Every week we bring you a simple idea for reducing your carbon footprint and protecting the planet. This week: how making a few changes to the way you use your appliances can reduce your carbon footprint.

Kitchen appliances have come a long way in recent years. Unlike the clunky, energy-devouring white goods of yore, today’s modern washing machines and dishwashers are designed to be as energy efficient as possible. Europe-wide legislation demands that all appliances carry an energy label, indicating how efficient the device is, ranging from A+++ (the most efficient), to G (the least efficient), and as consumers are generally aware that a less efficient appliance will mean higher energy bills for them, it’s in manufacturers’ best interests to produce goods that are up to code.

But while most new appliances have been designed with energy efficiency already in mind, many will come with an additional environmentally-focused setting: eco mode. What does this mean, and can you get away with simply pushing the eco button and hoping for the best results?

What does eco mode actually do?

When it comes to washing machines and dishwashers – the appliances where you’re most likely to find an eco-setting – there are three factors at play: time, temperature and water. Every single setting on your appliance, whether it’s a ‘quick wash’ or a specialist ‘synthetics cycle’ will be some permutation of these three elements.

So, if you choose a cycle designed for heavily soiled clothes, your machine will run for longer at a higher temperature, and use more water. Choose an eco-setting, on the other hand, and the machine will use lower wash and rinse temperatures, so less energy is required for heating.

It might sound counterintuitive, but eco mode cycles are often longer than their regular counterparts. This is because the bulk of energy used by the machine comes from heating the water – the electricity needed to turn the drum or power the sprayers is comparatively much less. If the wash cycle is longer, the water doesn’t need to be heated up as much as shorter programmes.

There is no standard for appliance eco modes, however – every brand and appliance will have a different combination of time, temperature and water parameters to achieve those additional energy savings. As such, the eco mode button is designed to be the go-to for environmentally-conscious owners of that particular make and model.

Should I always use eco mode?

Generally speaking, the eco mode is almost always worth using. After all, the setting has been fine tuned to work as effectively as possible with that particular device. That said, if you’ve got a load of particularly muddy laundry, or a stack of dishes covered in very hard to shift baked-on grease, you may be better off using a slightly higher intensity setting – otherwise you run the risk of having to run the appliance for a second time, which would use far more energy overall.

Another exception is doing laundry on a cold wash. Many newer washing machines are able to clean and freshen clothes perfectly well on a setting of 30°C – most detergents are designed for these low temperatures, too. Choosing a cold wash will usually save even more energy than the eco mode will.

What else can I do to use appliances efficiently?

You’ve chosen an energy efficient model, you’ve deduced that eco mode is an appropriate setting – now what?

For washing machines, always make sure you have a full load before putting on a wash – two half-loads will use more energy than a single full load. But be careful not to overload – a too-full drum could compromise your machine’s washing ability and result in you having to run another cycle.

For dishwashers, again make sure you have a full load – this will make the most of the energy, water and detergent used. Avoid using the half-load setting – while this type of programme will use less water and energy than a normal cycle, the savings don’t equate to half. And while most modern dishwashers are designed to clean even really dirty dishes, many machines will come with a rinse-hold setting ‘just in case’. This feature uses as much as 25 more litres of hot water for each use, so consider the tried-and-tested sink pre-rinse instead.

The bottom line

Modern washing machines and dishwashers are designed to be energy efficient, but using an eco-setting where appropriate can help boost their environmental credentials even more. This means using less water and less energy in our everyday lives, which will help to reduce your carbon footprint.

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