Your shirts may leave the dryer smelling like a mountain meadow, but the process isn’t quite as natural as your nose makes it seem. Laundry duty is water- and energy-intensive, so it can actually put a pretty big strain on ‘ole Mother Earth. In fact, the energy used to heat water for laundry in the U.S. results in 34 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year. That’s equivalent to the total annual carbon emissions of New Zealand.

Want to give your laundry an upgrade that would make Captain Planet proud? Here are seven easy, big-impact changes you can make right this instant:

1. Use Green Detergent 

Many store bought laundry detergents rely on chemicals (like phosphates) that can be harmful to your skin, your clothes and nearby water systems. That’s three strikes, so get those hazardous detergents out of your laundry room! When you’re shopping, look for detergents that are made with biodegradable ingredients and don’t contain phosphates. We like Seventh Generation’s Natural Laundry Detergent because it’s also “concentrated.” That means that it comes in a smaller package (better for the environment) and produces less suds (better for your washing machine).

2. Embrace the Power of Cold Water

The Department of Energy estimates that up to 90 percent of the energy used during laundry goes to heating the water! Conserve energy (and save some money) by washing your clothes in cold water.

3. Skip the Dryer

Ok, we’re not going to lie – putting on warm jammies that are fresh out the dryer is pretty sweet. But that heat comes with a hefty amount of carbon emissions. There are more than 88 million dryers in the U.S., and each one emits more than a ton of carbon dioxide each year. So, hang your laundry out to dry when you can! Tip: If the weather outside is frightful, consider adding a hidden clothesline to your laundry room.

4. Watch the Time

If you’re dead-set on using a dryer – and you’re going to be running multiple cycles – keep an eye on the time and try to run them back-to-back. If your dryer is already warmed up, it won’t need to use as much energy to dry that second (or third) load of laundry.  

5. Recycle Carefully

A lot of laundry paraphernalia (such as detergent bottles) come with specific disposal needs. For example, some bottles can be recycled, but the caps need to be thrown out separately. Always check the labels of different packages to make sure that you’re getting rid of them properly.

6. Run Full Loads

Your washing machine uses the same amount of water and energy whether you put in a full hamper or just three shirts and some socks. So make that energy count by running full loads!Note: Don’t go overboard and pack your machine to the brim – that can actually promote bacteria growth.

7. Purchase an Energy Star Washing Machine

An Energy Star appliance will almost always be more efficient than other options, but this is especially true of washing machines. In fact, you can reduce your water and energy usage by as much as 50 percent by upgrading your machine! So if your suds bucket is over-the-hill (anything more than 10 years old), go shopping for an Energy Star upgrade.  

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