Hey Mr. Green,
I recently got an Energy Star washing machine. To make the switch complete, I also put up a solar dryer (i.e., a clothesline). But now my work shirts look all wrinkled, and I feel compelled to iron them--which I never did after pulling them out of the electric dryer. What is the greenest solution: ironing or using the dryer just for that load of shirts? --Ramona in Crownsville, Maryland
Before addressing your pressing needs, let me congratulate you on having an Energy Star washing machine. Those babies save lots of money, energy, and water. You'll net up to $550 in operating costs over its life at today's utility rates. They're at least 40 percent more energy efficient than other washers. And while conventional machines use up to 40 gallons of water per load, Energy Stars cut it down to 25; smaller models whittle it to a measly 10. The EPA's Energy Star program, by the way, represents your tax dollars working to save energy sources instead of fighting wars over them.
Two other tips about being green while getting your clothes clean: (1) Use the warm or hot setting only for heavily soiled items--most people don't know that up to 90 percent of a typical washer's energy consumption is dedicated to heating water. (2) Front-loading washers don't use as much water.
Now as for those wrinkles, unless you are very slow or inept, the iron takes less energy than the dryer. A dryer's typical 45-minute cycle takes 3.3 kilowatt-hours. An iron that's been on for 60 minutes uses about 1.2 kilowatt- hours. So even if you squandered a whole hour ironing, you'd still consume less energy than if you ran the dryer.
Some readers claim to achieve Botox-level erasure of clothesline-induced wrinkles by letting clothes get almost dry on the line, then flipping them in the dryer for just a few minutes. As a hypercasual (some would say slovenly) creature who rarely dons anything unrumpled, I can't personally vouch for this technique, so I'll leave the env-iron-mental R&D to you.