Wash in Cold Water
If you heed nothing else in this list, heed this. Washing in cold water will save you cash, and still get your clothes clean – particularly if you use a good high-efficiency detergent (like Tide Coldwater, one of the first recipients of the Green Good Housekeeping Seal). The Department of Energy estimates that up to 90% of the cost of doing laundry (in an older top-loader) comes not from electricity running the machine, but from fuel to run your water heater.
Dry Clothes on the Line
It isn't always convenient, but line-drying your clothes can save you about $85 a year. That's the average cost of running a clothes dryer, according to the California Energy Commission. Line-drying also preserves your clothing (lint is made up of the fibers beat out of your clothing during machine drying).
Run Full Loads
It sounds obvious, but if you only run your washing machine and clothes dryer when they are full, you'll save in the long run. (Same goes for your dishwasher, incidentally.) Also check your clothes washer settings; try quick cycles to reduce wash times and high-spin modes to reduce the need for drying.
On your clothes dryer, use moisture sensors if available – and don't forget to remove lint from the filter in between every load to keep your machine running efficiently.
Upgrade to an Efficient Washing Machine
We don't think about it, but the average household does about 300 loads of laundry a year, and each of those loads adds to our electricity and water bills. Energy Star clothes washers use half the water and a fraction of the electricity; plus, they typically have a bigger capacity, so you can get away with doing fewer loads. The average new Energy Star washer costs just $60 to run annually, about 30% less than other models for sale, and far less than old top-loaders, particularly agitators built before 1998. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that U.S. homeowners could save $2.6 billion annually in energy and water costs if it replaced those old clunkers. If you're not fond of front-loaders, there are now Energy Star top-loaders available, too.
While new clothes washers can be costly, among the more affordable are solid choices like the Haier HWF5300AW (pictured). It was the "Budget Buy" in recent Good Housekeeping Research Institute tests. ($830 at amazon.com)
Try Homemade Laundry Products
Front-loading clothes washers are designed to use High Efficiency detergent, which means you can use a lot less per load. (Regular detergent will create too much suds, and prevent proper rinsing.) But beyond detergent, you don't need many of the ancillary products sold for laundry. Here are some low-cost natural alternatives to try:
Stain Removers: Before washing, try soaking the stain with water mixed with Borax, lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar, writes Dr. Alan Greene. You'd be wise to be as careful as you would using bleach to avoid discoloration, but you won't have to worry about the unhealthy fumes from chlorine.
Bleach Alternative: Add a half cup of lemon juice to the rinse cycle of a medium load of whites, according to Annie B. Bond's Home Enlightenment. Or, try a half cup of Borax.
Fabric Softeners: Add a quarter cup of baking soda to the wash cycle, Greene recommends.
Color Brightener: Toss a capful of vinegar in with the detergent, writes Michael DeJong, author of Clean: The Humble Art of Zen-Cleansing.
Static Cling: To fight static cling, a quarter cup of white vinegar in the washer should help, Greene says.
Fabric Refresher: In between washes, freshen your clothing with a spritz of dilute vodka. The smell will dissipate, green living expert Brian Clark Howard says, and your clothes will be ready for another day out.
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