Doing the laundry carries a huge environmental footprint. Our modern laundry practices use lots of resources, from clean water, soap, and energy to power the washer, then even more energy used by the dryer. It was different in mid-century Brooklyn.
When I was a little girl, Mom and Grandma didn’t have a clothes dryer. Grandma Jennie did not even have a washing machine! She used a scrubbing board to wash everything on the large side of her double kitchen sink. I remember her wringing out her sheets, twisting them into what looked like large “snakes” to remove the excess water, before hanging them out on the clothesline outside to dry. On rainy days, she hung clothes on a line she strung in the basement between the pillars of the house.
And when Mom and Grandma brought in those dry clothes from the line, they looked and smelled wonderful! I loved getting into a bed with fresh, line-dried sheets!
I was reminded of this today when I washed my winter comforter and set it out on a clothes horse to dry in front of a sunny, breezy window. In a couple of hours, I had a dry, fresh comforter to put back on my bed, courtesy of the sun, wind, and nothing more.
While I think that it is highly unlikely that anyone would want to return to those days of scrubbing clothes on a washboard, there are lots of ways that we can reduce the environmental impact of doing laundry. There’s the standard advice of running only full loads and using the coolest temperature possible to do the job. But I think that there is more we could do.
We could reduce the frequency we do the laundry in the first place. After wearing clothing once, we can place them on hangers to “air out” before we wear them again. Similarly, we can turn down bed covers during the day to keep the sheets fresh. While the shower water is running to heat up, we can collect the water to pre-treat stains (think of baby food stains on a bib or a coffee stain on a tea towel) or wash items like sneakers or pet toys. You don’t need hot water for everything, and very hot water and drying tend to set stains. And it’s such a waste to just run good water down the drain.
According to Energystar.gov, “clothes dryers use more energy than any other household appliance.” So, if you can, dry your laundry on a clothesline for unbeatable freshness and brightness — and lower energy bills! My mother-in-law thought that the sun —and even the full moon — brightened those clothes like nothing else. Maybe she was right!
Let’s reduce our laundry’s environmental footprint and experience the pleasure of sweet-smelling line-dried clothes and linens.
Feature image by Erik Witsoe on Unsplash. This post was originally published on April 10, 2019.