Is Hand Washing Clothes Better For The Environment?

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Hand washing clothes to save the environment

Washing machines use gallons of water, while dryers consume electricity. Laundry detergents and dryer sheets may introduce pollutants into natural watercourses, and washing powder can release microplastics into the world’s rivers at alarming rates.

With the current movement towards sustainability and lowering our carbon footprints, hand washing  laundry the old-fashioned way, is making a modern-day comeback. In no small part this is due to handwashing having a lesser environmental impact upon the planet.

Handwashing clothes is better for the environment owing to being energy efficient (through not having to heat water and power a washing machine), as well as allowing micro-plastics released by synthetic textiles to be captured and controlled. This is on top of the CO2 equivalent savings gained by not having to build a washing machine in the first place. 

Keep reading as we break down the multitude of reasons why doing laundry “old school” is environmentally friendly.

While this guide explores the environmental benefits of handwashing clothes, if you are looking for alternative washing methods because you are experiencing musty-smelling ‘clean’ clothes, we can help! Check out our guide that will give you quick solutions for fixing that musty odor.

Does handwashing clothes help the environment?

It’s hard to deny the convenience and time-saving benefits of washers and dryers for practical housekeeping, but there is solid ‘green reasoning’ to back handwashing clothes. 

Handwashing clothes can be better for the environment for several prominent reasons; from energy and water savings to enabling the use of natural detergents. Washing clothes by hand also saves wear and tear on your clothes, especially delicate fabrics.

Handwashing your clothes (I) is better for the environment, (II) saves money, (III) helps clothes look newer for longer.

The typical family performs approximately 400 loads of laundry or more in a washing machine, resulting in annual water use of almost 14,000 gallons. The second component is your clothes dryer. If you use your washer and dryer, you may anticipate paying roughly $400 a year in power at the current unit costs. 

Washing machines work by agitating the clothing and rubbing the clothing against one another in the drum to remove dirt and filth from the garments. Your commercial washing detergent aims to break down the bonds holding any impurities onto the fibers of a garment so the soil will be easy to remove.

As your clothing is agitated, there is a possibility that the fibers in them may experience tiny rips. You would never be able to see them with your own eyes, but these microscopic tears will make the fabric weaker over time.

Have you ever had mysterious holes in your clothing and wondered how they got there? More than likely, your washing machine played a part in the damage. Clearly, because of this reason, carefully handwashing your garments is preferable to using a washing machine to clean them. 

You may lessen your impact on the environment, save money on energy expenses, and keep the appearance of your wardrobe looking fresher for longer if you commit to washing your clothes by hand, even if just part of the time.

Hand washing clothes in a basin to save energy
Image by Laboko on Canva Pro

What is the environmental impact of washing machines?

Over 840,000,000 million washing machines are in use worldwide, and the average household does over 400 loads of laundry every year.

Since the invention of the washing machine became popular in the 1950s, there is no denying that washing machines have made lives easier, but at what expense? 

In addition to using about 19 billion cubic meters of water each year, washing machines are also responsible for emissions of an estimated 62 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gases. 

However, this is not entirely the fault of the machines themselves; in recent years, manufacturers of washing machines have made significant improvements in their products’ water and energy economy.

Consumer decisions are the most critical factor in dramatically lowering the water and power required for washing.

 

Pollution and toxins

When synthetic textiles such as polyester and nylon are washed, they release microplastics, tiny particles of plastic that go down the drain and end up in the ocean.

They not only add to the pollution that already exists in the water, but they also find their way into the stomachs of creatures at every level of the food chain, including the fish we consume.

The detergents sold for washing machines are typically loaded with toxins and chemicals that don’t wholly biodegrade. They contaminate our water sources and cause damage to algae and sea life. From heavy metals to phosphates that can starve fish and plants of oxygen, detergents made for washing machines are not safe for the environment.

 

Waste

Newer and high-efficiency washing machines that meet energy standards still use 15-30 gallons of water per load. Older models are capable of using much more. Doing three-five loads of laundry a week can add up to 150 gallons of water. Multiply the number of people using machine machines worldwide, and it is easy to see that a lot of water is wasted!

All of that water needs to be heated to clean the clothes properly. A significant amount of energy is required to heat the water for each load and keep the washing machine working. A typical washing machine running a full load of clothes three times a week will use over 140.4-kilowatt-hours of electricity per year.

Demonstrating how to hand wash clothes
Image by Motortion on Canva Pro

How do you hand wash clothes to save the environment?

When you think of handwashing the laundry, do you have old-fashioned visions of women gathered at the lake with washboards or campfires with boiling laundry? Well, have no fear! There are plenty of modern ways to wash clothing by hand.

Handwashing clothes is easy and doesn’t require any special skills. You won’t be able to dump in a whole laundry basket of clothing at once, but once you get the hang of it, you should be able to make quick work of your laundry. 

  1. First, fill a sink or large tub with water. Every article of clothing should have a garment tag stitched inside with washing instructions and the proper temperature of the water.  
  2. Next, add your soap or detergent. Add just enough soap to make a slippery feel and minor sudsing. Using too much soap means adding extra rinsing to remove the soap. You can always add more soap later if you need it!
  3. Add your clothing and agitate, or move around with your hands. If there are any stains, you can treat them now with stain treatments or allow them to soak until the dirt lifts.
  4. Last, rinse your garments to remove any soapy residue and squeeze gently to remove the excess water. Be careful not to twist or wring your clothing because you don’t want to damage the fibers.
  5. Finish with your preferred method of drying. Lay your sweaters flat to dry, but everything else can hang on the line and dry naturally by the sun.

In conclusion

Doing laundry in a machine requires a significant quantity of water and energy, both for heating the water and running the washer itself. When you include the amount of energy consumed by the dryer, it is simple to understand how fast the amount of water and energy used may pile up. This is energy that does not always come from renewable sources, and it is energy for which you are charged for each load.

Handwashing clothes is better for the environment in a couple of ways. It uses less water and energy and lessens the toxins dumped into our natural water resources.

Handwashing clothes may seem like an old-fashioned way to do laundry, but the future of our planet depends on doing our part to protect the environment. Even handwashing laundry part of the time will lessen the negative environmental impact of the washing machine.

Brooke Payne

Brooke Payne

Home Design & Decor Writer

Brooke is a professional home stager and stylist who knows how to make your home look and function at its best.

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