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Tips and technologies to save energy while washing clothes

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Posted by Tony Mauro

There's a lot that can be done to improve energy and water efficiency when washing clothes, from how you wash your clothes, to selecting the right appliance when it's time to buy a replacement.

There are simple steps to follow with your current washer that will help a lot with energy use reduction.But if you really want to kick it up a notch, there are some great new technologies available that focus on reducing how much energy it takes to make your whites whiter.

Cold water for clothes, not showers

The thought of a cold shower brings shivers to most people, but clothes aren't nearly as picky. In fact, in most cases you can get your clothes just as clean with a cold water cycle – and cold water tends to make your clothes last longer.

The energy used for hot water washes isn't actually saved by the washing machine but by whichever device heats your hot water. A wash in a top load washer is like filling the bathtub, emptying it, then repeating that sequence a few times. Imagine all the heating a hot water tank needs to do for that much water.

Full, but not too full

This one I struggle with: overfilling a washing machine. If you pack a washing machine too full, the clothes won't get clean and you end up needing a second wash, which isn't exactly efficient.

For good information on how to load your washer properly, see this About.com article.

High efficiency washers

The majority of high-efficiency washers are front loading, with doors that open to the front like a traditional dryer, rather than on top. Their drums rotate on a horizontal axis, spinning during the washing cycle with the clothes tumbling within.

About 40% less water is used in a high efficiency washing machine cycle, as clothes do not soak or sit in a tub of water. A traditional washing machine will use 151 to 178 litres of water per cycle. High efficiency washing machines use 42 to 121 litres of water per cycle.

Energy savings with high-efficiency washers are estimated at 50 per cent to 60 per cent for each load, the bulk of that through hot water savings.

Clever innovations

Appliance manufacturers are trying to come up with more solutions to differentiate themselves and to improve the energy performance of their products. A couple of interesting ones are from Samsung.

Samsung PowerFoam™ washers use 4 per cent less water – and 80 per cent less hot water – than conventional models. PowerFoam™ is Samsung's technology that combines water, detergent and air to create deep-cleaning foam, which is then delivered to the drum for the wash cycle.

Samsung claims that PowerFoam™ cleans as well in cold water as in warm, and estimates water heating energy savings of up to 60 per cent.

Other companies also offer unique features, including Whirlpool and its 6th Sense® technology, which the company claims helps keep your clothes looking newer longer as well as saving energy.

It's mostly about water

With washers, it really is about reducing the amount of hot water that's used. Whether this is through innovative technologies or just by changing your washing habits, the decision is yours to make. And it pays off.

See more tips and ideas on saving money while doing laundry in bchydro.com's Green Guides sections on washing and drying clothes.

Tony Mauro is a Power Smart engineer and regular contributor to Unplug This Blog! and the Future Shop Tech Brand Talk blog.