Airing out your dirty laundry

Having decided to support the slow fashion industry and buy sustainable and ethical clothing, the next problem is laundry. Most people tend to do an unnecessary amount (unless you have children or a very physical job) and it is not really necessary to only wear a garment once and then wash it.

There are various reasons to consider your laundry habits – it has a bigger impact on the environment than might be realised. A single synthetic garment washed in a washing machine sheds around 1,900 (that’s right, 1,900!) individual fibres, which often ends up in our oceans. Even organic cotton sheds. These then can make their way into the food chain and even enter our bodies. Studies have shown that shorelines are contaminated with synthetic fibres, such as nylon and acrylic.

Various environmental groups have approached clothing makers to eliminate toxic chemicals from their production system although research on how to tackle microfibres in water systems is still lacking. But clothes do need to be washed, so how can this problem be helped by us as individuals?

As mentioned, one thing that would help is to actually launder less and when you do, items such as guppy bags and similar bags for delicate items can help to catch microfibres before they head down the plug.

Another reason to try and do less laundry: it contributes to our total carbon footprint, quite significantly in fact. A 5kg load – washed and dried – every two days produces nearly 440kg of carbon dioxide emissions in a year. For a typical wash at 40 degrees, 75% of the carbon footprint is from the tumble-dryer.  It makes much more sense to line dry it where possible; always smells divine after hanging in the fresh air and sunlight acts as a natural stain remover (as attested by my daughter-in-law with my grandson’s reusable nappies!). You could also invest in a clothes-horse for the wetter, colder months.


Another environmental issue to consider when doing your weekly laundry is water consumption. Using a front loading machine can help – a top loader uses nearly 40 gallons a wash, twice as much as a front loader. This swap could save up to 7000 gallons a year. It’s also a good idea to consider your water temperature too. At higher temperature washes, 90% of the energy consumed is used to heat the water – using a cooler wash setting saves a significant amount of energy and is often better for clothes too.

Really considering whether your clothes need washing after a day or whether a bit of airing would be sufficient, using a front loading machine at cooler temperatures, a guppy bag to catch microfibres, or not using a dryer – a range of options to choose from. So, is there a little bit of wiggle room in your laundry habits for making decisions that would both help the environment AND increase the lifespan of your clothes? And, immediately, be cheaper! What a win!

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