Laundry — Laziness is Good

Laundry is one of those tasks that must be done, but does it really need to be done every week or is that just a habit? Doing laundry uses resources and generates waste. Perhaps this is a good time to re-evaluate our personal laundry habits. Are there things we can do/not do to reduce the environmental impact of enjoying clean clothes?

Pile of LaundryWhen I was a kid we did multiple loads of laundry every week for our 5-person family. Although we had a dryer, some items like sheets and towels were hung outside on a clothes line using old-fashioned devices called clothes pins. As an adult, I carried the weekly laundry habit forward with my own family. It was not until my kids were adults themselves that I thought about my weekly laundry habit.

It did not come as a huge surprise to learn that my kids did not do laundry every week while away at college and indeed sometimes waited until there really weren’t any clean clothes left. When asked why they didn’t do their laundry every week, the response was generally something like, “I’ve got better things to do or I’m lazy.” One day it struck me that they actually had the right idea and maybe laundry laziness was a good thing.

Laundry Resource Use

Resources including water, petroleum, raw and recycled materials are consumed throughout the laundry life cycle during manufacturing, transportation, use, and disposal. This includes:

  • Manufacturing washers and dryers, transporting them to the store and then one’s home or a Laundromat.
  • Making laundry detergents and additives (including their plastic and cardboard containers), transportation to and from the store.
  • Water, electricity, and natural gas for washing and drying.
  • Treating waste water to remove laundry chemicals.
  • Recycling plastic and cardboard containers, washers and dryers, or transporting to a landfill.

Laundry Habits – Think About It

Frequency
  • Does laundry need to be done every week? There is no law that I am aware of.
  • Does laundry equipment convenience play a factor? Do people with a washer and dryer in their house or apartment do laundry more often than people who go to a Laundromat?
Equipment
  • Is it better to stick with older and possibly less efficient equipment or purchase a high-efficiency washer and dryer? What happens to your old washer and dryer after the delivery guys take it away?
  • How about forgoing equipment like a dryer? Does anyone still use a clothes line? (If you do, give yourself extra points for using renewable energy.)
Process
  • Is sorting into white, light, dark, delicates, etc. necessary? Are today’s fabrics more color-fast? When was the last time you washed a red t-shirt and white socks and ended up with pink socks?
  • How about doing full loads? Do you do a small load of socks and underwear or wait until you have a full load?
  • Are all the products people use to keep clothes blindingly white, smelling like lavender, or snuggly soft actually necessary?
  • Liquid or powder? Concentrated or not? (Weight plays a big factor in transportation resource use.)
  • Green cleaning products or not?
  • Hot or cold water (heating water takes extra energy)?

Laundry is often a task we learn at a young age and we carry those habits through to adulthood. In recent years, there have been a lot of advancements in equipment to reduce energy and water use. A wide variety of products are available that are more efficient, greener, and use less packaging.

Think about your own laundry habits. Would laundry laziness work for you?

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Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information, spark conversation, and convince people to take action to keep earth habitable for all. She believes our individual actions do matter—it all adds up.

3 thoughts on “Laundry — Laziness is Good”

  1. I purchased Kenmore Energy Star rated high efficiency washer last year. It is the worst machine I’ve ever used. It trashed and thrashed our clothes despite separating into even smaller loads than ever before. I’ve had to toss about a hundred bucks worth of clothes in a year that were destroyed. It uses so little water that they come out smelly and dirty, having to wash gardening and barn clothes twice saves no water.

    Think twice about “upgrading” your washer if you don’t have to. My old one (also Kenmore) had a dial for water level, thus I could choose more water for the really dirty stuff. On the Energy Star rated models all this must be automated. I’m so sorry I bought the washer too when the fifteen year old dryer died….

    We have so many “categories” of laundry that I seem to wash daily even though we have no kids. Barn, gardening and riding clothes cannot usually be worn twice. Bob’s work clothes (HVAC installer) get covered with gunk that must be washed every time too.

    I only wish I could have a clothes line in Portland, miss the smell of the sheets dried on the line in Phoenix.

    1. Hi LeeAnne!

      Nice to hear from you! Drying stuff outside is nice… really fresh it seems. Plus totally energy efficient! LOL

      Hard when it rains, do you mean that clothes lines are “illegal” where you live? I wonder if they are here too???

  2. Yes, sheets do smell and feel wonderful when they are hung outside to dry. The sun is a natural bleach so if you have white clothing that is getting a little dingy a day drying in the sun is much easier on our environment than chlorine bleach. If you can’t have an old fashioned permanent “long” clothes line perhaps one of the smaller fold up umbrella type (that you can bring in) clothes lines might do the trick and be acceptable in your neighborhood.

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