The Environmental Protection Agency says that the average family does nearly 400 loads of laundry each year. And those 400 loads mean hundreds of dollars spent on electricity, water and laundry supplies, but there are ways to keep those costs down.
Laundry supplies are the first step. Examine what you are using and how much you use. Most of us use more detergent than needed. The old saying “If a little is good, more is better” is at work here. However, that extra detergent is hard on the washing machine and costs you money. Using too much detergent ties up the water and keeps it from doing its job to release dirt and stains. Sometimes it is a matter of not being able to see the measurements on those little detergent measuring cups. Use a marker to highlight the marks so you can easily see the lines on the cups.
What about fabric softener? Again, it really isn’t necessary. If you are concerned about static, hang the clothes up to dry. It is the action of rubbing synthetic fabrics together in the dryer that creates static. Hanging to dry avoids this problem. If you feel your clothing is too stiff, use ½ cup baking soda or ½ cup white vinegar in the rinse. Both soften your fabrics, don’t add extra smells and come in at a fraction of the cost of commercial softener formulations.
Ninety percent of the cost of washing clothes comes the energy needed to heat the water. The latest research on laundry tells us that hot water isn’t always necessary for complete cleaning. Hot water should be used for towels, washcloths and those clothes that fit next to the body, such as undergarments. The hot water kills any bacteria that might be in these garments. The greasiest, dirtiest garments need hot water for cleaning. Otherwise, opt for a warm water wash. The water has to be warm enough to dissolve the detergent, but other than that, cooler water works as well for cleaning as hotter temperatures. Always use cold water in the rinse cycle for additional savings.
Make sure that you are using the right amount of water. Match the level of water to the size of the load. Extra water doesn’t help the cleaning process and just costs you money.
You might want to spring for a new washer and/or dryer. Replacing a machine that is more than 10 years old will save you $55 per year. New equipment uses less electricity and water. When purchasing new appliances, opt for an Energy Star-certified model. They are more efficient than conventional washers.
New technology is always on the horizon. There is a new invention that you’ll want to watch for — self-cleaning clothes. Researchers at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in Australia have found a way to grow self-cleaning nanostructures on textiles. These nanostructures degrade organic compounds when exposed to light. If your clothing gets dirty, you simply walk outside or stand under fluorescent lighting and your clothing will quickly be clean.
The nanostructures are copper and silver-based and readily absorb light, which in turn breaks down organic matter. In as little as six minutes, your clothing will be clean once again.
Though the experimentation on these new technologies is being carried on right now, for now we are stuck with the common water, detergent and mechanical action to clean our clothes. But it doesn’t have to break the bank. Adjust the way you do your laundry to keep that money in your pocket.
Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is associate director of Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org by calling 907-474-7201.