From the December/January 2009 Issue:

Laundry - Ecologically Speaking

  • Writer: Nena Donovan Levine

Washing and drying clothes can be a big drain on water and power usage, but technology is lessening the impact

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enlarge | Miele’s steam washing machine W4840 features a patented honeycomb drum designed to prolong the life of clothing by treating it gently.
In earlier eras laundry day came once a week. No one worked on Sunday, so Monday was the first opportunity to wash garments shed for the Saturday bath (also a once-weekly ceremony.) Most people had smaller wardrobes, but still it took an entire day to get them clean. Washing clothes was time-, energy-, and labor-intensive, and there were no disposable diapers.

Getting Laundry Green
Who wants to reverse commute to the land of washboards and raw knuckles? Yet some historic strategies (albeit born of necessity) are worth recalling: energy management, for example. When heating wash water was more onerous, it paid to do more (wash) with less (water). About 90% o the energy used for washing clothes today is for heating the water, the U.S. Department of Energy says, so it still pays to do more with less: use less water, use cooler water. Washers today do both. No longer do they draw 40 gallons of hot water to wash a single load. Energy Star washers need half that (18-25 gallons), and cold water usually suffices. Washing larger loads reduces the total number per week. Doing these three things (Energy Star washer, cold water, fewer loads) makes by far the most difference one family can achieve in laundry energy use. A flood of statistics affirms that at and appliance sites such as

Choosing Energy Star-qualified washers is simple. All Energy Star models that meet the higher standards effective January 1, 2008, are listed at Choices are plentiful and easy to spot at showrooms: they display a prominent blue Energy Star label. Companies that manufacture or sell Energy Star products are designated Energy Star Partners, and three washer-manufacturing partners have U.S. headquarters in New Jersey: Fagor America Inc. in Lyndhurst; LG Electronics USA Inc. in Englewood Cliffs, and Miele USA in Princeton. All three offer washers with eco-friendly features, including:

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enlarge | Miele’s steam washing machine W4840.
" Front-loading access, which uses less water than top-loading models.

" Delay settings, so clothes can wash when electricity demand or rates drop.

" Spin speeds as high as 1,200 rpm (Fagor) and 1,400 rpm (Miele) to remove maximum water, resulting in shorter drying times.

" An advanced drum-balance system (Fagor) to reduce noise levels and vibrations, while prolonging appliance life (less frequent replacement).

" A patented honeycomb drum (Miele) to treat clothing more gently, prolonging its life.

" Four washer models that steam-clean laundry (LG). Steam penetrates fabric fibers to better clean tough, stained clothing, LG rep Mark Ford says. This steamy treatment (the Allergiene" cycle) rids laundry of 95% o all allergens such as dust mites and pet dander. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America certifies these models, which are Energy Star-qualified.

Whirlpool Corp. manufactures the most Energy Star models, and it has won Energy Star Partner awards recognizing that accomplishment for the past nine years, spokeswoman Audrey Reed-Granger says. The majority of Whirlpool products (which include the Amana, KitchenAid, and Maytag brands) are made in the companys 11 U.S. plants; that is, close to North American consumers to reduce the energy used in transportation. Reed-Granger says the reason Whirlpool still makes some non-Energy Star washers is that Energy Star capability costs a lot to engineer and that cost is passed along to the consumer. The consumers heart might be in it [purchasing an Energy Star model], but their wallet is not, she says. Whirlpools most affordable Energy Star washer is the front-loading Amana model NFW7200TW at $649.

Certain manufacturers, such as Miele and Asko, now offer their own eco-friendly detergents, phosphate-free and highly concentrated. Detergent makers such as Proctor & Gamble are shrinking packaging by concentrating their products. This reduces packaging waste, and trucks transport more product with each delivery.

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enlarge | he Fagor’s 4812X spins as high as 1,200 rpm and features a delayed start function so you can wash whatever time of day the power usage costs the least. It also comes with intensive-wash, extra-rinse, and easy-iron options. Shown in stainless steel; available also in white.
Drying Techniques
When drying relied solely on the sun and wind, squeezing out as much wash water beforehand was smart. It still is. Right after World War II, when “white” appliances (refrigerators, washers, and so on) were hard to come by, this writer’s mother did laundry by hand and put it through a clothes wringer. Only then did she hang it on a clothesline. She used the wringer even after she owned a washer because early washer models didn’t extract enough moisture during their spin cycles, and she still didn’t own a dryer. While the intoxicating smell of sun-dried laundry evokes nostalgia in many Baby Boomers, the method has its drawbacks. In some climes, wash can freeze before it dries, and clotheslines aren’t permitted today in some neighborhoods. (Not to mention that putting something — or someone — through the wringer is pretty rough treatment).

Electric/gas dryers are not Energy Star-rated. All of them make similar energy demands, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. However, today’s dryers have greener features than past models to help conserve when line-drying isn’t an option:

Moisture sensors that adjust drying time and temperature to the moisture in the load (numerous manufacturers).

Wrinkle-remover cycles that tumble clothes without heat, eliminating ironing (yes!) (numerous manufacturers).

Steam drying that freshens clothing and bedding, eliminating trips to the dry cleaner (LG, Whirlpool).

Drying cabinets that operate on 110V (220V is standard for dryers) and dry delicate laundry hung inside them (Asko).

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enlarge | LG Electronics’ full-size, all-in-one SteamWasher/SteamDryer with the Allergiene cycle combination unit is ideal for consumers who want to do laundry at home and benefit from the allergen-reduction cycle, but do not have the space for a washer and a dryer or an external venting source necessary for conventional dryers. The technology is available also in separate units.
One easy tip is to empty the lint trap after every load and to clean the vent regularly. Better air circulation inside the appliance increases its efficiency.

KIS (Keep It Simple) Method
There are myriad ways to enhance and beautify a laundry room, but the going-greener part is straightforward. Use the same program that rules any eco-friendly redo, such as designer Patricia Gaylor’s bath renovation in the August-September 2008 Design NJ (“There’s an Eco in Here,” page 184). Reuse what makes sense. Choose cabinets, locally sourced if possible, that produce low or no VOCs or opt for mostly open storage; ditto for flooring, countertops, and paint; maximize natural light and add fluorescents that render colors well; select long-lived, water-friendly materials. Recycle what you can from what you remove. Celebrate the fact that laundry day can now be any day (or night), and that it’s so simple, even a child can do it. -DNJ

Nena Donovan Levine is an allied member of the American Society of Interior Designers, a writer, and owner of N Design Inc. in West Hartford, Connecticut. ©2008. Nena Donovan Levine.