We’ve enjoyed covering the surging interest in eco-fashion at Inhabitat – particularly new designers experimenting with bio-based materials and organic sources, produced with green and socially conscious methods. But the next time you covet the latest NaturevsFuture corn-based dress or Linda Loudermilk bamboo and silk trousers, consider this: the majority of a garment’s ecological impact occurs during the washing phase. So with that in mind, this week’s installment of our Green Your Appliances series focuses on your washer and dryer.

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Cambridge University released a study titled “Well Dressed?” demonstrating that 60% of the greenhouse gases generated over the life of a T-shirt come from washings and machine dryings. All of the energy and carbon emissions used to grow, manufacture, ship, and sell clothing does not even come close to the energy and emissions needed to clean a garment.

So what is an eco conscious fashion consumer to do? Let’s take a look at your washer and dryer, and how you’re using it. It may be time to replace your old and inefficient machine. Washer and dryer manufacturers have made huge efficiency strides in the past 10 years – reducing water consumption, energy required, and even detergent needed to launder a clean load of wash.

Choosing an efficient machine

The choice between front load and top load machines has an impact on water, energy, and detergent used during the wash phase. The top loading design, most popular in the US, works by filling with water, and then an “agitator” is used to circulate the clothes. Front loaders, more popular in Europe, spin back and forth on a horizontal axis and typically use less water, heat, and detergent. These machines do such a good job spinning out excess water, that significantly less time is required in the drying cycle. That said, Energy Star has rated both front loaders and top loaders as energy efficient. When purchasing a new machine, look for the Energy Star label as an indication of energy efficiency.

How can you minimize energy use and water pollution with your current washer?

+ Always wash a full load

+ Use ecologically minded detergent

+ Set washing machine temps on warm or cold with a cold rinse

+ As much as possible, use renewable energy sources.

Eco Dryers – an Oxymoron?

After your refrigerator, your clothes dryer is the second largest electricity-using appliance. Energy Star does not rate clothes dryers because the they use similar amounts of energy, but does offer the following tips to reduce the amount of energy used:

+ Use the moisture sensor option on your dryer, which automatically shuts off the machine when the clothes are dry.

+ If your washer has spin options, choose a high spin speed or extended spin option to reduce the amount of remaining moisture, thus starting the drying process before you put your clothes in the dryer.

+ And of course, line dry your clothes whenever possible.

Washing Machines of the Future

Students, inventors, and manufacturers have been experimenting with technologies old and new to reinvent the washer and dryer. Here are a number of interesting ideas:

COMBO WASHER/DRYER MACHINES Although combo washer/dryers have been around forever and are pretty standard in compact European apartments, for some reason they haven’t really taken off in the U.S. yet. Many front-loader European washing machines are combo Washer/Dryers and we highly recommend the space-saving capabilities of these super efficient little machines. New designs in this arena are trying to conserve and reuse water, and we look forward to testing them out. Shown above is a concept washer/dryer combo machine by Reed Crawford that saves water from one of the later rinse cycles for use in the next wash.

DETERGENTLESS WASHERS Just coming on the market right now are several new high-tech washing-machine designs launched that eliminate the need for detergent. These machinse works on the hydrolysis principle, where the actual water molecules are split, creating oxygen and hydrogen. The stains on the linens are attracted and retained by ions of OH-, while the clothes are sterilized by the H+ ions.

HUMAN POWERED WASHING MACHINES? The Cyclean is a washing machine powered by a bicycle designed by Alex Gadsden. This model is currently in prototype stage, built out of parts Gadsen found in scrap yards and dumps.

If only Gadsden’s machine were commercially available – we could get clean and fit, and look better in those high waisted Aoki organic jeans…

About BOSCH “Bosch is committed to preserving the environment through innovative approaches to the products we manufacture, as well as the partnerships we form with key leaders in sustainable construction and design. Sustainability, responsibility and continuous improvement are the tenets of our company and are shared by our partners across the United States.

Bosch practices low-impact manufacturing processes while designing the most efficient machines on the market. In fact, we introduced a global integrated management system for environmental issues that makes certain we maintain our high standards for environmental responsibility wherever our operations take us.

Bosch regards innovation as something more than exceptional product quality, functionality and design. Not only our technical developments, but also our commitment to society has an effect on the world of tomorrow.” + Bosch Green Thinking Resource Center

JENNIFER VAN DER MEER Jennifer is a leader in brand and product innovation, and is a founding principal at research design house Risqué Consulting. A former Wall Street analyst and economist, Jennifer transitioned into the design industry upon graduating with an MBA from HEC in Paris. She has held strategy and executive management positions at Organic, Inc., Frog Design, and Fahrenheit 212. A leader in the green design community in NY, Jennifer serves as chapter chair of o2-NYC, and lectures on the topic of sustainable innovation. + o2-NYC