long for the days of beating clothes against a rock in the river, I do think it would be prudent for us to practice more conscientious laundry methods. In terms of water usage, a washing machine uses 40-80 gallons of water per load; in terms of power, a clothes dryer uses 1800 to 5000 kilowatts. According to, if all Americans would use the clothesline or wooden drying racks, the savings would be enough to close several power plants. Add to that the maelstrom of synthetic fragrance and other assorted toxic chemicals from laundry products entering the waste stream and our affecting our indoor air quality, and it seems obvious that the culture of laundry is in need of a green makeover. What can you do to help? Following is a collection of simple, smart tips for reducing water usage, conserving energy, and promoting a toxic-free environment.

The use of electricity- and water-usage varies from machine to machine, but is also affected by the way the machine is used. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, about 70 to 90 percent of the energy used by a washing machine goes towards heating the water, so washers that use less hot water also use less energy.

Many of today’s conventional washing machines use about 40 gallons of water for a complete wash cycle. Large capacity resource-efficient models use less than 25 gallons per cycle; small and medium-sized models may even use less than 10. All front loaders and many of the higher-efficiency top-loaders feature advanced electronic controls to adjust the water level automatically according to the size of the load. For a given temperature cycle, energy use is almost directly proportional to hot water use. The lowest setting may use just half as much water as the highest.

Next: 9 tips for washing

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Read more: Allergies, Conservation, Home, Non-Toxic Cleaning, Reduce, Recycle & Reuse

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.


+ add your own
11:52AM PDT on Aug 25, 2015

Thanks Melissa.

11:27AM PDT on Jun 29, 2015

Thank you Melissa.

12:41PM PDT on Oct 24, 2013

already doing a lot of this

11:37AM PDT on May 27, 2012

To remove sweat stains from the under-arms of shirts and blouses, wet garment stain before washing and rub in a bit of toothpaste.
Launder as usual - that is, on machine settings appropriate for the material.

May have to be repeated if the sweat stain is extensive, but usually that will take care of it. (And the toothpaste "smell" only lasts a few minutes.)

1:41AM PDT on Oct 3, 2011

Thanks for the tips!

1:13AM PDT on May 23, 2011

This post should be appreciated. Thanks for sharing this information. mosquito hat

5:30PM PST on Feb 2, 2011

this turning down the thermostat on your h/w heater is for the birds!! I want HOT water not lukewram water in my shower and when I wash my dishes by money? If your h/w heater is electric, like mine is, TURN IT OFF at the circuit breaker when not in use!! I turn mine on about 20-30 min. before I need water and save up to $50 on my elec. bill!!

8:20PM PST on Jan 31, 2011


12:04PM PDT on Jul 21, 2010

Great tips. Thank you!

6:47PM PDT on Jul 11, 2010

Thank you

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