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Washing and drying clothes

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Revision as of 08:42, 8 January 2008 by Chriswaterguy (talk | Contributions) (→‎Washing clothes: == Energy-saving == - adding PD content, formatted with WikEd)
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Reducing the need for washing

After being hung up overnight in a breezy location, shirts worn once (in the tropics!) smell quite fresh enough to wear again.

Environmental impact and labor can both be saved by measures that reduce the need for washing: suitable choice of clothes (color and fabric) and habits such as hanging and airing clothes. See the Clothing page for more detailed suggestions.

Washing clothes

Pedal-powered washing machines have been made at MIT in partnership with a Guatemalan community (see Bicilavadora: A Pedal-powered Washing Machine) and at Humboldt's Campus Center for Appropriate Technology (see HSU Bike powered washing machine). These designs use direct power, rather than generating electricity to run the washer.[1] There are also many more hits on Google.

The Centre for Appropriate Technology (Australia) has had some success in Australian indigenous communities with a hand-operated "washing machine" using a paddle to stir the water, which is popular for washing blankets. Attempts have been made by CAT (or people associated with CAT) to introduce it to Indonesia, but it was not popular, as they felt the clothes were not getting a proper wash.[2]

A television show in Australia in the 1980s ("The Inventors"?) had a small hand-operated washing machine, suitable for nappies, for example, while camping.

Solar hot water could make washing easier and more effective, as the additional cleaning effect from using warm or hot water could be an alternative to hard scrubbing work the hands. Of course, this is not suitable for all materials, especially colored clothing, or clothing which is liable to shrink.

A method of saving water is to re-use water from the rinse cycle for the next wash. A place is needed to store the water. Great care should be taken if color has come out in the water, not to use that water for washing light-colored clothing. Thus the best design is likely to use a tub or tank which is white or light colored on the inside, and which can be looked into to check the water.[Suggested project]


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About 90% of the energy used for washing clothes is for heating the water. There are two ways to reduce the amount of energy used for washing clothes—use less water and use cooler water. Unless you're dealing with oily stains, the warm or cold water setting on your machine will generally do a good job of cleaning your clothes. Switching your temperature setting from hot to warm can cut a load's energy use in half.


  • Wash your clothes in cold water using cold-water detergents whenever possible.
  • Wash and dry full loads. If you are washing a small load, use the appropriate water-level setting.
  • Dry towels and heavier cottons in a separate load from lighter-weight clothes.
  • Don't over-dry your clothes. If your machine has a moisture sensor, use it.
  • Clean the lint filter in the dryer after every load to improve air circulation.
  • Use the cool-down cycle to allow the clothes to finish drying with the residual heat in the dryer.
  • Periodically inspect your dryer vent to ensure it is not blocked. This will save energy and may prevent a fire. Manufacturers recommend using rigid venting material, not plastic vents that may collapse and cause blockages.
  • Consider air-drying clothes on clothes lines or drying racks. Air-drying is recommended by clothing manufacturers for some fabrics.
  • $ Long-Term Savings Tip: Look for the ENERGY STAR and EnergyGuide labels.ENERGY STAR clothes washers clean clothes using 50% less energy than standard washers. Most full-sized ENERGY STAR washers use 18-25 gallons of water per load, compared to the 40 gallons used by a standard machine. ENERGY STAR models also spin the clothes better, resulting in less drying time. (Note: Energy STAR and EnergyGuide are U.S. programs, but similar programs exist in many developed countries)
  • $ Long-Term Savings Tip: When shopping for a new clothes dryer, look for one with a moisture sensor that automatically shuts off the machine when your clothes are dry. Not only will this save energy, it will save wear and tear on your clothes caused by over-drying.
  • $ Long-Term Savings Tip: ENERGY STAR does not label clothes dryers because most of them use similar amounts of energy, which means there is little difference in energy use between models.

Spin-drying or wringing

In developing countries, after washing and before hanging up, clothes are generally wrung out by hand.[3] This is less effective than the spin cycle of a washing machine, and the result is that the clothes dry less quickly, and have a less fresh smell.[4] Wringing is also hard work, and tough on the skin of the hands.

It may be possible to build an appropriate technology spin dryer.

However, the best solution may be the one which was popular in Western countries before washing machines became popular, i.e. the mangle or clothes wringerDEPRECATED TEMPLATE - PLEASE USE {{W}} INSTEAD., in which clothes are passed between two rollers which squeeze them tightly.

Examples of wringers can be seen at here at Survival Unlimited - these start at around US$100, but it can be expected that they should be much cheaper in a developing country, especially if mass-produced. (Other pictures, including old-style wringers, can be seen at Google image search.)

Drying clothes

Clothes hanging to dry in Parras, Mexico

Traditionally in most places, clothes are dried on a clotheslineDEPRECATED TEMPLATE - PLEASE USE {{W}} INSTEAD.. This practice uses readily free, renewable energy sources - wind and sunshine.

Care should be taken with colored clothes, as they may fade in the sun. They should either be left in the sun for a short time only, or dried in a shady position (or hung out overnight so that they are almost dry by sunrise - this may be less effective where there is heavy dew or fog).

Wealthier people (whether in developing or advanced countries) may choose to use clothes dryersDEPRECATED TEMPLATE - PLEASE USE {{W}} INSTEAD. - they are seen as convenient and reliable, not dependent on weather. However, they are very wasteful of energy.

Some council codes (e.g. in many parts of Sydney, Australia) actually require developers to install clothes dryers.[5] This is very wasteful of energy, and so sustainable alternatives are desirable. Where drying clothes in public view is not allowed, in order to maintain a tidy appearance, there are designs which can satisfy both sustainability and aesthetics. One approach is to have drying rooms (perhaps a small section of a balcony) with louvers to allow airflow. Another is to have the balcony railing designed in such a way (e.g. with louvers) that drying racks below a certain height are not visible from outside the building.

In some cases, such as hospitals or large hotels, clothes dryers may be considered necessary, either for regular use or (preferably) only as a backup. It is perhaps inevitable that laundromats will have dryers as well, if only for urgent situations where a customer needs or wants to dry clothes quickly. In this case, more efficient dryers such as heat pump dryersDEPRECATED TEMPLATE - PLEASE USE {{W}} INSTEAD. and mechanical steam compression dryersDEPRECATED TEMPLATE - PLEASE USE {{W}} INSTEAD. should be considered. Gas dryers may also be more efficient and have lower carbon emissions.[Suggested project] Where energy ratings are given, these should be considered. More efficient dryers are likely to be more expensive up front, but will have lower ongoing energy costs, which will be very significant in cases of frequent use.

See also

External links

References and footnotes

  1. Pedal Powered Washing Machine Tests, David Butcher, a pedal-power enthusiast, calculates it would take 1 hr and 45 minutes of pedaling to generate electricity for one load of washing. Presumably it is significantly more efficient to use the mechanical power directly, rather than using a generator; also this may be cheaper in a developing country setting.
  2. Based on personal conversation between Chriswaterguy and (name?) from CAT, at the EWB Australia national conference, 2005.
  3. This is common practice in Indonesia, and presumably also the case in other developing countries. --Chriswaterguy
  4. At least, I assume it's the less effective wringing that is the reason for the smell. Note that it's not a really bad smell, but clothes that have been through the washing machine and spun dry are definitely fresher smelling. --Chriswaterguy
  5. This contributes to the unexpected result that new apartments in Sydney use as much as or more energy than stand-alone houses.