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Energy Tip# 17: wash and rinse in cold water

Congratulations to TerraPass tip readers who earned some coverage this week in Time magazine.

washingmachine.gifHow do you easily save 1% on national CO2 emissions as well as over $3 billion in energy costs? According to some studies, this could happen if we all simply wash our clothes in cold water.

Most of us are unaware of the full extent of energy required to wash our clothes. A staggering 85-90% of this energy is used by the water heater. Only 10-15% actually goes to running the washing machine. A switch of all U.S. washers to cold water would mean a savings of about 30 million tons of CO2 per year.

Sounds great. But will your clothes be just as clean? The general consensus is that unless you’re dealing with something like baby diapers or grease stains, cold water is more than up to the challenge posed by everyday laundry. There are a even a few cold-water detergents making their way to the marketplace, including Tide and Purex, although it’s likely that most enzymatic detergents will do the trick.

Canadians, who were issued a “one tonne challenge” to reduce their carbon footprint, may be familiar with the “Switch to Cold” campaign started by the Canadian Energy Efficiency Alliance. In the U.S., the Alliance to Save Energy also advocates the benefits of cold water washing and has highlighted a few useful detergents.

So hopefully in a few years when children across the country sing “this is the way we wash our clothes, wash our clothes, wash our clothes,” they’ll be singing about one of the easiest and most cost effective ways to reduce energy use and CO2.

Let’s take a look at the numbers (courtesy of the Rocky Mountain Institute)…

Average annual washing costs/household: $72 (electricity)
85 % savings: $61
Approx. CO2 savings: 1,281 lbs

Last week we had a record-breaking number of votes with 291 people (!) saying they would look into solar thermal for their hot water needs. If 3 people (about 1%) actually install these systems, we’re talking about a potential lifetime savings of 2,205,000 lbs. of CO2. If everyone who was interested carried through to installation, we’d see lifetime savings anywhere from 100-200 million lbs. of CO2, roughly equal to the entire amount reduced by TerraPass to date!

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