The New Fashion Initiative

Sustainable Laundry Tips That Spare the Planet and Your Clothes

Our laundry habits are a significant contributor to climate change and environmental pollution. Who knew? Luckily, reducing the impact of clothes-cleaning is easy and convenient and can even save you money and make your clothes last longer! We each hold the power to help the environment with every load of wash. The New Fashion Initiative aims to create community and change norms around our laundry routines with these four tips on going green and clean!

1. Wash on Cold

Ninety percent of the energy used by washing machines goes towards heating the water. And yes, according to Consumer Reports, modern laundry detergents contain enzymes that work best in cold water. Washing on cold is also better for your clothes: The cooler temperature keeps fibers from shrinking and fading! If you’ve got a tough oily stain, we will show you how to pre-treat it with safer products in just a minute. According to the American Cleaning Institute, if Americans washed on cold every four out of five loads, each household would save 864 pounds of carbon per year — the same as driving 1,000 miles. If we all commit to wash on cold, the impacts would be vast. Are you prepared to turn down that dial and make the switch to cold water washes?

2. Air-Dry Your Clothes

Let’s talk about tumble dryers, which are one of the most energy-intensive household appliances. They emit 40 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents in the US each year. It’s difficult to make vented dryers (the kind most Americans use) energy efficient. Still, there are a few easy ways we dry our clothes more sustainably. The first is to air-dry or line-dry more of your laundry! Pick up a drying rack for smaller spaces and colder months.

Air drying has countless benefits, from greatly extending the life of clothing to naturally whitening and sanitizing fabrics. Plus, it harnesses the power of free renewable energy! TNFI founder Lauren B. Fay says she uses a drying rack in her apartment because she wants her clothes to last. The Conscious Closet author Elizabeth L. Cline, who uses a drying rack in her Brooklyn apartment, says, “I actually find it more convenient to air dry my clothes, because I don’t have to wait for the dryer to be done. And my clothes still look new for years, instead of faded and warped by the dryer.” Are you ready to take the Hang it Out Challenge and line-dry or air-dry more of your clothes?

3. Dry Longer and On Lower Heat

If line drying is not for you, you can still use your tumble dryer more efficiently. It’s counterintuitive, but according to Energy Star, drying on lower heat settings for longer periods of time uses just a fraction of the energy. Stopping the dryer before all of the clothes are bone-dry also saves time and energy, while reducing wrinkles and helping clothes last longer. Last but not least, switch to a more energy efficient dryer if you’re shopping for a new appliance.

4. Cut the Chemicals

A surprising amount of toxic chemicals lurk in our laundry detergents, fabric softeners and dryer sheets. It’s time to cut the chemicals when we wash clothes. Household bleach (sodium hydroxide) is a skin and respiratory irritant. And bleach manufacturing produces dioxin, a chemical that is harmful to the environment. More to the point, it’s bad for fabrics and can be avoided by using non-hazardous oxygenated bleach products (it’s chlorinated bleach that’s damaging) or using non-toxic household whiteners like lemon juice or hydrogen peroxide.

You should also choose your cleaning products carefully. According to research done by the University of Washington, fragrances from many conventional laundry detergents contain toxic air pollutants and can even be carcinogenic. Many other cleaning products are toxic for the environment.

Thankfully, it’s easier than ever to choose a detergent that’s guaranteed to be safe. Use the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning or look for the EPA’s Safer Choice Label when you shop. You might also try eco-friendly detergents like Seventh Generation and Mrs. Meyers, which don’t use synthetic chemicals. Just make sure to double-check eco-friendly claims on the EWG website. Natural does not always mean safe. Last but not least, you might also explore the world of DIY cleaning, by Googling homemade laundry detergents. Many people swear by their home-made brews of lemon juice, baking soda, and other common household ingredients.

Those are our top four tips for greening your cleaning routine. Which ones are you most willing to try? One of our favorite things about switching to sustainable laundry practices, including washing on cold and air-drying more and cutting out the chemicals, is that it keeps your clothes looking so much better longer.