The average household devotes 10% of its annual electricity budget each year to washing and drying our clothing, bedding, and towels. And with average electricity bills exceeding £650 a year, washing our clothes can be expensive – switching to a cheaper energy tariff will only help so much.
But for all the impact of those loads of laundry on your wallet, they’re worse for the environment. 40% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the UK come from households. This means that meeting our decarbonisation targets and reducing emissions will require not just an overhaul of our energy supply and industry; it will require changes in our personal habits. And many of them start in the kitchen, with our appliances.
Turn the temperature of your washing machine
The Energy Savings Trust has argued that laundry is one of the main areas where Britons can conserve energy and reduce their carbon footprint.
Reportedly, 90% of the energy used by washing machines is spent heating water. The Energy Savings Just has claimed that if we all turned down the temperature on our washing machines from 40°C to 30°C, we could collectively save carbon emissions equivalent to powering 1,550 homes for a year. In fact, if just every household in London dialled down the temperature they washed their clothes in by those 10°C, they could save enough electricity to power the London Eye through 2.3 million spins.
Additionally, turning down the temperature on our washing machines can save each of us £13 a year on our electricity bills.
But despite the benefits of washing clothes in cooler water, 1 in 5 consumers said they’d never considered doing so. And a third said they didn’t believe lower temperatures could properly clean clothing.
In fact, it’s perfectly safe—and may make your clothing last longer, saving you money in other ways. And actually, 30°C is the recommended setting for delicate clothing, including those made of silk and wool.
“Detergent manufacturers say a cooler wash is kinder to your clothes, reducing colour loss and fabric damage,” said Trisha Schofield, head of testing at Good Housekeeping Institute.
There are some exceptions however: a 30°C wash won’t be sufficient for stubborn stains and you’ll want to turn the temperature all the way to 60°C for bedding and towels. Anything else won’t be sufficient to kill dust mites and bacteria, the latter of which is a particular concern if you have family members with reduced immunity.
Consumer magazine Which? has urged households go one further and turn the temperature of their washing machines down to a comfortable room temperature—just 20°C. As of 2013, all washing machines sold in the UK need to have 20°C as an option, as an energy saving measure. Which’s? testers discovered that there wasn’t much difference in the stain-fighting power of 20°C and 40°C, and that by using 20°C you could reduce the energy demand and running costs of your machine by as much as two-thirds.
Other tips for saving energy when doing laundry
- Use your tumble dryer sparingly: Tumble dryers are among the greediest appliances in your kitchen, consuming 2.5 kWh of electricity and costing you 30p per standard-sized load. Luckily, their effects are easily replicated with just air and time. Replace your tumble dryer with a clothes rack and you could save yourself as much as £50 a year on your electricity bill. In the summer, use a clothes line: not only is it idyllic and will give your clothing that inimitable fresh outdoors smell, if everyone with a tumble dryer in Britain used a clothesline each summer, we’d save £180 million collectively a year on our domestic energy bills.
- Only run your washing machine and dryer with full loads: Running two half-sized loads will cost more. However, always strive to dry similar fabrics together in one load, because they will all still dry at the same time. And never add wet clothing to a load of drying, as you’ll effectively be starting over.
- Wash clothing less often: Many items of clothing, unless stained or worn to the gym, are good for at least two wears before they need to be washed. Hang up items of clothing after you wear them—rather than throwing them on the floor or stuffing them in a hamper—and they’ll remain fresh for the second day.
- Turn off your washing machine and dryer when you’re not using them: Even in standby mode these appliances are slowly sipping electricity, running up your bill.
- Invest in A+++ rated washing machines and dryers: Appliances given the highest energy efficiency rating under the EU’s rating system, A+++, will theoretically use two-thirds of the energy of A-rated appliances.