You are interested in cloth diapering because you care about your baby and the environment. Inevitably you will come across a cloth diapering naysayer, or even a piece of scientific research, reporting that laundering cloth diapers has a considerable impact on the environment. So is an extra 2-3 loads of laundry each week something to worry about?
Although common sense tells us cloth is inherently eco-friendly, there is truth to the aforementioned claim. Energy, water, detergents, additional flushes: laundering cloth diapers does require resources. So what does the research tell us about this impact? Compared to that of all stages in a cloth diaper’s life-cycle—from the cotton field to the eventual disposal of what have become tattered rags—one study found that the generation of the electricity (not the water) used in washing and drying is the main source of environmental impact. What is an eco-conscious parent to do?
The good news is this: you can easily minimize this “main source” of environmental impact, one load at a time. Chances are, your home laundering technique is already more efficient than that of the average household’s (or than the assumed practices used to produce results in research studies). Making a few simple changes to your laundry routine will benefit both the earth and your pocketbook!
Below are some helpful tips to maximize your laundry efficiency. Cherry-pick or use them all, whatever works best for you.
- Don’t soak your diapers. Save the water and prolong the life of your diapers by not soaking. Using Bioliners or a handheld bidet (or “diaper sprayer”) will simplify excrement removal.
- Wash full loads. Full loads will wash clothes more efficiently than a partial ones. Have a larger inventory of diapers so the need to wash is less frequent. *Note: In a High Efficiency washing machine, filling the drum 2/3 full is optimal for best cleaning and is considered a full load.
- Use low temperature settings. Wash diapers on warm or even cold. Up to 90% of the energy used by the washing machine is used to heat water, so switching the temperature setting from hot to warm can load's energy use in half. Low temperature dryer settings also use less energy than high-heat, even though the dryer runs longer.
- Reduce drying time. The most efficient way to reduce energy used by the dryer is by removing moisture at the end of the wash cycle. Run a high speed spin cycle to remove as much moisture as possible before placing diapers in the dryer.
- Use energy saving settings. Choose automatic dry or moisture-sensing settings instead of timed dry to avoid over drying and damaging your diapers. This has obvious efficiency benefits as well.
- Air-dry. Improve your drying efficiency by 100% by air-drying on clothes lines or drying racks. Air drying will reduce your overall energy use more than any other change to your laundering routine.
- Maintenance. Clean the lint filter after every load and periodically clean the outside dryer exhaust vent. Removing lint will improve airflow, reduce drying time and may prevent a fire! A tight-fitting dryer vent hood on the outside of your home will prevent cold air from entering your house through the vent.
- Buy energy efficient. When purchasing a new washing machine consider a high-efficiency model that is ENERGY STAR ® certified. An energy efficient washer will use 20% less energy and 35% less water than a standard top-loading washer.
Keep these tips in mind for more than just washing diapers. They may change the way you do laundry! For more energy-saving laundry tips, check out ENERGY.GOV and American Council for Energy Efficient Economy.