How to make your laundry more energy-efficient

19 December 2016 | OVO Energy

This guide is intended to provide general guidance only. It is not intended to give you advice on your personal financial circumstances. You should seek independent professional advice if you’re unsure about anything mentioned in this guide or what choices to make.

When it comes to finding the right balance between what works well, what costs least and what’s good for the environment, laundry poses one of the biggest problems.

Should you use bleach and poison the environment – or have whites that always look a bit grey?

Should you use a tumble dryer that will eat up electricity – or have wet washing hanging about on radiators making the whole house damp?

Should you choose a washing machine that’s cheap to run but doesn’t actually wash very well, or one with high running costs that cleans wonderfully?

Let us guide you through the laundry minefield with our energy-saving tips.

How can I do my washing more energy efficiently?

  1. Always wash your clothes at 30°Celsius or cooler – modern washing powders and detergents work just as well at lower temperatures, and it will save you about £10 a year
  2. However, you should do occasional hot washes to clear out any bacteria or lingering smells
  3. Only use your washing machine with a full load – two half-loads will use more energy than one full one – and use the economy cycle whenever you can
  4. If you’ve got an oily or greasy stain on something, soak it first with a stain remover – some stain removers, particularly the more eco-friendly ones, need to be rubbed into the material, so this doesn’t always suit delicate fabrics
  5. Wash clothes less often – hang things up to air after wearing, and you may find they don’t need a wash after all
  6. When your wash is finished, make sure the machine is fully turned off – if any lights are still on, they’re using energy and ultimately costing you money

How can I dry my laundry more energy efficiently?

Tumble dryers are notoriously big users of electricity, so the more efficiently you can use them, the better it will be for your energy bills.

  1. In summer, use a washing line rather than a tumble dryer – of course it’s the cheapest way to dry clothes, and if everyone in the UK with a tumble dryer dried their washing outside during the summer, we’d save around £180million a year
  2. In winter, try to use the highest spin cycle so your laundry is as dry as possible before you put it in the tumble dryer

If you can’t avoid using a tumble dryer, follow these energy-saving tips:

  1. Keep it in a well-ventilated room to stop it overheating
  2. Only use it with a full load
  3. Untangle your washing before you put it in – everything should be able to tumble freely
  4. Always dry similar fabrics together – they should all dry at the same speed, so you don’t waste energy finishing off one towel that you put in with a load of delicate undies
  5. Don’t add more wet clothes once a cycle has started – you might as well start again from scratch
  6. If you’ve got more than one load, put the second one in as soon as the first’s finished – it can take advantage of the heat that’s already built up in the drum
  7. Don’t used timed cycles as they may carry on working longer than you need – keep checking the dryer and stop the cycle when your laundry is dry
  8. If you’re not going to wear the clothes straight away, you don’t actually need them to be warm as well – stop the cycle when they’re dry rather than waiting until they’ve warmed up
  9. Do up the fastenings of duvet covers – otherwise small items like socks can get trapped inside them and don’t dry properly
  10. Do clean the filters or lint screens between each use – they need to be fluff free for your dryer to work properly
  11. If your dryer has an outside vent, check it regularly to make sure it’s in good working order and free of dust and dirt

My appliances are quite old – should I replace them?

Modern washing machines, tumble dryers and washer-dryers are all much more energy efficient, thanks to technological advances and stricter regulations. So if yours are more than a few years old, you might well find you could reduce your bills by upgrading to new ones – although it would take a while for the savings to offset the cost of the new appliances.

Look out for the distinctive blue Energy Efficiency Recommended logo when you’re buying any new appliance – that means it’s one of the most efficient in its category, so it’ll use less power and will be cheaper to run. However, it’s unlikely to be the cheapest model.

When you’ve chosen your new appliance, please remember to dispose of your old one responsibly. Some suppliers will take your old one away – if not, check out your local council or recycling websites.

I need a new energy-efficient washing machine – what should I look out for?

In an ideal world, your chosen washing machine would offer you excellent cleaning results, low running costs, great energy efficiency and low water use. However, unless you’re extremely rich, you may have to compromise on one or two of these.

You can at least check its energy efficiency nowadays, thanks to EU labelling regulations. All washing machines are now rated between A and A+++. In fact, any new machine coming on to the market has to be A+ or above.

The energy rating label will show you the number of kilowatt hours (kWh) the machine will use in a year, based on its performance on full and partial 60°C cotton loads and a 40°C partial cotton load.

Those temperatures won’t necessarily reflect your own use of the washing machine – as we mentioned in our energy-saving tips, it’s better to wash at 30°C or lower. However, the figures allow you to compare like with like across your short-list of energy-efficient washing machine models to find the most economical washing machine.

The washing machine's energy label will also tell you its annual water consumption in litres, its capacity in kilograms, its spin drying efficiency class (rated from A to G), and the amount of noise it makes, in decibels.

Today’s energy-efficient washing machines offer you more ways of customising your wash cycle, to make sure it’s as energy saving and efficient as possible. You can find some models with weight sensors to help you avoid over- or under-loading.

Make sure you choose a drum size that’s right for your needs. Manufacturers are now producing energy-efficient washing machines that will take bigger loads without increasing the size of the machine, which is good news if you’ve got a big family but a small kitchen. A 6-7kg energy-efficient washing machine will be about right if there are just two of you, but you’ll probably need a 7-8kg machine for a family of four or 9kg plus if there are more of you.

If you’re on a water meter, be sure to check on each machine’s water use before you decide which is the most economical washing machine.

I need a new energy-efficient tumble dryer – what should I look out for?

Tumble drying may not be the cheapest way to dry clothes, but modern energy-efficient tumble dryers dry clothes faster and more evenly than their predecessors. Some have integral sensors that can tell when clothes are dry.

If you want maximum efficiency, choose either a gas-vented dryer or a condenser dryer with a heat pump. Either of these could cost you about £30 a year to run, while less sophisticated condenser or vented dryer will cost you nearer £100 a year.

Like energy-efficient washing machines, tumble dryers have energy labels showing ratings up to A+++ for a really efficient heat-pump condenser model. The running costs of an A-rated dryer will be about half as much as for a C-rated model.

I need a new washer-dryer – what should I look out for?

Buy the most energy-efficient model you can afford. A less efficient model could add £130 or more to your annual electricity bills. Like washing machines and tumble dryers, washer-dryers are rated up to A+++ for energy efficiency.

However, they carry just one energy label, which combines their ratings for both washing and drying, so it’s impossible to compare them directly with the energy use of separate energy-efficient washing machines and tumble dryers.

For maximum efficiency, you’ll need to remove some items from the washer-dryer after the wash, and do a second drying cycle, because the drying programme will have a smaller capacity than the washing programme.

If you’re on a water meter, remember that washer-dryers are big users of water. As well as the water they use to wash your laundry, the dryer function uses a continuous stream of cold water to chill its heat-exchanger – so in effect they’re using water to both wash and dry your clothes. Standard models can use anything between 2.8 and 20 litres of water per kilo of laundry during their drying cycle.

Some new washer-dryers that don’t use water for drying are now appearing on the market, but at the moment they’re very expensive.


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