Washing machine was an innovation to reduce hard labour to make clothes fresh and clean again. So, it made our life more comfortable, but there is a cost, cost to environment.
The care of the clothing during its lifetime with focus on washing and drying processes as well as possible impact of different materials used for the products will be discussed. Also, consumer habit of how often are clothes washed and how cleaning methods are used. The published results shows that there is a huge potential for environmental improvements with focus on improving consumer habits and culture.
“The customers have influential role. They can reduce the environmental impact through choice of material used for the products they buy, it’s design, washing frequencies* and how they clean those products.”
*washing frequency is meant to be how oft are clothes, shoes or all textile products washed in wash machine.
Is it known how much water and electricity we spend during domestic washing? Yes, globally is used 20 trillion litres of water and 100 TWh of electricity. Report of the Carbon Trust Estimates that laundering, drying, ironing and dry cleaning contribute with more than 530 MtCO2 emissions every year.
Scientists from Norway and Australia studied customers’ habits of how oft they laundry their clothes. Comparison was taken on different materials such as wool, cotton, regenerated cellulose and synthetics. T-shirts or polo shirts made of cotton, synthetics and regenerated cellulose are wear similarly often. However, T-shirts or polo shirts made of wool are wear almost twice as long between washing than those made of other three materials. Interestingly, almost 60% of cotton or synthetic, 50% of regenerated cellulose and as little as 24% of wool made T-shirts (or polo shirts) are washed after first wear. After fifth wear almost all (90%) cotton, synthetic and regenerated cellulose T-shirt are washed. Wool? 75%. Many may here disagree and say that the percentage of the wool T-shirt is even much lower once care after use is done properly. For example, simple airing – leaving your woollen product hang on air – effectively removes the odour of sweat from woollen products but less from synthetics. Laundering is more effective for cotton followed by synthetics. Why is it so? Because wool shows least intense odour, while synthetics like polyester and polyamide show the most intense odour proofed by other studies.
Here, is given evidence that by conscious care of clothing and buying products of specific materials, mainly woolen, could be reduced hugely, mainly energy per wear. In other words, GHG emissions including CO2 from one year of product used and made of different material has great effect. Woollen product has the lowest emission contribution, about 4 kg CO2, while other materials have double and more amount of emission based on the study.
Laundry and washing temperature particularly is the big contributor to emissions. 90% of energy is used to heat up the washing water. It is similar to dishwasher which needs energy to heat water and hot air to dry dishes. Just avoiding machine drying and reducing temperature gives significant reduction of energy consumption and footprint. Also, the time needs to be considered.
Some estimation of emissions for different adjustments of clothes washing:
- Washed at 30°C, dried on the line => 0.6 kg/CO2eq
- Washed at 40°C, dried on the line => 0.7 kg/CO2eq
- Washed at 40°C, dried in thumble-dryer => 2.4 kg/CO2eq
- Washed at 60°C, dried in washer-dryer combo => 3.3 kg/CO2eq
Finally reducing frequency of washing your clothes makes huge contribution forward reducing the impact to nature and resources.
Some guidance (clavercare.info) on how to improve your habits towards reducing footprint impact – water, energy and minimizing creation of microfibers. Following those recommendation will have also positive effect to your home budget – it will save your money.