Doing laundry is mundane. There is no reason it must also drain your pocketbook.
Around 10 percent of a home’s total electricity use goes to washing and drying clothes on laundry day, according to Consumer Reports. Americans used 10 billion kilowatt-hours washing laundry at home in 2018 and another 60 billion kilowatt-hours drying it.
So there it is: Your clothes dryer is the single biggest energy hog among appliances in the house.
“In some cases, the dryer may use more energy per year than the sum of an efficient water, dish washer and refrigerator,” says Noah Horowitz, director of the Center for Energy Efficiency Standards, climate and clean energy program with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“While our refrigerators, dishwashers and clothes washers have become a lot more efficient over the past few decades, typical average dryer energy use hasn’t changed much.”
Federal regulations have made washers and dryers more energy and water efficient, but washers still lead dryers in their ability to do the job without hogging energy.
The first Energy Star certified dryers did not even show up in stores until 2014. To qualify, models typically incorporate moisture sensors that detect when cloths are dry and then automatically shut off. The good news is that dryers that have the Energy Start designation use approximately 20 percent less energy than standard models.
Really big savings on energy when drying clothes are with dryers that use heat pump technology, Horowitz says.
“While very popular in Europe, they have very low market share in the US. Heat pumps can cut dryer energy use in half or more compared to conventional units,” explained Horowitz.
Here are some ways to save energy, and therefore money, while doing laundry:
According to Consumer Reports, laundry detergents have gotten much better putting enzymes to work removing dirt and stains at cooler water temperatures. Only use hot water for oily stains or washing sheets and towels when a family member is sick.
Using warm water instead of hot can cut a load’s energy use in half, according to Energy Star, and using cold water saves even more than warm.
“The settings you pick really matter,” Horowitz says. “It’s not just the washer or dryer you buy that determines how much energy or water you will use.”
Horowitz recommends washing all but the dirtiest loads of laundry in cold water. That step produces significant energy and pollution savings from avoiding heating the water. Even washing on a warm setting versus a hot setting can cut energy use dramatically.
While washing in cold water, be patient and wait until you have enough laundry for a full load. The washer uses the same energy to wash a small load as a full load so a fuller tank cuts down on the number of loads you do each week.
The dryer’s job is to remove water from laundry, obviously. Before you toss laundry in the heat, reduce the amount of water going into the dryer in the first place. A longer spin cycle on the washer will extract more water from laundry, decreasing the time it takes for the dryer to remove the rest.
“If you can only remember one thing, wash your cloths in cold water and select the fast spin speed,” Horowitz advises.
Energy Star washers use efficient motors to spin clothes two to three times faster to extract more water, says Brittney Gordon, an Energy Star expert with the EPA.
“Less moisture in the clothes means less time in the dryer and less energy spent drying clothes,” Gordon says.
Front-load washers use less water by tumbling clothes through a small amount of water instead of rubbing clothes against an agitator in a full tub of water, explained Gordon.
“Energy Star certified front-load washers are 50 percent more water efficient that top-load washers and use 45 percent less energy,” Gordon says.
Rubber or wool dryer balls help separate clothes, towels and sheets and get more air circulating between fabrics. This cuts drying time. Dryer balls can also reduce static, eliminating the need for dryer sheets.
It’s easy to ignore what’s hidden in the lint trap. But cleaning the lint screen before every load will improve circulation for more efficient drying. Dryer sheets leave a film on the filter, so if you are using those, scrub the filter with a brush once a month.
Don’t mix heavy cottons with lightweight fabrics. Dry towels with towels and sheets with sheets. Those dryer balls come in very handy with wads of towels, blankets or sheets that tend to stay folded in on themselves.
Be sure to use the auto-dry or moisture-sensor setting to avoid drying clothes longer than necessary. Using moisture sensors means the dryer will automatically turn off when the laundry is dry.
“If you instead pick a dry time, like say 45 minutes, you risk over-drying your cloths, which wastes energy and can shrink your clothes,” Horowitz says.
If you want to make your clothes last longer and look good longer, Plant Green suggests washing them less often. You don’t always need to wash an item of clothing just because you wore it once. Give it a sniff test and wear it again.
Laura Williams-Tracy is a freelance writer who contributes regularly to American City Business Journals on a wide range of topics and covers business and finance issues for sectors of the commercial real estate industry.