So you’ve chosen your outfit with sustainability in mind. Maybe you agonized over the relative costs and benefits of fair-trade cotton and recycled polyester; you might have decided to shell out more for quality, long-lasting apparel, or to purchase from local makers. Perhaps you opted to re-use what’s already out there, and picked up everything for a couple of bucks at a charity shop.
Whatever the case, the end of your fashion footprint unfortunately isn’t finished yet. Washing and drying clothes contributes heavily to energy and water use, carbon emissions and pollution. For example, nearly 60 percent of the environmental impacts of a pair of Levi’s jeans comes from laundering them.
Luckily, there’s plenty you can do to lower the impact of your laundry – and save money in the process.
Choose a front-loading washing machine instead of a top-loader. You’ll cut your water and power usage by up to 50 percent.
Wash less! Wear items until they’re genuinely dirty – not automatically after every wear. They’ll last longer this way, too. Jeans manufacturer Hiut Denim actually recommends waiting a full six months before washing a new pair of jeans.
Wait until you’ve got a full load. This means your machine will operate at maximum efficiency.
Mind your microfibers. Washing polyester and acrylic clothes releases tiny threads of plastic that disappear down the drain. These threads end up in the ocean, where they may be consumed by fish and other marine wildlife. A recent study found around 73 percent of fish caught at mid-ocean depths in the Northwest Atlantic had microplastic in their stomachs.
You can mitigate your microfiber impact when washing these fabrics by using a Guppy Bag or Cora Ball – both of which trap microfibers so you can dispose of them elsewhere – or installing a filter in your machine. Avoiding polyester and acrylic altogether is, of course, the ideal.
Add eco-friendly detergent. Most conventional detergents contain phosphates, which when washed down the drain and into the ocean can cause algal blooms that damage marine ecosystems. Look for biodegradable, phosphate-free varieties, and go for concentrates, which have less packaging.
Do away with fabric softener, which usually contains a cocktail of petroleum-based chemicals that don’t biodegrade well and can be toxic to marine life. Instead, try a cup of white vinegar added during the rinse cycle. It’ll make your laundry super-soft and the vinegar smell doesn’t stick – though, just to be sure, throw in a few drops of lavender, jasmine or eucalyptus essential oil.
Wash in cold water wherever possible. Up to 90 percent of the energy used in washing clothes goes toward heating the water. Most modern detergents are designed to work just as well at 30 degrees Celsius as at 60 degrees. Cooler temperatures are better for your clothes, too.
Ditch the dryer. On average, this appliance emits more than a ton of carbon dioxide per year. Make use of the free solar energy around you and hang your clothes out to dry instead. Besides, dryers shorten the lifespans of clothes by tumbling them through more wear and tear.
Don’t dry-clean. Conventional dry-cleaning uses the chemical percholoroethylene, a likely carcinogen that contaminates the air and groundwater and is toxic to aquatic life. If you must dry-clean, look for a verified green cleaner, but taking a bit of time to hand-wash or steam your delicate clothing as the fabric requires is ultimately the best option.