Thursday, July 30, 2009

Laundry: the new way vs. the old way

Whoever said the only certain things are death and taxes must not have been in charge of the laundry in their home. In my house, it is absolutely a certainty that I will have to do some laundry related chore every day.

Because laundry is both universal and constant, the way we do our laundry can make a huge difference. There seem to be three different schools of laundry thought:

The Old-Fashioned Way: Most people don't do their laundry the truly old fashioned way--agitating and wringing it by hand--but there are still many people who make their own laundry soap, use natural fabric softeners like vinegar, and hang out the wet clothing to dry. I generally fall into this category, although I have been known to (gasp) buy laundry soap when time is short. I also use my dryer in the winter when the temperatures are below freezing.

The Cheap Way: These people use conventional washers and dryers and conventional laundry products. Obviously in the United States, this group makes up a substantial majority.

The Neo-Hippy Way: This crowd is not into extra work, but they are willing to be a little more green by spending some green. You know them by their state-of-the-art front loaders in museum quality colors. They tend to use Method and other greener cleaners. I'm not picking on these people; my parents and some of my best friends are among them.

Which is the greenest way? I think we can all agree that the middle route is the most wasteful in terms of water and electricity use. Between the old fashioned way and the neo-hippy way, well, it's hard to say. If you buy the front loaders because you sincerely need new machines, they aren't such a waste, but if you actually got rid of perfectly functional traditional machines to buy them, well, there's nothing green about that. No, the savings in water and electric don't even come close to the environmental cost of manufacturing that machine or transporting it across the globe. And when it comes to drying, even a front loader can't do it as cheaply as the sun.

The problem with laundry soap, chemical-free or not, is that it contains a lot of water (which is heavy to transport, thus requiring a lot of fuel) and must have packaging. When I make my own, none of my ingredients come in a plastic container. That alone makes it leaps better than the most eco-friendly detergent on the shelf, although I am not above buying them when being a full-time student/full-time worker/full-time mom leaves me without the few minutes it takes to throw together my own.

It's not that I'm hooked on standing in the heat dodging bees (allergic here!) while hanging heavy wet laundry on a line. It's just that I love it when the green decision is also the cheaper one. I never could pass up a great deal like that. Hanging out laundry and making my own soap cut my laundry expenses down to a few dollars a month for a whole lot of people. That makes it worth my time.

A little change in laundry habits can make a huge difference! Don't be afraid to try a new way and see if you can add one more green habit to your repertoire.


Carrie said...

I fall into the "sorta-green" category. I am still using my trusty top loader because I can't see replacing a perfectly good machine to get a new lower-water-using front loader. I hang my laundry to dry in the summer but I do not have enough indoor line space to keep up with hanging everything in the winter. I use the dryer for towels in the winter. I do buy laundry soap but I have switched to a green, Canadian-made detergent.

Crissy said...

How do you prevent wrinkling or stiffening of your clothes when line-drying? I try to do this as much as I can but I always here my husband complain about these problems. The only solution I've found is to "fluff" the clothes in the dryer for five minutes but that just seems counter-intuitive of the whole process. (And, yes, I've tried flattening out the clothes or pulling them.)

Emily the Great and Terrible said...

What detergent do you buy? I really like Method. I stock up when I find it at the Grocery Outlet. I hate that it comes in a plastic bottle, though. I'm sure a carton would be sufficient.