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06 October 2022

How to Save Energy Washing Clothes (plus drying and ironing tips)

Are you feeling the pinch and trying to save money where ever you can? While we might be able to cut down how much money we spend on food or 'treats' the amount we will have to spend on gas and electric in the coming months is a big concern. Luckily there are adjustments we can make to save money without noticing any difference and one of these changes is how we wash clothes. Following the tips in this post can reduce how much energy you use washing clothes by over 70%!  

A washing machine full of clothes and how to wash clothes in a more energy efficient way
You can spend less money washing clothes with these tips

5 Ways To Save Energy On Your Washing

Wash Less

Not everyone will agree with me on this, but hear me out. It has become normal for people to wash clothes after just one wear. I’ll admit myself that I have scooped the clothes up from my children’s floor and put them in the washing basket because it's been easier to wash everything than work out what has been worn and what hasn't. We have got into this habit where clothes go in the washing basket at the end of the day because modern washing machines make it so easy to wash and clean clothes, but with the rising costs we really need to look again at this. The older generation (I’m thinking my parents age and older) wear clothes a lot before washing them. Ok they might be less messy than my children and I, but I have found I can reduce my washing by as much as 50% some weeks by only washing what is really dirty.

Underwear and any clothes that smell go to be washed, but everything else I’m taking a bit more time to see if it needs to be cleaned. My daughters come home from school most days with dirty t-shirts but their cardigans and skirts are fine to be worn again. My son tends to have food or paint on his sweatshirt, but his t-shirt underneath is pristine.   Sometimes clothes have a small mark on which can be spot cleaned with a cloth avoiding the need to wash and dry the whole thing. Clothes at the weekend and pyjamas can still be wearable after 3 or more wears. I find a good way to judge if something needs washing is by asking myself “if this was dry clean only would I take it to the dry cleaners or would I wear it again?”.

Instead of washing clothes because they have been worn we need to get back to washing clothes because they are dirty.  If you have got into the habit of automatically washing clothes then you will be surprised how much you can cut your washing energy bill by taking a few minutes to check clothes actually need washing. It makes clothes last longer too.

I have found I tend to get my clothes messy mostly when cooking, but remembering to wear an apron makes a big difference to how often I splash my tops or drip food down my front. I also have clothes I wear out of the house and then switch into more comfortable and warmer tracksuit bottoms when I am hope keeping my nice clothes cleaner for longer. Have a think about when your clothes tend to get most dirty and see what changes you can make.

Wash Cooler

What temperature do you wash your clothes at? One of the simplest ways to cut the cost of your washing is to turn the heat down on the machine. I have started to do most of my washing at 20 degrees and it comes out just as clean as when I washed at 30 degrees. Since 2013 washing machines have been required to have a 20 degree cycle so there is a good chance your machine has one. To ensure a good clean make sure next time you buy washing detergent that it is suitable for washing at lower temperatures. 

While higher temperatures are better at removing stains and grease as well as killing bacteria and viruses this only makes a real difference from 60 degrees which is too high for most clothing anyway. If you have marks on your clothes which you think might stain try presoaking the area or using a stain remover before you put it in your machine. 

A higher temperature wash is generally recommended for killing bacteria on bedding, towels and underwear, but it costs significantly more to wash at 60 than 20 degrees. While not the most eco choice if you need to cut costs then add a dose of laundry cleaner like Dettol Antibacterial Laundry Cleanser (or the Lidl version which costs less than £3) which kills 99.9% of bacteria even in a cool wash. If you just use it in relevant washes you will save money compared to high temperature washes.

Washing machines do need regular maintenance though and makes sure you give the inside a wipe at least once a month and check the filter at the bottom. Grease and limescale can build up in the machine making it less effective and risking blockages. You might want to run one wash a month at a high temp to help flush out the grime or run a monthly maintenance cycle with washing machine cleaner or citric acid. This becomes more important if you are regularly using cool washes for your clothes.

Use The Eco Settings

Most washing machines (and dishwashers for that matter) have an eco cycle. The eco options will vary between machines, but generally they take longer than a standard wash while using less water and energy. Check the instructions for your washing machine instructions as they will normally have a page showing you the energy used in a range of standard cycles at different temperatures (Google your washing machine model and instructions if you don't know where they are or check the manufacturers website). 

My washing machine's eco cycle for a half load (4/5kg) uses 450kwh/ cycle on a 3 hour wash compared to 700 kwh/ cycle on a standard hour long 40 degree wash, but it doesn’t provide data on the lower temperature short washes. 

Wash The Right Amount

Getting the right amount of laundry in your machine is a difficult balance.  You need to ensure that you aren’t over filling it: clothes need plenty of space to move around, but if you don’t have enough in the drum the washing doesn’t clean as well because they need items to bash into each other. Many modern machines will automatically reduce the cycle time if you put a smaller load in, but it’s important for clothes to clean well or you have to use more energy to rewash them.  You might have to have a bit of trial and error with your machine to see what works best. I tend to fill my machine so it looks pretty full, but if I rotate the drum there is still plenty of room for clothes to move around.

Check Your Spin Speed

The faster spin you use the more energy the machine uses, but you don’t want to massively reduce your spin speed because clothes will come out really wet and take ages to dry. If you plan to use your tumble dryer (as many people like to with towels so they are soft and fluffy) then you want to spin at the fastest speed your machine has and make sure your clothes are as dry as possible before going in the dryer. The amount of energy used for a longer or faster spin will be less than the energy used for the dryer to remove the same amount of moisture. 

If you are drying clothes in the house you will probably want to use the fastest speed so they dry faster (or fasted recommended speed for the clothing type: silks, wools and delicates require a more gentle spin) so. In warmer weather when drying outside you can reduce the spin speed.

Myth: washing at night will save you money

Most people are on an energy tariff where you are charged the same amount regardless of when you use the energy, if that is the case for you then the cost of washing is the same whenever you do it. Some people though are on a Economy 7 tariff where they get charged less for energy used at night. There are energy companies talking about incentivising people this winter to use less energy during the day and running appliances like washing machines and dishwashers at night instead. This "demand flexibility service" would see customers getting cashback.  It is worth checking with your energy supplier to confirm what us available for you. Most machines have a start delay button which allows you to set everything ready to go and delay the start time by a number of hours, this is an easy way to run your machine at night.

Drying Clothes Using Less Energy

Washing the clothes is only half the process: you need to dry and possibly iron them too. Check out this post on the fastest way to dry clothes indoors, but the most energy efficient way to dry clothes is outside.  As a general rule if you have an outside space and the floor is dry then clothes will dry. That’s because if the wind has managed to dry the paving it will dry your clothes. In a flat if you have a balcony that is protect from rain it's a great way to dry clothes all year round. Put the washing on first thing or over night so you can hang it outside as early as possible. Bring it in before it gets dark and watch for rain, but it’s a great way to save energy and often speed up how quickly clothes dry in winter. Clothes can sometimes feel wet when they are cold but dry, however you’ll soon be able to tell when you bring them inside if they are dry or not.

Do You Need To Iron?

The only clothes that get ironed in this house are work shirts. To reduce wrinkles hang the washing out as soon as the wash cycle has finished so it doesn’t sit in a pile. Shake the clothes out and hang them carefully so they dry with minimal creases. 

If clothes are particularly creased and suitable for the dryer then putting them in for a 15 minute drying cycle when nearly dry and hanging them up straight away can save the need for ironing. Obviously this is a balance though: you need to put enough in the machine to be running the dryer for 15 minutes. For one or two t-shirts ironing would use less energy. You can also try hanging clothes in a steamy bathroom to encourage creases to fall out, but if you are having short slightly cooler showers to save energy the room might not get steamy enough to make a big difference. 

If you do need to iron:

  • make sure you have time to do it all in one go so you aren’t heating the iron multiple times, 
  • use the coolest setting suitable for the material,
  • turn it off before you do your last item as the residual heat will still be enough to iron for a few minutes.

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