All those labour-saving devices which have transformed householders’ lives over the last century – vacuum cleaners, washing machines, spin dryers, tumble dryers, dishwashers – may save labour but use energy. Instead of muscle power they use electricity, which has to be generated, usually from non-renewable sources such as coal, oil, gas and nuclear power. See our energy section for more information about different sources of energy. Many come with built-in clocks, timers and indicator lights so they may be using energy even when they are not in use. Find out the energy usage of all your appliances on, including the standby power consumption.

Washing machines

Washing machines sold in the UK are required by law to carry the European Energy Label, which rates their efficiency in energy use. Greener energy efficient machines are are cheaper to run, as you save money through reduced electricity bills. If buying a new one, compare brands carefully on and find the most energy efficient model. Ask the salespeople and study the manufacturer’s literature and website. The Which? Reports from the Consumers Association will contain some information though they do not focus specifically on environmental aspects, while Ethical Consumer includes the environment among its assessment criteria and published a buyers’ guide on washing machines in 2003.

Depending on the source of your hot water it may be more efficient to use a washing machine with a hot fill function. These use hot water from your domestic supply rather than heating it by electricity themselves. If your washing machine is a long way from the hot water supply cold water from the pipes will enter it and need heating anyway. Some heat will also be lost from the hot water in the pipes. Energy and water consumption will depend on the programme – a full load on a hot setting will use more water and energy than a half load on a cooler setting. Go for ones which combine energy-efficiency with water-efficiency and look out for energy and water saving features. Modern machines use less water than older ones and modern washing products are designed to be effective at much lower temperatures, so less water needs heating and only to a lower temperature. Try washing your clothes at lower temperatures – it will save energy and your clothes may get just as clean.

Tumble dryers

Tumble dryers use a lot of energy – check the labels. Hanging washing outside on a line uses very little energy but is more effective on a dry day! It is also possible to put a clothes line in a carport or other covered area. If you wash small amounts the items can be hung on a rack over the bath or by a radiator. One can buy overhead drying racks which can be lowered for loading and then raised to the ceiling with a pulley, the old fashioned sheila’s maid.  Near the ceiling it is warmer, as hot air rises, and the laundry is out of the way.

Vacuum cleaners

As with any electrical appliance, look for energy efficiency. Try using a broom or a dustpan and brush as a low-energy, environmentally-friendly alternative. Some vacuum cleaners come with reusable dust bags, which you empty and reuse, rather than disposable. There are also vacuum cleaners which do not need dust bags at all. The manufacturers say these are more efficient as there are no filters to get blocked.


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