Is heating water really the biggest laundry impact?

No. While cold water detergents do help reduce environmental impacts, refraining from placing clothes in the dryer can provide big environmental benefits. Why?

A 2010 peer-reviewed study by Center Director Jay Golden and colleagues, examined energy, carbon and water impacts from residential laundry in the United States. The report found washing and drying clothes in the average American household was responsible for consuming the following in a year period:

  • 9,718 gallons of water
  • 1,991 kWh of electricity
  • 1 metric ton of CO2-e emissions 

Graph showing laundry impacts

If you consider both top and front loading machines in the United States nationally, laundry accounts for:

  • 847,445 million gallons of water usage
  • 241 thousand GWh of electricity consumption
  • 179 million metric tons of CO2-e emissions

What can I do?

If Americans adopted European and Asian standards, calling for the use of front load washer and dryers, washing in cold water only and hanging clothes to dry half the time, the environmental and economic benefits would be drastic. In fact, it would be equivalent to removing 12.1% of passenger cars of roads in the United States or taking 23 coal plants off the grid. In addition, more than 60% of water consumption (512 billion gallons) used while laundering could be reduced through these strategies.