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The Though Kitchen - Dedicated to Stirring the Pot

The Dirt on Laundry: Ideas on Lightening Your Load

Posted by leighann | April 21st, 2014 | Filed under Environmental Change, Positive Change, Sustainability, Who We Are


In his 2008 Ted Talk, Hans Rosling argued that the washing machine was the single greatest invention of the industrial revolution. Instead of spending hours every day collecting water, hand washing along an antiquated washboard, and hanging each garment on a clothesline, we were now free to read more books, learn new languages, go to school, and—yes—contribute to greenhouse gases.

While the washing machine has freed us up to enjoy a few (hundred) extra cups of coffee in the morning, it has also contributed significantly to the environmental footprint of a garment. Some say that over the course of a garment’s lifetime, up to 82% of energy use, 66% of solid waste, and over 50% of air emissions come from washing and drying. Surprisingly, more water and energy are used during consumer care than in production.  That’s why, at Nau, we design our clothes to thrive using low-impact cleaning methods.

To make sure your Nau clothing lives a long life, we’ve compiled a few ideas to lighten your load.  By following such practices, you not only guarantee your garment’s long life, you also join us in minimizing their impact on the earth.

Wear it longer.
Underwear aside, hear us out: In 2003, the average American household washed 392 loads of laundry. Now multiply that by 40 —the average number of gallons of water the modern washing machine uses to wash a full load (high efficiency washers use between 15-20 gallons per load). If the average American reduced their load by just 30%, each household would cut their yearly water use by almost 5,000 gallons.

At Nau, we take this idea a step further and use a muted color palette that easily hides dirt or wear. Jamie and Josie recommend the “sniff” test, which really needs no explanation.

Reduce your temp.
Our friends over at Marks and Spencer have something to say about this:
“Lowering your washing temperature to 30°C (86°F) can save around 40% energy per wash.  In fact, the Energy Saving Trust calculated that if we all moved to washing at 30°C, we’d save enough electricity to light every street lamp in the UK for 10 months.”

At Nau, we design our clothes to be washed in cold water, which not only gets them clean, but saves energy. We also recommend waiting until you have a full load to be the most efficient.

Use non-toxic laundry detergents.
Unlike synthetic detergents that contain surfactants made from petrochemicals, non-toxic laundry products use readily biodegradable ingredients made from natural materials like corn and coconut oils. Plus, all modern detergents are designed to perform under cold temperatures.

Hand wash your clothes.
Maybe not with a washboard, but with a good pair of hands, a bathtub, and some Method liquid laundry soap. We’re also big fans of this bike-powered washing machine (although we’ve never tried it).

Line dry.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that all residential clothes dryers in the U.S. annually consume about 43 billion kilowatt hours of electricity and 445 million therms of natural gas. That adds up to 32 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year.

But using wind and sun will get the job done. And it’s free. That’s why we designed all of our clothes to look great—especially when line dried.
Want to learn more about caring for your Nau clothing? Visit Product Care.

12 Responses to “The Dirt on Laundry: Ideas on Lightening Your Load”

  • April 22, 2014 at 6:33 am | BJ says

    I find it very ironic that a Portland-based company advocates line-drying clothes in the sun. Come on, here in the northwest, it rains 9 months out of the year! Plus, your urban clientele likely doesn’t have a yard for a clothes line. I love the smell of line-dried clothes, but let’s get real.

  • April 22, 2014 at 7:48 am | leighann says

    Yes, good point. It might not be a year-round option for some or an option at all for those who live in states which have HOAs or other laws which ban clotheslines (Ban on clotheslines? Who would have guessed?). But for some northwest urban dwellers, you can always set up a line-dry system in a laundry room or basement. Perhaps it’s an opportunity to get creative.

  • April 22, 2014 at 8:13 am | Brenda says

    If you set up a line and hang them in your laundry room use plastic hangers instead if cloths pins. You don’t need to worry about the wind blowing them off the line, you can get more on and they are ready to put in the closet when dry :)

  • April 22, 2014 at 8:38 am | pete says

    Second the indoor clothesline ideas. It’s how they very effectively dry clothes in many parts of Europe, now and recent history. Not at all unreasonable even in the more humid PNW.

  • April 22, 2014 at 9:43 am | John says

    Google bathtub clotheslines you will find an wide assortment from $15 to $25 USD. I it all the time when the Portland weather does not cooperate. If you travel much, you may have seen them in hotels. I use them when I travel as well as it lets me carry fewer clothes.

    I am skeptical that hand washing in the tub uses less water or detergent. Today’s machines are very efficient. Save for full loads and then line dry.

  • April 22, 2014 at 7:39 pm | emily says

    I’m an urbanite and I’ve been hang drying my clothes for seven years with an indoor drying rack. My in-laws live in Berlin, Germany and have never owned a dryer and have a tiny apartment where they hang their clothes to dry. Travel to Italy and you will see clothes lines rigged up outside of apartment windows. I had a friend from North Dakota who’s mom was an expert at “freeze drying” – in the dead of winter when the air was ice cold and bone dry she would take the laundry outside, let it hang a little while, then give it strong whip-snap to shake off the ice crystals and presto: dry laundry. If you have an air-drying challenge, likely there is someone around the world who has already figured out a solution. Because humans are smart that way.

  • April 23, 2014 at 5:07 am | Kat says

    Also a Portlander, and also have 2 drying racks going year-round. In the winter one is over the heat vent in my dining room, the other over the vent in the kitchen. They easily fold up when company comes over. 95% of my clothes are dried this way and most of my kids clothes, too.

  • April 23, 2014 at 8:51 am | Anne says

    We hang dry everything using two drying racks in our tiny San Francisco apartment too. If we run out of space, we hang clothes on hangers around the apartment. It dries within a day or two and then you put it away. No biggie. Good for the earth and good for the clothes.

  • April 24, 2014 at 8:18 am | Gabriel says

    Can that actually be true, 392 loads of laundry a year? That’s more than a load every single day!!! I don’t know any household that washes their clothes that much, but agree that there’s still a valid point to conserving water. Especially in drought stricken areas (like the Bay Area right now). We do a fair amount of line drying indoors here, with an open window and clothes line strung up above the washing machine. In fact, much of what gets dried that way are the NAU wool shirts and shorts I have!

  • April 25, 2014 at 8:40 am | B Mendez says

    Further complimenting the ecological implications of line-drying is the simple fact that your clothing and apparel will last longer if you don’t machine dry them. After all that aint lint in your dryer’s lint trap—that’s your laundry. Dryers are abrasive. They pull apart and degrade clothing and textile fibers. Hardshells and soft shells aside, hang drying just makes sense.

  • April 25, 2014 at 8:22 pm | Dus Katrina says

    These are great tips! We have been doing the “sniff” test (yes, aside from undies) for years and not only does it save tons of water/electricity, but time! it’s great to only do laundry every few weeks. we also only use cold water and an eco laundry ball (with just a smidge of natural detergent) and i’ve never noticed anything not smelling/looking clean after. for the line drying issue, I always recommend people buy drying racks! We have two and I find it a lot faster to just toss things on there than pin up each item on a line, and you can put them indoors when needed.

  • June 4, 2014 at 3:02 am | Verbier Kev says

    We hang drive during the summer (we live in a ski resort), but need to keep them out of direct sun as it kills the colour in now time living at 1900m.
    Winter well inside only – 20 doesn’t dry anything…
    Verbier Kev

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