Potential for environmental improvements in laundering


  • About of the authors: Kirsi Laitala is a PhD student at Norwegian University of Science and Technology within Industrial Design Engineering. She has an MSc in textile, fibre and clothing engineering from the Tampere University of Technology. At the moment, she is working as principal engineer at the National Institute for Consumer Research. She has researched on areas related to clothing quality and size issues and is currently working with sustainability of clothing, concentrating on the use and disposal periods. For more information, please see http://www.sifo.no/page/Staff//10443/48263-10600.html. Casper Boks has a PhD in industrial design engineering from Delft University of Technology and an MSc. in applied econometrics from Erasmus University Rotterdam. At the moment, he is professor in product design at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. His research interests include sustainable product innovation and education, and he has focused on the organizational and managerial aspects of successful implementation of sustainable product innovation in the electronics industry. He has supervised a number of PhD students on various related topics, such as user-centred design for sustainable behaviour, eco-design management, stakeholder probing and learning in the fuel cell industry, sustainable packaging design and human factors in eco-design. Dr art Ingun Grimstad Klepp is head of research at National Institute for Consumer Research in Oslo. She has professor competence and leads the Technology and environment research group. She wrote her MA and PhD on leisure time and outdoor life at the University of Oslo. Her current field of research is clothing, laundry and leisure consumption. She has written numerous articles and books on these themes. For more information, please see: http://www.sifo.no/page/Staff//10443/48249-10600.html.

Kirsi Laitala, SIFO, PO Box 4682 Nydalen, Oslo 0405, Norway. E-mail: kirsi.laitala@sifo.no


Life cycle assessment studies on clothes, detergents and washing machines show that the use period is usually the most energy-demanding period during these products' life cycle, even higher than production or transportation phases. Laundering practices are constantly changing and influenced by social, cultural and moral norms. Even though the technologies in clothes cleaning have improved greatly, the length of time that consumers use for washing clothes has not been reduced. We own more clothing and wash it more frequently. This increased amount of washing counteracts the technological improvements in laundry. This paper discussed the options of changing consumer habits in clothing maintenance to a more environmentally friendly direction and attempts to evaluate which changes would be the most feasible and efficient. Laboratory trial results on washing were compared with earlier research on consumers' washing habits. Laboratory-based tests measuring cleaning effect, energy and water consumption were performed in order to evaluate the consequences of changing the washing temperature, filling grade, detergent dosage or drying method. The cleaning effect tests showed that today's detergents are suitable for low temperature washing, and by selecting an efficient detergent, the cleaning result can be better at 30°C than with a less efficient detergent at 40°C. When washing only slightly soiled textiles or small loads of laundry, the detergent amount can be reduced. Many textiles changed more in colour or strength if they were washed at higher temperature (60°C) than at lower temperature (40°C or below). Tumble-dried textiles shrank more than line dried. These facts can be used to motivate consumers to change behaviour in order to reduce the environmental impacts of textile maintenance.