6 washing tips to help make your wardrobe more eco-friendly: front loaders, fresh air, filters and forgo fast fashion
- Fashion has a reputation for a high environmental cost, from microfibres to the energy and water used to wash clothes and grow cotton
- You can do your bit to help by making your laundry process more efficient, using filters, and hanging out your clothes to dry, among other things
Buying less clothing is an important part of sustainability. Estimates from consulting firm McKinsey and the World Economic Forum suggest the number of garments made each year has at least doubled since 2000.
Changing the way you care for clothes can also be effective. Here are six tips for reducing the environmental impact of your favourite outfits.
1. Front load for a cheaper wash
The good news is washing machines are keeping up with the latest innovations in efficiency. Energy Star-certified machines use about 25 per cent less electricity than older models.
Consider swapping out a top-loader machine for a front-loading one. The latter consumes not only less electricity but also less water.
Top loaders rely on parts that twist and turn to keep clothes circulating, whereas front loaders take advantage of tub rotation and gravity. Front loaders use water more efficiently by spraying rather than soaking clothes.
Energy Star estimates there are about 59 million top loaders in the US. If they were replaced by front loaders, the savings would be roughly equivalent to the electricity used by 1.3 million homes annually, it says. It would also cut water use by 170 billion (643 billion litres).
2. Recycle hot air with a heat pump dryer
While progress has been made on the efficiency of washers, dryers remain mostly unchanged. A United States Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) report found that while the average washing machine in 2014 used 75 per cent less power than it did in 1981, the power consumption of dryers has barely changed over the same period.
Because most are sold in washer-dryer sets, the main focus had just been on making sure they looked like the washing machine, the NRDC said.
There have been some recent improvements in efficiency. A heat pump dryer recycles hot air instead of venting it, but it’s among the priciest models on the market.
Using a normal dryer at a lower temperature setting over a longer period of time is less energy-intensive. Also, aim to use your dryer when electricity demand is low – at midday if there is lots of solar power, otherwise, late at night.
3. Hang it out to dry: air is free
Why not hang your clothes out to dry? The savings will add up quickly.
Dryers in the US consumed 57.4 billion kWh of electricity in 2015 – more than the entire nation of Bangladesh. For the US as a whole, this represents about 5 per cent of household energy use and 1.4 per cent of total electricity consumption.
The carbon footprint for dryers equals that of 9 million cars each year.
4. Beware of microplastics
Estimates from McKinsey and the World Economic Forum suggest the number of garments made annually has at least doubled since 2000, and many of those clothes are made from petroleum-based fibres, such as polyester.
Each time we wash these fabrics, especially when they’re new, tiny pieces called microfibres break off and float away.
Research suggests that microplastics reduce oceanic plankton’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. This could severely affect the vital role these tiny organisms play in maintaining the ocean as a carbon sink.
Oceans have historically absorbed 30 per cent to 50 per cent of CO2 emissions from human activities.
5. Buy a filter
Starting in 2025, France will require manufacturers to install filters in their washing machines to catch microplastics – a measure the European Commission is also considering.
Even if your machine doesn’t come with a filter, companies such as PlanetCare and Filtrol make filters you can snap onto an existing machine.
While they take a little bit of work to attach and cost more than some garment bags that are designed for filtering laundry, the results are effective, makers of the products claim. Filtrol says its reusable mesh filter removes 89 per cent of the fibres that peel off clothes during washing.
6. Say no to fast fashion
You can also help control microfibre pollution by becoming more selective with clothes shopping.
Natural fibres such as cotton might seem like a good choice, but they’re often heavily processed and leach chemicals.
A straightforward solution is to get off the hamster wheel of fast fashion. Buy clothes in a style and fabric that look good for longer.
It’s not just consumers who must act but manufacturers as well, according to Harmen Spek, innovation and solution manager at the Plastic Soup Foundation, a non-profit marine conservation organisation that targets plastic waste.
“The problem is coming from the fashion industry,” he says, “so the fashion industry should provide the solutions.”