Doing laundry in an automatic washer and dryer uses water, electricity and, in some cases, natural gas. Laundry accounts for about 5 percent of the total electricity used in the average California household (see References 1, page 3). By changing some of your habits, you can significantly reduce the energy needed to wash a load of laundry.
Ninety percent of the electricity used to wash a load of clothes goes to heat water; it takes very little energy to run the washing machine's motor. Unless your water is very hard, your laundry will usually get just as clean using cold water. Choose laundry detergents designed for cold water use for best results. An average family with an electric water heater will save about $40 per year in electricity by washing all of its laundry in cold water. (See References 2)
Only do laundry when you have a full load. Washing a partial load uses about the same amount of electricity as a full load and wastes as much as 3,400 gallons of water per year if you do it habitually. If you must wash a partial load, select the appropriate load size on the machine. (See References 2) Don't overload the washer or dryer, however; clothes may not get clean if packed tightly in the washer and won't dry efficiently if they can't tumble freely (see References 3, pages 2-3).
Using a clothesline is the most eco-friendly method of drying clothes, as it uses no electricity (see References 4). When weather conditions make this impossible, use your dryer more efficiently by taking your clothes out as soon as they are dry enough (see References 2). Overdrying clothes wastes electricity and increases static cling (see References 5). Sort loads by fabric type when possible, because different fabrics dry at different rates. Clean the lint filter before every load (see References 2).
Energy Star Appliances
Energy Star-qualified washing machines are designed to use 37 percent less electricity and half as much water as older washers. If your washer is more than 10 years old, getting a new Energy Star washer can save your family about $135 per year in utility costs. These lower operating costs mean that the new washer pays for itself in only a few years. (See References 6)
- California Energy Commission; California Statewide Residential Appliance Saturation Study; June 2004
- Energy Star: Save Energy at Home
- Oregon State University; Buying and Using Clothes Washers and Dryers; Dave Brook; October 1999
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Laundry Room and Basement; Dec. 2, 2010
- Northwest Arkansas Community College; How to Conserve Energy at Home; Dec. 21, 2009
- Energy Star: Clothes Washers
Based in central Missouri, Rachel Steffan has been writing since 2005. She has contributed to several online publications, specializing in sustainable agriculture, food, health and nutrition. Steffan holds a Bachelor of Science in agriculture from Truman State University.