U.S. Markets closed

10 Ways to Save Energy Doing Laundry

Kimberly Janeway

Consumer Reports has no financial relationship with advertisers on this site.

Consumer Reports has no financial relationship with advertisers on this site.

Laundry is a fact of life, and in addition to your effort, it requires resources to get all those clothes clean and dry. In electricity alone—to say nothing of water—Americans used 10 billion kilowatt-hours washing laundry at home last year, and 60 billion kilowatt-hours drying it.

“Around 10 percent of a home’s total electricity use goes to washing and drying clothes,” says Noah Horowitz, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. 

Over the past two decades, increasingly tough federal regulations have required manufacturers to make washers that use significantly less energy and water. Improvements in efficiency include increasing the tub's spin speed to extract more water from laundry, which in turn cuts the time required by the dryer.

Unlike washers, it's taken much longer to make dryers more energy efficient. The first Energy Star certified dryers didn’t even show up in stores until 2014, more than 20 years after the program began. And they're still among the few appliances that don’t display an EnergyGuide sticker—those bright-yellow labels that tell you the estimated annual operating cost and electricity use of an appliance. 

Heat-pump dryers are the most energy-efficient option. A heat-pump dryer extracts heat from the room air and uses it to heat the air in the dryer, but a conventional electric dryer relies on a heating element. Some dryers use both technologies and are known as hybrids. Energy Star claims that heat-pump dryers use 20 to 60 percent less energy than conventional dryers.

But heat-pump dryers are expensive—and slow. Our tests found that the LG DLHX4072V hybrid dryer used 50 percent less energy in heat-pump mode, compared with conventional mode, but took almost three times as long to dry clothes.

Richard Handel, who oversees CR’s tests of laundry appliances, says moisture sensors are an improvement in efficiency for dryers. “Moisture sensors are better at detecting dryness than thermostats, and they promptly end the cycle," he says. "That saves energy and is also easier on fabrics.”

Some dryers with advanced sensors now earn the Energy Star, using about 20 percent less energy than conventional dryers, according to Energy Star. About half the electric dryers in our ratings are Energy Star certified, and you'll see this noted on a dryer's summary page and in the features and specs section of our dryer ratings. 

Doing full loads is a great way to save energy washing and drying your laundry. Regardless of what type of washer you own, setting your water heater at 120° F rather than 140° F saves energy when doing laundry with warm or hot water. 

Here are energy-saving tips from CR's experts and Energy Star.

In the Washing Machine

1. Opt for cold water when you can. Our tests have found that laundry detergents have gotten much better at putting enzymes to work in removing dirt and stains at lower water temperatures. Brighten whites with cold water and a bleach alternative, such as OxiClean. You'll need hot water, however, for tackling oily stains, cleaning dirty diapers, or washing sheets and towels when a family member is sick. 

2. Use high efficiency (HE) detergent for front-loaders, high-efficiency top-loaders, and where otherwise recommended by the washer's manufacturer. Water-efficient washers work best with these low-sudsing detergents. Regular detergent produces too many suds for these machines and can cause the washer to repeatedly rinse laundry, wasting water and time.

3. Increase the spin speed. This extracts more water from your laundry, cutting dryer time. If you’ve tried this and found that clothes come out wrinkled after drying, remove the laundry from the washer, untangle, and shake out before you toss into the dryer.

4. Avoid the sanitary cycle, except when truly necessary. It relies on an internal heater to boost the water’s temperature, and it increases energy use significantly, according to Energy Star.

In the Dryer

5. Clean the lint screen. Do this before every load to improve air circulation and prevent fires. And if you use dryer sheets, know that they can leave a film on the filter that reduces air flow. So once a month, scrub the filter with a brush.

6. Clean the dryer duct regularly. This keeps the air moving, which helps dry your laundry faster, and helps prevent fires

7. Clean the moisture sensors. Dryer sheets can leave behind residue on the sensors as well, which can build up and trick the machine into thinking laundry is dry. Your manual will offer advice on cleaning the sensors. 

8. Dry similar items together. And don’t mix heavy cottons with lightweight fabrics. Dry (as well as wash) towels with towels, and sheets with sheets.

9. Use the automatic cycle instead of timed drying. For most dryers, the auto cycle relies on one or more moisture sensors to determine when laundry is dry to avoid overdrying.

10. Try line drying. See Tricks and Tips for Line Drying Clothes for advice from our experts and CR readers.

3 Top Energy-Efficient Washers

As the tub spins, a washer extracts water from clean laundry. The higher the spin speed, the more water is extracted, shortening dryer time—and saving energy. Here's a look at three of the most energy-efficient washers from our tests—one each from the three washer categories we test.

3 Top Energy Star Dryers

These top-performing electric dryers earn the Energy Star—so check for rebates from your utility company.

How to Wash Your Clothes Like a Scientist

Want to protect your favorites clothes from fading and shrinking in the laundry? On the "Consumer 101" TV show, Consumer Reports' chief scientific officer James Dickerson reveals tips for prolonging the life of your wardrobe.

Should You Wash Clothes in Hot Water?

Think your clothes come out cleaner with hot water? Consumer Reports' appliance expert, Emilio Gonzalez, explains to 'Consumer 101' TV show host, Jack Rico, why it might not be necessary to wash clothes at a higher temperature. 



More from Consumer Reports:
Top pick tires for 2016
Best used cars for $25,000 and less
7 best mattresses for couples

Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2019, Consumer Reports, Inc.