If you were to consider all the energy that goes into the lifecycle of a piece of clothing; weaving, knitting, sewing, making, dyeing, transporting, selling, packaging, washing, drying, wearing and disposing of it, would you believe the most energy intensive part of the whole process is the washing and drying in our own homes?

This means that as consumers we have the power to vastly reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry, just by making a few small changes in our own homes. It is that simple.

Of a garments energy consuming lifecycle, roughly 80% is spent on consumer use. This is washing (about 30%), drying (another 38% for cotton garments and 27% for polyester), ironing (about 12%) and the detergent (6 to 7%), water (2 to 3%) and transport of you excitedly getting your new purchase back from the shops (about another 3%). [ERMUK.com]

Of course, I’m not suggesting that you stop washing your clothes, but there are some small changes you can make at home, that will make a big difference to the planet.

Top tips for an eco laundry:

1. Ban the tumble dryer & line dry only.

2. Wash a full load at 30%.

3. Use eco detergents and softeners such as Ecover.

4. Try alternatives such as Eco Balls or soap nuts.

5. Wash less, air your clothes and change when you get home.

6. Try not to make dry cleaning a regular habit, and try green alternatives or hand washing.

First of all, stop tumble drying!! It’s the most energy intensive and wasteful part of your clothing care cycle. Line dry and hang your clothes on hangers to let them dry naturally. Invest in some space saving washing maidens if you live in a flat, or if you live in a house with a garden, then even better!! Rig up an old fashioned washing line, complete with wooden pegs and lovely laundry baskets. If you are hanging your clothes outside then they will dry within a day, weather permitting of course!! And they will smell fresh and clean, with no danger of shrinking, wrinkling or static clinginess from the dryer.

The second step to a greener laundry is to reduce the temperature of your wash. A move from washing at 50oC to 40oC will reduce lifecycle energy burden by 10%. And even better washing at 30oC will reduce energy consumption even more, and mean you have lower electricity bills, saving the planet and saving you money! Washing a full load is also more efficient that washing single items or smaller loads, as and when you need things. Your washing machine may also have an ‘eco’ setting that uses less water than a normal cycle, so utilise this whenever possible.

Using an eco detergent such as Ecover will ensure the waste water doesn’t contain any nasty contaminants that can’t be broken down into safe substances to enter the eco system. I bought mine from www.ethicalsuperstore.com. There are also different eco alternatives you can buy to replace the detergent you use in the wash, such as Eco wash balls and soap nuts. These products work with the water in your wash to help lift the dirt of your clothes.

Using a biodegradable and eco friendly fabric conditioner, and hanging your clothes out to dry in the shape you want to wear them will also mean don’t need to iron them, another big energy consumer!

Also consider if your clothes need to be washed as often as you currently do. Often a pair of jeans can have the odd stain or spot removed with a sponge and a little detergent. Or if you have only work a top for a few hours or less, and you use a nice eco deodorant, then try turning it inside out and hanging it by an open window or outside for a few hours. Not only does this mean you don’t have to wash your clothes as often, saving energy, the environment and your own money, it also means that your clothes will remain bright and new for longer, lasting longer in your wardrobe before you want to give them away or recycle them.

It’s a good idea to sort your clothes out into ‘best’ and ‘home’ clothes. This means you can get changed out of your ‘best’ clothes as soon as you get home, air these clothes next to an open window, hang them up and put them back in the wardrobe. Change into your ‘home’ clothes for lounging around, cooking, cleaning and sleeping and it means your ‘best’ clothe stay good for longer.

As a final word I should also mention dry cleaning.

http://www.treehugger.com says the following:-

‘Contrary to what its name implies, dry cleaning involves washing clothes in a liquid solvent to remove stains. In about 85 percent of dry cleaning shops this solvent is perchloroethylene (or “perc”), a chemical that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers both a health and environmental hazard.

Dry cleaning is not always necessary; clothing makers often place the “dry clean only” label on tags because they can list no more than one cleaning method and can be held liable if an item is damaged when the owner follows the listed procedure. Yet many of these items can be safely washed at home, either by hand or using a washing machine’s delicate cycle. For clothes that must be professionally cleaned due to their size, fabric, decorations, or other factors, there is no perfect solution, but you could consider using a cleaner that offers one of the following perc-free methods.

The EPA has a PDF list of drycleaners that use two alternative methods – wet cleaning and CO2 cleaning. www.epa.gov/dfe/pubs/garment/gcrg/cleanguide.pdf

Wet cleaning uses water, along with computer-controlled washers and dryers, specialized detergents that are milder than home laundry products, and professional pressing and finishing equipment. The EPA considers it one of the safest professional cleaning methods; its benefits include “no hazardous chemical use, no hazardous waste generation, no air pollution and reduced potential for water and soil contamination.”

Carbon dioxide (CO2) cleaning uses non-toxic, liquid CO2—the same form used to carbonate soda—as the cleaning solvent, along with detergent. The CO2 is captured as a by-product of existing industrial processes, thereby utilizing emissions that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere; since only about two percent of the CO2 is lost into the air with each load of clothing, its impact on global warming is minimal. CO2 cleaning also uses less energy than traditional dry cleaning, which involves heating the solvent.

Not all cleaning methods advertised as “green” are as environmentally benign as they may seem. For example, a solvent called DF-2000 being touted as an “organic” dry cleaning fluid is actually a petroleum product. It is indeed organic in the same way gasoline and perc are organic: it contains a chain of carbon atoms. The word “organic” has a much different meaning when it comes to food that’s been certified organic by the USDA.’

Personally, I have found that for small ‘dry clean only’ items, placing them inside a pillow case, tying the top, and washing them in the machine on cool wool cycle with the rest of your delicate items, has been fine. Of course this would be a somewhat cavalier approach for your more treasured items, such as your favourite silk party dress, wedding dress or bridesmaid outfit, and I am in no way suggesting that you do wash them in the machine. But its fine for the odd item found at a clothes swap or charity shop, that you would have otherwise not picked up, due to the dry cleaning or hand wash only aspect.

  1. Ooh I’ve used the wash nuts before they’re great! I’ve mentioned them to a few people before and they always think I’m making them up! great post Sara!

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