Laundry poses dilemas for environmentalists

July 08, 1999

On laundry day, I always wonder how good an environmentalist I really am.

I dread watching the clothes hamper fill up. I suspect I wear my clothes too many times before washing them, so I can postpone the inevitable. But the day of reckoning always comes.

[cont. from lifestyle]

I try to be as ecological about it as I can, with one big exception. If I were truly concerned about environmental factors, I would take my clothes to a Laundromat. That would be like renting a washer and dryer instead of owning my own.

But I hate going to Laundromats. When I had to use them, I bought enough changes of underwear that I could go a month without having to visit one.


Only partly in jest, I told friends that the main reason I bought a house was so I could have my own washer and dryer. Anyway, I have them, so I can avoid that dilemma. I only regret that I've got a top-loading washer rather than front-loading model, which uses less water.

However, there are many other environmental considerations to keep me busy. The first is the detergent I use. It's biodegradable, and vegetable-based rather than petroleum-based. It has no dyes or phosphates or fragrances to pollute the water, and it's concentrated, which means less packaging, and the container is recyclable. I use a nonchlorine bleach, and I use as little of both that and the detergent as I can get away with. I wash and rinse most loads in cold water.

So I think I score pretty well on those counts. My clothes are clean, though not as bright and white and spotless as they could be. My face doesn't light up with joy when I look at them, as it does for the women in detergent ads on television. But I think that's a good tradeoff to be gentle on the environment.

My big problem comes with drying clothes. I always have to wrestle with that one because I have both a clothes dryer ... and a clothesline.

I used to decide that my laundry HAD to be done on a day when it just happened to be raining, so of course I was forced to use the dryer. But with the current drought, it hasn't rained in so long that I can't pull that trick anymore. So last month I set up the clothesline.

Drying clothes on a line is the ultimate in environmental perfection. It saves gas and/or electricity, and it utilizes both solar and wind power at absolutely no cost. It's ideal. I just wish it didn't seem like such a chore.

I think about what people say about sheets and pillowcases that have dried in the air - how fresh and good they smell. But I'm one of those lucky people who falls asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow, so I don't have much opportunity to smell my sheets.

And there's no denying that towels dried outside are not as soft and fluffy as those tumbled in a dryer. I tell myself a sun-dried towel is better for my skin, but it doesn't help; I'm a sucker for a soft towel.

It also takes time to carry the clothes outside, pin them up and later take them down. If it's a nice day, it gets me outside, but I'd rather be sitting down, reading and sipping a lemonade.

But I took the plunge, and I think I've gotten in the habit. My conscience is clear ... at least until it rains again. I don't even want to think about winter.

Dennis Shaw is a former Herald-Mail editor. Write him at P.O. Box 276, Clear Spring, Md. 21722, or call 301-842-3863.

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