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Is it more sustainable to do your wash using the delicate or permanent press modes? I can tell from observing the different kind of washes is that the machine spins less and spins more gently.

If so, will your clothes still be just as clean? Do clothes need to be washed aggressively to be clean?

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  • Since the permanent press cycle generally uses a slower spin for drying the clothes, it doesn't extract as much water from the clothes as the fast spin of the other cycles. This makes the dryer use more energy in drying the clothes. I suspect (but don't have any proof) that the extra energy used by the dryer would more than make up for any energy saved in the wash cycle. Perhaps less wear and tear on the clothes because of the gentler cycle (meaning the clothes last longer before needing replaced) would help make up for the extra energy use.
    – Johnny
    Aug 6, 2013 at 23:03
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    Johnny: only if they're using a dryer. Which, if they're concerned about energy use, they will not be. LA should be warm enough that that is an option. My habit is to use either the fast wash setting or to max the spin speed and drop the wash temperature on one of the other settings.
    – Móż
    Aug 7, 2013 at 3:29

1 Answer 1

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The "low-hanging fruit" or washing machine energy usage is water heating. Washing with cold water (as in the delicate mode) is by far the easiest step you can take toward sustainable clothes-washing.

But does it work?

I'm no expert on clothes, but I do wear and wash them and I've found that washing with cold water works fine even for sweaty athletic clothes or slightly dirty hiking clothes. The delicate cycle on most washing machines uses cold water, and it will clean anything you wear around town, to the gym, or to work (unless you wear suits or work with oily and greasy stuff). You can usually get very muddy clothes down to an acceptable level of dirt by allowing the mud to dry and shaking it off or by doing a quick pre-wash by hand in a sink or bathtub. Also, cold water doesn't make dyes bleed the way hot water does, so you can usually mix dark and light-colored clothes. Combining loads when possible is an easy way to be more sustainable.

So yes, it is more sustainable to wash on the delicate cycle and your clothes will still be clean when the machine finishes.

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  • I think this is great advice, and the question did mention "clothes" ... I would add the caveat that I've seen many sources claim that hot water is beneficial when you're washing things like bed sheets or towels, that are more likely to have mites, mold or mildew.
    – Nate
    Aug 14, 2013 at 23:29
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    @Nate I've been using cold water for those, too, with acceptable results (at least by my standards). I think allowing towels to dry properly is the best defense against mildew. Mites probably do require hot water. Aug 15, 2013 at 14:21
  • Just to clarify, you mean that between uses of your bath towels, you should allow them to dry out, so as to impede mildew growth? That's what I do, by rotating towels.
    – Nate
    Aug 15, 2013 at 20:04
  • @Nate Yes, that's exactly what I mean. Aug 16, 2013 at 21:32
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    @THelper Another alternative is to hang your sheets out to dry in the sun. In most places this will be enough to kill dust mites and other bugs. In Japan, washing machines can only wash with cold water, but every apartment, even if only 10m², will have a place to hang clothes outside in the sun.
    – Earthliŋ
    Oct 4, 2013 at 9:15

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