Airing Our {CLEAN} Laundry

The Electrolux Effect

In 1999, Swedish home appliance manufacturer Electrolux did something radical. They offered 7000 households free washing machines. Now I know what you’re going to say: A free washing machine? That’s awesome…but not radical. And you’re right. That’s not radical. But this is: Each household that accepted the free machine also agreed to pay each time it was used–an in-home, pay-per-use washing machine. Now that’s radical! “At the heart of the project [was] the new technology that [ connected] the washing machine to a central database via the Internet and via so-called “smart energy meters” in every home. Households [received] a specified electric bill and they [could] easily see how much laundry they [had] done.” 1

Air Your {CLEAN} Laundry, an EcoGoodz blog postAt only about $1 per cycle, this seemed ideal for small families or single people without much clothing to wash; the savings possibilities were tremendous–not just for consumers, but for energy consumption in general. In a press release, Pelle Pettersson, Electrolux New & Future Business said, “Pay per wash is very important for our environmental work. It helps customers find energy-saving alternatives, and shows that you can both save money and spare the environment by using appliances in the right way.” 2

Sounds great so far, right? It gets better: The washer remained the property of Electrolux, and the company was responsible for its maintenance and eventual replacement. They were therefore incentivized to produce a high-quality machine. It seemed like a win-win-win: Win for consumers, win for Electrolux, win for the environment.

Unfortunately, the experiment ultimately failed. But that was 15 years ago. The concept itself has great merit and with a few tweaks, it could be a viable option for many people right here in the U.S.

Of the project, Clare Brass, founder of SEED (Social and Environment Enterprise + Design) Foundation, said, “A ‘pay per wash’ system could have a real impact on consumer behavior, encouraging more responsible usage by prompting the customer to ask basic questions such as: ‘Is the machine full?’ and ‘Do my clothes really need washing at all?’ … Without nagging advertising campaigns or other forms of hopeful pleading [to reduce energy consumption], the likely outcome is a more rational resource use.” 3. This shift in consumer behavior–this Electrolux Effect–could have a tremendously positive impact on the energy consumption of U.S. households.

But it’s not here yet. So the next time you’re about to run a load of laundry:

  • Are the items you’re about to wash truly dirty? Could they get a spot treatment and be worn again?
  • Is it a full load? If not, can you wait until it is?
  • Are the cycle settings set to maximize efficiency (cold water, no extra rinse, high spin)?

And the last one is a biggie:

  • Are there items that you can (and will!) air dry after they’re washed?

Air Your Clean Laundry, an EcoGoodz blog post

The American {Warm Clothes from the Dryer} Dream

Speaking of air drying, more than 85% of American households have a washer and dryer (compared to only 57% in the UK). And considering that the average dryer uses more than 80% of the energy in laundry systems, that’s a lot of unnecessary energy consumption for clothing. Nevertheless, Americans love their dryers. Case in point: The Outlier conducted a survey a few years ago and found that air drying laundry was America’s least favorite way of saving energy. In fact, for every 20 people who did hang their laundry, there were 21 who didn’t. That may not seem like a big deal, but $9 billion is a big deal. That’s how much money Americans could save each year by air drying their clothing and linens!