Hand washing and line drying may be the most eco- and budget-friendly options for doing laundry, but our busy schedules and local weather often don’t allow us to take up these greener housekeeping practices. Earth911 has rounded up nine ways to reduce your energy use and lower your utility bills, while still taking advantage of the conveniences of the modern laundry room.
1. Wash with cooler water
About 90 percent of the energy consumed by your washing machine is used just to heat the water, according to the Alliance to Save Energy. Switch to cold water for many of your loads, especially those with dark or bright colors and delicates like silk or wool. Cold-water washing won’t just save you money: It will also keep colors bright, reduce wrinkling and won’t set stains.
Using cold water to wash your clothes for one year can save enough energy to run an average home for up to two weeks, the Alliance says.
If you find that your regular detergent isn’t cleaning effectively enough with your cold-water loads, look for cold-water detergents that are specifically made to get clothes clean in cooler temperatures.
Can’t make the change to cold water for all your loads? Even switching from hot water to warm can cut a load’s energy use in half, according to the Department of Energy (DOE).
2. Run full loads
Your washer and dryer use the same amount of mechanical energy, regardless of how full they are, so the best way to save energy is to run full loads of laundry.
If you need to run a smaller load in the washing machine, be sure to use the appropriate water-level setting.
3. Set your machine for energy savings
Take advantage of your washer and dryer’s energy-saving settings – like the washing machine’s “high spin” option, which cuts down on drying time. Avoid running the sanitary cycle, which hogs energy by heating the water to excessively high temperatures. Also, be sure not to wash items for longer than you need to; many loads only need 10 minutes of washing to be cleaned effectively.
When you’re drying clothes, select the low temperature setting for delicates and medium heat for most clothes. Use your machine’s moisture sensor, if it has one, to prevent over-drying your clothes, which shrinks clothes, causes static electricity and generally wears clothes out.
4. Turn down the water heater
The default temperature setting for your water heater is usually 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which actually provides water that is too hot for most residential needs. Set your water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and you’ll be saving energy even when you wash clothes in hot or warm water.
You can save between 3-5 percent in energy costs for each 10 degree reduction in water temperature, the DOE says.
But before you turn down your water heater, be sure to check your dishwasher’s instruction manual to make sure it will operate effectively with water cooler than 140 degrees. While most dishwashers can clean dishes in 120-degree water, some older dishwashers may not function properly with water at temperatures lower than 130 degrees.
The DOE says that reducing your water’s temperature also slows mineral buildup and corrosion in your water heater and pipes, helping your water heater last longer and operate at its maximum efficiency.
5. Dry similar fabrics together
Dry towels and heavier cottons in a separate load from lighter-weight, faster-drying clothes. Do back-to-back loads to take advantage of residual heat, starting with a load of fast-drying fabrics.
6. Clean the lint filter
After each load, clean the lint screen in your dryer to improve air circulation, reduce drying time and prevent fires. The DOE recommends periodically using the long nozzle tip of your vacuum cleaner to remove the lint that builds up below the dryer’s lint screen slot.
Also, inspect your dryer vent from time to time to ensure it is not blocked; this precautionary measure will also save energy and prevent fires.
7. Throw in the towel
Toss a clean, dry towel or tennis ball into the dryer to get clothes to dry quicker, the Alliance suggests. The towel absorbs moisture, while the tennis ball helps circulate air between clothes.
8. Hang out to dry
Even if your busy schedule or local weather doesn’t allow you to line dry your clothes, purchase an indoor drying rack for delicate fabrics and silks. You can also use the drying rack for “almost-dry” clothes, rather than running the dryer for additional time.
9. Shop for efficiency
If it’s time to replace your old washing machine, look for washers with the EPA Energy Star label. Energy Star washing machines use 37 percent less energy and 50 percent less water than their conventional counterparts – which can save you hundreds of dollars over the life of the machine.
While Energy Star does not certify clothes dryers because most of them use similar amounts of energy, the DOE advises buying a dryer with a moisture sensor that automatically shuts off the machine when your clothes are dry.
And, of course, don’t forget to recycle your old washers and dryers. Most major appliance retailers will haul away the old machines for recycling when they deliver the new ones. If not, search Earth911’s recycling directory for an appliance recycler near you.