A whopping 44% of a piece of clothing’s environmental impact takes place during the use phase – that is when you use, wash and dry the clothes.
The washing machine and tumble dryer use a lot of energy and are tough on your clothes. Every time you wash your clothes, they get worn. If you wash your clothes incorrectly, they may shrink or lose colour. Discover 6 simple washing tips to reduce your clothes’ impact and make them last longer.
Tip #1: Wash less
Did you know that you don’t have to wash all your clothes after every single wear? Most clothes can be worn multiple times before they need to be washed.
Clothes get worn every time they are washed – and every wash is a burden on the environment. Therefore, only wash when it’s necessary.
Washing and drying a load every two days creates around 440 kg of CO2e each year, which is equivalent to flying from London to Glasgow (556 km) and back with 25 km taxi rides to and from the airports.
If your clothes are dirty and stained then, of course, you need to wash them, but otherwise, you can easily use clothes several times before you wash them. If you miss that fresh feeling of newly washed clothes, hang your clothes outside for a while. By airing out your clothes, they will get a refresh and you can thereby skip a wash.
Tip #2: Wash colder
When you do wash, wash at lower temperatures. Colder washes are better for the environment and your clothes. 90% of the energy a washing machine uses goes into heating the water. By avoiding high temperatures, you save energy and protect the fibres in your clothing.
Try to wash your clothes at 40°C or even colder. In most cases, 30°C is sufficient. You can save 100 g of CO2e per wash just by going from washing at 40°C to washing at 30°C. The carbon footprint of a load of laundry washed at 40°C is 0.7 kg CO2e whereas a load washed at 30°C emits 0.6 kg CO2e.
Your clothes will still get clean at 30°C as long as you use the right laundry detergent that is meant for colder washes. Most modern laundry detergents work just as well at 30°C. However, bed linen, towels and underwear cannot be cold washed as bacteria and dust mites will not get killed before 60°C.
Tip #3: Air dry your clothes
Air-dry your clothes instead of using the tumble dryer. The dryer wears a lot on your clothes and can cause your clothes to shrink or lose shape. Big savings can also be made by air-drying clothes – both in terms of money and energy.
In tip #2 you saw that you can save 100 g CO2e per wash just by turning down the temperature from 40°C to 30°C, but an even bigger saving can be made in relation to drying. Most tumble dryers are powered by electricity, which is an inefficient way to create heat. And the more heat an appliance generates, the more energy it takes to run.
A load of laundry washed at 40°C and then tumble-dried has a carbon footprint of 2.4 kg CO2e. That is 243% more than the same laundry washed at 40°C and then air-dried (0.7 kg CO2e). So, for a typical 40°C wash, nearly three-quarters of the carbon footprint comes from drying rather than washing.
A household running a dryer 200 times a year could save nearly half a tonne of CO2e by switching to using a washing line.
Tip #4: Follow the washing instructions
Make your clothes last longer by following the washing instructions.
The washing instructions tell you how much the clothes can withstand in relation to washing temperature, drying and ironing. Washing and drying are tough on the clothing fibres so make sure you follow the instructions to extend the life of your garments. Especially materials like wool, silk and cashmere need to be washed correctly otherwise they can break or shrink. Read more about these materials here.
However, the icons on the washing instructions tell you the maximum temperatures the clothes can withstand. That does not mean you have to wash your clothes at that temperature to keep them clean. As you read in tip #3, 30°C is sufficient in most cases.
Tip #5: Fill up the machine
You can save a lot of water, electricity and washing time if your washing machine is filled to the correct capacity. Each washing machine has a maximum weight of dry clothes it can fit. Read up on the capacity of your washer and try to hit somewhere around this weight every time.
When the machine is filled with clothes, there’s less frictional resistance between the pieces of clothing so the clothes will emit fewer fibres. This will prolong the life of your clothes as well as keep clothing fibres out of waterways and nature.
Small washes use an unnecessary amount of electricity and water and an overfilled wash might not get your clothes clean. So, fill up your washing machine – but don’t overfill it!
Tip #6: Use a Guppy Bag to prevent microplastics from entering the oceans
Synthetic materials such as polyester, acrylic, and nylon represent about 60% of the clothing material worldwide. These synthetic materials emit microplastic fibres into the wastewater when they are washed. A jacket made from polyester emits around 1 million fibres every time it’s washed!
These microplastics are too small to get caught in wastewater treatment plants, so they end up in the oceans. Microplastics are non-biodegradable, but when they end up in oceans and waterways, they get mistaken for food and eaten by fish thus entering the food chain. Around 65% of prawns in the North Sea have eaten synthetic fibres, and just recently, microplastics were found in human blood for the first time.
Luckily, there are ways in which you can prevent microplastics from entering the environment:
When washing synthetic textiles, use a Guppy Bag. The GuppyFriend Washing Bag is a solution to stop tiny microplastics from being released into our water systems and oceans when we wash synthetic clothing.
Wash your synthetic textiles such as nylon, polyester and acrylic in a Guppy Bag by simply placing the textiles in the bag and put it in the washing machine. Then wash your clothes like normal. After washing, a small lump of microplastics will gather in the bottom of the bag. Empty the synthetic fibre scraps into the trash and the bag is ready for the next use.
Using the bag also prolongs the life of your clothes because it reduces fibre shedding and protects your clothes. On average, 86% fewer fibres of synthetic clothing break when washed with the washing bag.
Another way to reduce the waste of microplastics is to look for and buy clothes in natural materials like cotton, wool, flax, silk and cashmere.