Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dirty Laundry

Now that I got your attention!...

This post is literally about laundry, and its environmental impacts, rather than the airing of anybody's dirty laundry (I'm just not the gossiping type...)

This is the first part of my GREEN series in which I intend/attempt to write about how I can help to do my part in helping the environment -- you know, less wasting of energy, sustainable living, etc.

I'm starting out with the ordinary subject of LAUNDRY:
Everybody does laundry -- clothes get dirty, and then we wash them. In an effort to do my part in keeping this planet from Global Warming at an alarming rate, I try not to use an extra-ordinary amount of energy in keeping my family in tidy whities! My part may be tiny, but it's still significant -- if nothing else by the influence I have on the next generation: my own 3 kids!

Surely everybody has heard of the 3 R's: "Reduce, Reuse, recycle". More recently a new word has been added to this trilogy: rethink. That one's my favorite -- just stopping to think about the impact of the myriad daily decisions we make each day, and how they affect the environment!
Back to laundry, some Americans are starting to RETHINK their relationships with their laundry detergents, washers, and clothesdryers.

First of all, we can easily REDUCE (REUSE) the amount of laundry generated by wearing our clothes longer before laundering them. This may be a tough sell, especially to teens and pre-teens who go through clothes like there's no tomorrow, but really, they do care about the environment, so try that tactic (are you paying attention, Youngest?)

RETHINK our tools
Detergents: switching to environmentally more friendly detergents by avoiding phosphates and chlorine. For a review of detergents, their cost and environmental impact, go to consumersearch.
Also, simply using less. When it comes to everything from shampoos to laundry detergents, we don't need to use so much of it! Many products are more concentrated today, so we need less, and thus generate less empty plastic bottles...

Washing machine: about 5 years ago, we replaced our inefficient older Whirlpool with a water-saving washer made in New Zealand: and one of the first things I noticed is how much more efficient the spin cycle was -- and when laundry is less soggy, it takes less energy to dry them!
Also, avoid running small loads -- it's definitely inefficient.

Dryer: Best of all is to avoid using it in the first place. Hanging laundry up to dry the "old-fashioned" way is surely the most environmentally friendly.
Back when I was a young new bride and husband #1 and I bought our first house, we went appliance-shopping, and I had to convince him we only needed a washer, no dryer. Maybe, I said, when we have messy kids, and live in a cold place like Alaska...
Now I do have kids, live in AK and do own a dryer. It's old and runs on electricity instead of the more efficient natural gas (but it does have a dryness sensor, which does make a lot of sense!). But I don't use my dryer all that much.

Most Americans feel like they can't go without a dryer, time-wise and space-wise.
I would argue it does not take all that much space and time, and I'll go over what I find helps me to minimize the use of the dryer. Even in the winter (especially when it's super cold and we heat our houses, and the indoor air is very dry) you don't need to stick all your clothes into the dryer -- just to vent that heat to the outside!

Unlike my German relatives who choose not to own dryers at all, out of principle, I do actually like having a tumbler, because I DO NOT LIKE TO IRON. My mom spends hours ironing, and that would drive me batty!
So I use my dryer to get the wrinkles out, but don't actually use it to dry the whole load.
Here's what I do (and I NEVER iron, except as a hobby, such as when I'm sewing a quilt!).

I take laundry out of washer and start sorting:
1.) Socks, bras and other small items go on the space station right above the washer -- mine looks something like the item from pictured on the right.
2.) Anything made of synthetics is easy to hang up and dry wrinkle-free -- I just give it a good shake and hang it up -- it will dry quickly, and I don't have to deal with that static you get when they're come out of the dryer and cling to everything.
3.) Big things (like sheets) get hung outside over the railing in the warm season, or hung over chairs and couches if no visitors are expected.
4.) Drying rack is great for towels and other uncomplicated laundry such as T-shirts, etc.
I like to set it up right in the laundry room next to the baseboard heat, or this time of year, in front of the woodstove. In the summer, it often sits on the deck, where it is quick and easy to move indoors if it looks like rain!
5.) Hangers are my friends! I have a closet rod above the dryer, and all the shirts go from there directly into the closet -- no folding of shirts, no sirree.
6.) Pants go on those skirt-hangers that have a clip on each end. I hang mine on the shower curtain rod -- where there's enough room for those long dangly legs. By the next time we need the shower, they'll be dry and ready to hang in the closet.
6.) Anything that's made mostly of cotton has a tendency to dry with lots of wrinkles in it, so here is where I use the electric tumbler for "antrocknen" or slightly-drying: I toss them into the dryer for a few minutes (3-5 at most, & no need for those dryer sheets), then take them out damp and hang them up on hangers. VOILA -no need to iron.

This works pretty well for me. If I'm really, really, REALLY busy, then I might end up using the dryer and pulling fewer items out of the tumbler for air-drying on hangers, but I always pull out at least a few of the heavier items -- think of how much energy is used just to dry towels and jeans -- just by pulling those out I've saved that energy.

PS: it helps, of course, to distribute laundering throughout the week -- that way I can fold away the dry load when I start the next...

Photo credit here


honeypiehorse said...

Actually not using the dryer can save a family up to $100 a month!

Naturelady said...

Dankeschoen for you comment on my dirty laundry blog -- it's always great to point out the savings in $$!
My idea in launching this "green series" is to concentrate on environmental issues, but of course money often is the best motivator for change in behavior!