Part of the Series: Greening Up Your Living Spaces

You either love or dread laundry days.  Folding can be an art form for some, but others prefer to just leave the clean clothes in the basket. Whatever you choose, the impact to the environment can be substantial. The laundry room is one of the largest water-consuming and energy-consuming rooms in any home – not to mention the chemicals and plastics.

One major impact comes from the electricity it takes to clean your clothes. After the refrigerator, the washer and dryer are big energy hogs and produce approximately 2,400 pounds of CO2 per year.

Laundry products are also full of unhealthy chemicals, and those chemicals end up in our waterways and in our family’s bodies.

A study done by the University of Washington found that “Five of the six products emitted one or more carcinogenic ‘hazardous air pollutants,’ which are considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to have no safe exposure level,” according to Anne Steinmann, the study author.

Here is a short list of some of the bad stuff found in laundry detergent:

  • Sodium lauryl sulfate
  • 1,4-dioxane
  • Nonylphenol ethoxylate
  • Synthetic fragrances
  • Anionic surfactants
  • Petroleum distillates
  • Phenols
  • Optical brighteners
  • Sodium hypochlorite bleach
  • Ethylene-diamino-tetra-acetate

Not every brand has every item on the list. But they also do not need to list all the ingredients because there is no law that makes them do so. Read that again.

One example is dryer sheets. The Environmental Working Group’s senior research and database analyst Samara Geller says that “dryer sheets contain a potentially harmful chemical called quaternary ammonium compounds (QACS).” According to Geller, at the very least it has been known to cause and/or worsen asthma and skin irritations. However, it has also been linked to more serious long-term conditions, like cancer and reproductive issues.

The coating on dryer sheets also make towels less absorbent, which is a towels main job. So why would we use something that reduces their effectiveness?

How do we make laundry day safer for our family?


  • Look for products that are “biodegradable” because they usually will not have the top four worst chemicals: 1,4 dioxane, nonylphenol ethoxylate, and sodium lauryl sulfate.
  • Look for plant based detergents.

Dryer Sheets:

  • Get some wool dryer balls. Not tennis balls or rubber because they leave your clothes smelly.
  • Using 4-5 balls per load can cut down your dryer time in half.  They create space between your clothes so the air flows better. Plus, it reduces static that occurs from over drying your clothes. This alone could save half a ton of CO2 per year.

Reduce your energy carbon footprint

In the US it costs approximately 45 cents to dry a load in a 5,600 watt dryer. Of course this depends on how much  you are paying for electricity and if you have solar on your roof. There are many ways to reduce your energy consumption and save some money at the same time.


  • Choose an energy efficient washer. Most full-sized Energy Star washers use only 8 to 14 gallons of water per load, compared to the 40 gallons used by a standard machine.
  • Choose the best size washer for your family
  • Use the correct water temperature for washing. About 90 percent of the energy used for washing clothes is spent on heating the water. Most loads can use the cold setting.
  • Select an energy-efficient dryer. When it comes time to replace your old dryer, choose an EnergyStar dryer with a moisture sensor which will shut off your machine when clothes are dry.
  • Wash only full loads.


  • Best option is to air dry inside or outside. If you wring the clothes well, they can easily dry on a rack inside. And if you are using a dryer, wringing your clothes out well will cut down your drying time.
  • Wash multiple loads in same day.  Its more energy efficient to load clothes into a warm dryer.
  • Never overload the dryer.
  • Keep dryer vents clean.
  • If you can skip the iron, do so.  It consumes up to 1,800 watts of energy for every two hours it is on and emits nearly 5 pounds of CO2.

What Have We Done

This also has been a journey.  We do not have our own washer and dryer in the RV, so we rely on laundromats or RV Parks. At times I am playing the dryer game – where I put in the easy to dry things first, take them out, and add in the heavier items.  The machines are usually times at 45 minutes and that is way too long for most things we own. This reduces the number of dryers and time we use.

Now that my huge bottles (Costco size) of plant-based detergents are gone I am using laundry strips.  They work great and take up about as much space as a birthday card (bonus for RV living).  Never really used softener and never use scented anything.  We have 10 wool balls or so because we use a couple of dryers at a time. They also work great.

We have to haul our things to the laundry room, so the sheets and balls are easy to throw into a cloth bag we have dedicated to laundry, which also includes quarters and clothes pins (when we can use them).

The switch has saved us money, even though the sheets are a bit more expensive than the large plastic container of detergent.

Have you made any changes in the laundry room?  I would love to hear about them.

Links to other articles in this series:


cookbook challenge