Green Laundry List
February 2012
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Use Cold Water and Eco-Wise Detergents

laundryMom may have said that hot water washes best, but don’t give cold-water detergents the cold shoulder—today’s new products deliver clean laundry that’s easy on the pocketbook and the planet.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an average American family annually washes nearly 400 loads of laundry. Because heating the water accounts for 90 percent of the energy used by a washing machine, using only hot or warm water in a top-loading electric washer annually produces an average 2,407 pounds of CO2 pollution—equivalent to two cross-country flights.

Many conventional cold-water detergents still contain toxic chemicals that when drained, end up in waterways, creating a host of environmental woes and exposing wildlife to endocrine disruptors. For both clean and green clothes, buy biodegradable laundry detergents made with plant oils and other natural ingredients that are free of phosphates, bleach and surfactants such as petroleum-based nonylphenol ethoxylates, or NPE. Kinder to the planet, greener choices are also gentler on the skin.

Consumers concerned about killing bacteria, dust mites and other allergens may be tempted to turn on the hot water tap for sheets, linens and underwear, but Philip Tierno, Jr., Ph.D., a professor of microbiology and pathology at the New York University School of Medicine, says that most of the hot water people use is not hot enough anyway. “You need water that’s between 140 and 150 degrees to kill germs,” he advises. Tierno, author of The Secret Life of Germs, notes that the sun is one of nature’s most efficient germ killers, so letting clothes dry outdoors is a good eco-option. “The ultraviolet radiation kills germs,” he advises, “and it’s just as effective as bleach.”

Natural disinfectants that can be added during rinsing include white vinegar (one-half cup per load); grapefruit seed extract (one teaspoon); tea tree oil (two teaspoons); and lavender or peppermint essential oil (a few drops), which also imparts a fresh fragrance.


Find more tips on the Sierra Club’s website at Tinyurl.com/3kh2dpf, plus eco-wise products including pre-wash treatments, non-chlorine bleach and laundry liquids at Natural Awakenings’ online store, NAWebstore.com.