Potential for environmental improvements in laundering
Kirsi Laitala, Casper Boks & Ingun Grimstad Klepp
Life cycle assessment studies on clothes, detergents and washing machines show that the use period is usually the most energy-demanding period during these products’ life cycle, even higher than production or transportation phases. Laundering practices are constantly changing and influenced by social, cultural and moral norms. Even though the technologies in clothes cleaning have improved greatly, the length of time that consumers use for washing clothes has not been reduced. We own more clothing and wash it more frequently. This increased amount of washing counteracts the technological improvements in laundry.
This paper discussed the options of changing consumer habits in clothing maintenance to a more environmentally friendly direction and attempts to evaluate which changes would be the most feasible and efficient. Laboratory trial results on washing were compared with earlier research on consumers’ washing habits. Laboratory-based tests measuring cleaning effect, energy and water consumption were performed in order to evaluate the consequences of changing the washing temperature, filling grade, detergent dosage or drying method. The cleaning effect tests showed that today’s detergents are suitable for low temperature washing, and by selecting an efficient detergent, the cleaning result can be better at 30°C than with a less efficient detergent at 40°C. When washing only slightly soiled textiles or small loads of laundry, the detergent amount can be reduced. Many textiles changed more in colour or strength if they were washed at higher temperature(60°C) than at lower temperature (40°C or below). Tumble-dried textiles shrank more than line dried. These facts can be used to motivate consumers to change behaviour in order to reduce the environmental impacts of textile maintenance.