Washing and drying machines pollute the air

While we clean our clothes, we pollute our air. A typical American household is about 300 loads of laundry every year and because our cleaning habits are bad for the environment, scientists want us to reduce.

Not only does washing our clothes this much consume an excessive amount of energy, but it also releases tons of carbon dioxide. It’s bad for the environment and it wears down our clothes, which adds clothes to our landfills. The researchers report that the The EU alone produces 2.2 million tonnes of “textile waste” each year.

Drying as bad as washing

Until now, researchers have mainly focused on the negative effects of washing machines on the environment. Now a new study suggests that the clothes dryer is just as bad.

First, here’s what we know about washing machines:

  • A residential washing machine uses approximately 41 liters of water per charge.

  • A professional washing machine uses on average 34.74 thousand gallons of water and up to 910 kilowatts of electricity per year.

  • Residential washing machines emit 179 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.

  • Using cold water can reduce emissions of 864 pounds of carbon per year.

  • Scented liquid laundry detergent emits compounds that the Environmental Protection Agency has classified as carcinogens.

And second, we now know that drying a load of laundry in a residential clothes dryer is just as bad for the environment as a single load, suggests a new study published in the scientific journal, PLOS ONE, earlier this year. A team of scientists from Northumbria University and scientists from Procter & Gamble (P&G) conducted the research and found that one drying cycle releases the same amount of potentially harmful microfibers into the air as a load of washing in the water system.

Even before this study was published, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) was calling for greener and more energy-efficient dryers.

“Dryers are arguably the most important of all residential appliances requiring energy efficiency improvements,” writes the NRDC in a Article from June 2014.

“From the washer-dryer pair, washers have received more attention with a complete redesign over the past two decades. Nearly half of all models now open from the front rather than the top, which which allows them to extract more water from clothing and reduce energy and water consumption,” says the NRDC.

Hazardous chemicals

While the team studied the impact of dryers on the environment, they also found that dryer sheets and fabric softeners could reduce the release of microfibers during tumble dryers. Scientists from the University of Washington published research ten years ago in the magazine, Air quality, atmosphere and health, showing that liquid laundry detergent and scented dryer sheet contain dangerous chemicals – including two classified as carcinogens – which a drying cycle releases into the air.

The Northumbria and P&G study measured microfiber production in loads totaling 1,200 garments. He found that if a bonding filter had smaller pores, it could trap microfibers better. This means that drying cycles would release fewer hazardous materials into the air.

In a press release reporting on the study, Dr Kelly Sheridan, textile fiber expert at Northumbria University, said: “It is critical to our understanding of the impact of microfibers on human health and environment that all potential routes of microfiber releases, including to the air, are evaluated. Airborne fibers are just as much of a concern as those in sewage.

Along with their new search results, researchers call on the appliance industry to improve the efficiency of filtration systems in vented clothes dryers.

“Recent increases in energy costs have made us all think carefully about the financial impact of using dryers, but few are aware of their impact on particulate air pollution,” says researcher Dr Neil Lant. at P&G and principal investigator on this study.

According to the CNDRa clothes dryer is responsible for about 6% of the average home’s energy consumption.

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