10 Ways to Save Energy Doing Laundry

Easy tips for making efficient use of your washer and dryer

When you shop through retailer links on our site, we may earn affiliate commissions. 100% of the fees we collect are used to support our nonprofit mission. Learn more.

laundry GettyImages-668391976

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.

Highly efficient washing machines not only save you money but also are better for the environment. At CR, we recently launched a new program called Green Choice to help you can easily identify the most Earth-friendly models in our ratings; look for a green leaf next to the model name. The designation is reserved for the washers from our tests that have the lowest environmental impact, based on water efficiency, energy efficiency, reliability, and gentleness on clothes.

Unlike washers, it has 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.

MORE ON LAUNDRY APPLIANCES

Heat-pump dryers are the most energy-efficient option. A heat-pump dryer extracts heat from a room’s air and uses it to heat the air in the dryer. A conventional electric dryer relies on a heating element. Some dryers use both technologies and are known as hybrids. Energy Star says 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 Whirlpool WHD862CHC hybrid, $1,800, used about 40 percent less energy when compared with a conventional Whirlpool electric dryer, but it took twice as long to dry our 12-pound test load of mixed cottons.

Richard Handel, who oversees CR’s tests of laundry appliances, says moisture sensors improve dryer efficiency. “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 designation, 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 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 more energy-saving tips from CR’s experts and Energy Star.

In the Washing Machine

1. Choose an eco-friendly Green Choice washer. Marked by a green leaf icon in our ratings, Green Choice distinguishes the most eco-friendly washers from the rest in CR’s ratings. Aside from washing performance, these models use less water and less energy, and they are more likely to require fewer repairs.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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

6. Clean the lint screen and dryer duct. Clean the lint screen 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 airflow. So once a month, scrub the filter with a brush. Also, clean the dryer duct regularly to keep the air moving. This helps dry your laundry faster and helps prevent fires.

7. Clean the moisture sensors. Dryer sheets can leave residue on the sensors as well, which can build up and trick the machine into thinking laundry is dry. Your owner’s 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

These front-load washing machines are efficient and the most eco-friendly in our ratings, each earning CR’s Green Choice designation. They use an average of only 10 gallons per load, and their faster drum spin extracts more water, cutting dryer time. For a deeper dive and more choices, see our roundup of the best eco-friendly options, and for more on all the washers we test, see our comprehensive washing machine ratings.

3 Top Energy Star Dryers

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

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.


BW Headshot of Consumer Reports author Keith Flamer

Keith Flamer

As a kid in Delaware, I lived a few blocks from Bob Marley, who once said, "It is better to live on the house top than to live in a house full of confusion." At CR, I'm psyched to help readers navigate this cluttered, hyper-commercialized world we live in. I've covered luxury real estate, interior design, and culture—reporting on everything from smart home technology to racial hypocrisy at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate. Since the pandemic started, I cherish simplicity, covering accessible topics like decorating, cooking, and cleaning. Give me a smoothie blender over a mansion any day. Blenders are slightly easier to clean.