Will washing at 30ºC help climate change? You'll find the answer depressing...

Washing clothes at lower washing machine temperatures is often portrayed as an eco-friendly choice. But how much difference does washing all your clothes in 30°C actually make?

couple doing laundry
(Image credit: Getty/Richard Drury)

Are you washing all your clothes on a 30°C cycle? Whether your motivations for always setting your washing machine on the lowest temperature cycle are to do with saving on your energy bills, or saving the planet, you might want to reconsider this practice. 

Let's put the most common assumptions about the benefits of washing clothes at lower temperatures to the test. Firstly, there's the claim that it will save you money. True or false? True, but the saving will be tiny. According to the Energy Saving Trust, washing all your clothes at 30°C rather than 40°C will save you £13 on your annual energy bill. As we've reported previously, washing only on a low-temperature cycle puts you at risk of falling ill from harmful bacteria, too. Somehow, saving £13 doesn't seem worth the risk.

indesit washing machine

(Image credit: Indesit)

And what about the claims for the eco-friendliness of washing in colder water? Let's unpack this. Does washing in a lower temperature reduce your personal carbon footprint? Yes, technically. However, if we take just the US, all the commercial and residential human activity combined accounted for just 12 per cent of greenhouse emissions in 2017. By contrast, 29 per cent was generated by transportation, 28 per cent by generating electricity, and 22 per cent by industry. 

So, basically, by the time you've bought your washing machine, which would've been manufactured (industry + massive electricity use at the manufacturing facility) and transported to you, you've already contributed to CO2 emissions in a bigger way than your actual washing will do. Washing on a lower temperature may make you feel slightly better about that fact, but it can't undo the much higher level of emissions produced by your washing machine before you've even plugged it in.

And finally, a word on water use. Think doing fewer loads will help the environment? Again, not really. The official numbers on how we use water are as follows: 69 per cent of all freshwater withdrawals around the world are made for agricultural purposes; the industrial sector claims 19 per cent, and only 12 per cent of all the water that humans draw is for personal and municipal uses combined. Food production and textile production are far bigger problems than how many wash loads we do per week. 

So, if you want to make better choices for the environment, eating less meat and buying fewer clothes in the first place will have more of a positive impact. Putting pressure on governments to pass laws that will finally change the way agriculture and industry function is even better.