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washing

Do you know what the biggest environmental impact of your clothes is?

It’s not growing the fabric. Although as I’ve previously mentioned, normal cotton is, environmentally speaking, pretty bad.

It’s not manufacturing it. It’s not even transporting it from where it’s made (even if it was a very long way away).

It’s washing and drying it.

In a recent Marks and Spencer’s study, they looked at an average pair of men’s cotton briefs. They reckoned that, on average, they had a two year life and were washed 52 times a year at 60 degrees. Half of the time, they were tumble dried.

Growing the cotton accounted for 2.6% of the pant’s carbon footprint. The manufacture of the product accounted for another 12.6%. Transporting and selling the pants was another 4%.

Which leaves nearly 81%.

This is down to guy who bought and wore them.

A bit, around 3%, was created transporting it back from the shops. The rest of the carbon footprint was created by washing and drying them. The biggest chunk being tumble drying.

The average UK household uses their washing machine 274 times a year. That’s three days in every four. Using a washing machine accounts for 10% of the energy the average person uses. And 12% of the water we use, is in our washing machine.

The majority of the energy a washing machine uses – over 90% – is used to heat the water. So washing clothes at lower temperatures makes a really big difference. Reducing the heat from 60 degrees to 30 saves about half of the energy. And a few quid too.

Having a decent, reasonably new washing machine helps too. An A+ rated model uses two thirds of the energy a standard machine uses. And a new machine generally only uses half the water that a 10-year-old machine would. Since over 90% of a washing machine’s carbon footprint comes from its use, rather than it’s manufacture and disposal, buying a new, more efficient model might actually be more environmentally friendly.

On the plus side, a modern washing machine is pretty efficient with water and so washing clothes by hand generally uses more water. So you can relax and not feel guilty about not using a mangle.

Make sure you do full loads though. Doing a 3.5kg wash rather than a 3kg wash is apparently about 14% more efficient. Don’t go washing those pants on their own.

Tumble drying is really bad. A tumble dryer can use over 2kw of power for an average cycle. That’s seven times as much as a 30 degree wash. Or the same as three and a half 60 degree washes.

Ironing is also pretty power hungry, using more than ten times as much as a 100 watt light bulb. Where possible, it should be avoided, which comes as a relief to me but will probably disappoint my mother.

And then there’s how often we wash stuff.

I reckon most of us wash clothes more regularly than is strictly necessary. I’m not suggesting that we should all go feral and go in to work a bit wiffy. But I reckon that generally I could probably get two wears out of a shirt rather than one before I wash it. Certainly during winter. And if I did that, I’ve nearly halved my shirt’s carbon footprint. Result.

So then.

Try and wash your clothes less.

Within reason obviously.

Wash them at 40 degrees or, even better, 30 if your machine will do it. If you’ve got a really old knackered machine, maybe think about getting a new one. Use a washing line or drying rack instead of tumbling unless you really need to. We don’t own one and live in a tiny flat, so frankly, I don’t think you really do.

And, if you can get away with it, don’t iron it.

Sorry mum.

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Washing with Ecoballs

ecoballs

We’ve got another eco gadget. Ecoballs. They are plastic spheres with what looks like gravel in them and a spongy disc around the outside. And you can use them instead of conventional washing powder.

If you use normal washing powder, all of that frothy detergent gets washed down the drain. And ends up doing nasty things and polluting the environment. Environmentally friendly washing liquid like Ecover is of course one solution to this problem.

An even better solution is not using detergent at all.

So how do Ecoballs get your clothes clean?

Well, the pellets on the inside contain non-toxic mineral oxides. These make the water more alkaline. When they’re alkaline, water particles are smaller and therefore much more soluble. They can permeate fabric much easier and dislodge the dirt. Alkaline water is also antibacterial. Which is a similar to what normal detergent does.

And they do appear to work.

With things that are really dirty, like wiffy towels, you might want to stick to the Ecover. But for your average wash of shirts, jeans and pants they’re absolutely fine.

Initially it’s a little strange as your clothes come out smelling of nothing but water. We’re used to smelling detergent, which makes us think clothes are clean. But then you realise that it means you’re not rubbing weird chemicals against your body. And that that’s probably a very good thing. Particularly if you have sensitive skin or are allergic to some washing powders.

They cost thirty quid but claim that on average they only need refilling every 18-months and can save you up to 80% on your washing bills. It also means that, if your washing machine lets you, you can skip the rinse-cycle because there is no detergent that needs to be rinsed out. This means that you can also save a lot of water and electricity.

I bought ours online – there are loads of places that sell them – but you can also get them from places like John Lewis. And I’d say they’re certainly worth a go.

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