Skip to main content

You are here

How to save energy when using your washing machine

•  A number of factors affect energy consumption beyond frequency of use

•  Despite efficiency ratings, wash temperature and load size need to be considered

•  Better care could result in a longer lifespan for your washer

Forty percent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions come from households. It stands to reason, then, that our appliances and how we use them play a big role in the quest to reduce our climate impact – not to mention their effect on the energy bills hitting our door mats.

The washing machine is one of the most heavily used appliances in the home. A 7kg washing machine used 220 times a year will cost typically between £25 - £35 a year to run. In-fact, wet appliances account for nearly 10% of a typical household’s energy bills.

Of course, there’s going to be no return to the days of the mangle – but there are options to consider which can cut washing expenses and emissions.

A number of factors which influence a washing machine’s energy consumption beyond the frequency it is used, including the machine’s energy rating. European energy labels are currently in the process of switching back to a simple A-G format, but as things stand, the highest possible rating is A+++.

Stay cool

Wherever your model rates on the scale, there are some fundamental factors to consider in energy performance. Two of the main ones are wash temperature and load size.

Lower temperatures use less energy, and while there has been increased awareness of the advantages of turning to 30 degrees, the EU’s Ecodesign initiative has made a 20 degree option compulsory on new machine models since 2013. Such temperatures are especially worth consideration when washing clothing that is not heavily soiled. There’s a guide dedicated to washing at 20 available from Toptenuk.org.

Don’t do things by half

Trying to avoid washing half loads whenever possible is another good rule of thumb, but if it’s unavoidable, you should always use the half load programme, if available. Then, there’s the option of simply not washing.

To be clear; that’s not to advise to never wash your clothes at all, but there is an increasing body of evidence suggesting it’s possible to get away with washing clothes less. A recent report on sustainable clothing from WRAP included the suggestion that advice to only wash when necessary, rather than after every wear, and airing garments as a means of freshening, could be included on clothing labels, packaging and at the point of purchase. 

Maintain your machine

Sometimes, an appliance is so old and inefficient that the best thing to do is go out and get a new, far more efficient model. But it’s fair to say that in the main, constant replacement of equipment in your home is not the most sustainable option.

There are a number of ways you can get longer life out of your washer through better care.

The first, and perhaps most important, piece of advice is don’t overload the drum. It could could cause damage, and it definitely makes the machine less efficient. Ultimately, water and detergent need to circulate, and clothes need to move around. A poor clean means there’s a likelihood of a second wash, thereby using even more electricity. It’s best, therefore, to leave a hand’s span width to the top of the drum for better performance all round.

Often ignored but very useful in ensuring continued good performance, you should look to clean the machine’s filter every month. Doing a monthly service wash (hot, without clothes) is also very sound practise.

Emptying the pockets of clothing is also vital to prevent items getting caught in the drain pump, while avoiding putting in too much detergent is a good idea too, as it can clog the machine and prevent its proper working.

Out with the old...

If you decide it’s time to make a change, it’s a good idea to first consider more sustainable ways of getting rid of your old model. You can visit Recyclenow for advice and information on recycling and reuse options.

Then, it’s all about making the right choice for now. The energy and water efficiency of washing machines has improved dramatically in recent years thanks to Ecodesign legislation, which includes limits on the amount of energy machines can consume on standby – an often-overlooked factor.

Find the best of the best

Energy Saving Trust is involved in numerous strands of work aimed at establishing and highlighting which are the best-performing products to buy, including washing machines.

With many washers now hitting A+++, it can be difficult to make a call on which to invest in. However, the Toptenuk.org site ranks all the best in class, including full information on water and electricity costs, as well as listings of the best retail prices currently available.

As well as looking at the size and the annual energy consumption figure on the label, we’d advise not buying something too big for your needs.

You can look beyond the information presented on a washer’s energy label with the help of the Digi-Label project and its partner retailers. By scanning a code in store and via partner websites such as this one from Gerald Giles, you get access to further facts and figures to help you make the right purchase – including perhaps most pertinently, annual running costs. 

With sensible washing and buying choices, it’s more than possible to cut energy and water bills as you keep your clothes spotless, while also making a contribution to a cleaner, more sustainable Britain.

Find out more...

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.