Laundry and Maintenance
Many common laundry care products release potentially harmful substances into our air and water, and some washers and dryers are inefficient and wastewater and energy. Use the tips, product specifications, sample letters, and other resources below to reduce the environmental impacts of your laundry care. Find out about available environmentally preferable alternatives, and consider including guidelines to encourage the purchase of environmentally preferable products in contracts with venues and/or suppliers.
Greener laundry care tips
- Ask if the theatre has purchased Energy Star-rated laundry appliances such as front-loading washers. If not, suggest that they consider these when the machines next need to be replaced. When purchasing a new dryer, look for products with a moisture sensor feature that shuts off the machine when clothes are dry. In 2009 LG donated Energy Star washers and dryers to all Broadway theatres and most are still in use.
- Ensure that standard loads are set to use cold water. Water heating accounts for 90 percent of the energy used by a washing machine. Even switching from hot to warm water can cut energy use in half. When switching to cold wash make sure to use cold-water detergents.
- Use high spin speed or extended spin settings on washers where possible to decrease dry times.
- Clean lint filters after each dryer load to maintain proper airflow and dryer efficiency, and scrub filters monthly.
- Endeavor to always wash and dry full loads. When it is necessary to wash smaller loads, be sure to use the appropriate water level setting.
- Air-dry clothes whenever possible.
- Repair damaged garments instead of replacing them.
- Reuse hangers and garment covers whenever possible.
Laundry detergent product specifications
When purchasing laundry detergents, use NRDC’s Label Lookup and/or products with the following attributes:
- Low or no phosphate content (1 percent or less)
- Low toxicity to people and aquatic organisms
- Biodegrades into low- or non-toxic compounds
- Contains little or no chlorine bleach
- Concentrated products with less packaging
- Green Seal
- EPA – Key Characteristics of Laundry Detergent Ingredients
- EPA – Environmentally Preferable Purchasing
- NRDC Smarter Living: Label Lookup
- Energy Star’s Clothes Washers
Sample letter to current laundry detergent suppliers/vendors
[Our production] has initiated an effort to improve our environmental performance in all aspects of our operations. We would like to meet with you to discuss these objectives in more detail. We would also like to discuss ways to cost-effectively switch to less toxic and harmful laundry care products as soon as possible.
We are concerned about laundry products containing compounds that are harmful to both public health and the environment. These include detergents containing phosphorous and types of bleach that also produce harmful byproducts. We would like to reduce as much as possible the harmful effects associated with our operations, and we would like to speak with you about less-toxic alternatives to the products that we are currently using in our laundry.
Please call me as soon as you can so that we can set a time for a meeting to pursue this discussion.
Greener alternatives to dry cleaning
Most dry cleaning services use perchloroethylene (PERC), a toxic solvent and likely carcinogen, which can remain on clothing after dry-cleaning and pollute surrounding air. Regularly dry cleaning costumes and textiles can affect the indoor air quality of your wardrobe space by bringing traces of toxic PERC residue into dressing rooms, where it can linger in the air, even when the clothes are not being worn.
To the extent possible, minimize the use of fabrics in costumes that must be dry cleaned. Where feasible, hand wash and air-dry delicate items. For tips on handwashing fabrics, visit The Laundress Laundry Tips and Guide to Hand Washing (PDF).
If dry cleaning services are necessary, look for cleaners that do not use PERC or petroleum- or silicon-based solvents. The best alternative to conventional dry cleaning is professional wet cleaning, which gently launders using water, computer-controlled washers and dryers, specialized detergents with biodegradable solvents, and professional pressing and finishing equipment. Another alternative is CO2 cleaning, which uses compressed liquid CO2 (recycled from other processes). However, avoid CO2 cleaners that use a Solvair machine to add glycol ether, which is a toxic solvent.
Use this free online resource to find Wet Cleaners or CO2 Cleaners in your area.
Consider distributing NRDC’s Choosing a Greener Way to Care for Your Clothes wallet guide to members of the wardrobe department to educate crew members about greener laundry practices.
If you do use professional cleaning services, bring reusable garment bags to avoid using plastic garment bags, and bring back unneeded wire hangers for reuse.
Sample letter to current dry cleaning vendors
[Our production] has initiated an effort to improve our environmental performance in all aspects of our operations. We would like to meet with you to discuss these objectives in more detail. We would also like to discuss ways to cost-effectively switch to less toxic dry cleaning services as soon as possible.
We are concerned about the solvents typically used by dry cleaning services that are harmful to both public health and the environment. These include solvents such as perchloroethylene (PERC), which can cause brain and central nervous system damage, and is a likely carcinogen. We would like to reduce the harmful effects associated with our operations as much as possible, and we would like to speak with you about less toxic alternatives to the products currently used in our dry cleaning services, such as wet cleaning or CO2 cleaning (without the use of glycol ether, another toxic solvent).
Please call me as soon as possible so that we can discuss this further.
Detergents and other laundry care products often contain toxic or otherwise harmful compounds that can find their way into the natural environment, causing damage to aquatic ecosystems. Many detergents, for example, contain a large amount of phosphate, which can cause oxygen depletion in aquatic systems. Oxygen depletion causes excessive algae growth, loss of habitat, and when oxygen levels are too low fish and other animals cannot survive.
Through routine use of PERC, dry cleaners become a major source of toxic air pollution and hazardous waste in many neighborhoods and communities. Known to cause a number of adverse health effects, high-level exposure to PERC can affect the central nervous system, kidney, and liver. By reducing the concentrations of phosphates, chemical solvents, and other harmful compounds in your laundry care products and services, your organization can help reduce these impacts.
- NRDC Factsheet: How to Care for the Planet and Your Health While Also Caring for Your Clothes (PDF)
- U.S. EPA: Professional Wet and Liquid Carbon Dioxide Cleaners
- The National Clearing House for Professional Wet Cleaners
- NRDC Chemical Index: Dangers of PERC
- U.S. EPA’s Design for the Environment: Liquid CO2 Surfactant System for Garment Care
Textile Reuse and Donation
Find ways to reuse, donate, or repurpose costumes, scraps, and other textile waste from the wardrobe department. For instance, reuse old t-shirts or towels as rags or even in new costume or set design. Consider setting up a collection bin for trim scraps that can be given to costume shops for reuse.
When the show ends, reach out to actors to see if they want to keep costumes. Sell or donate costumes to rental companies, local organizations, or regional theatres.
Costume donation resources
The Theatre Development Fund’s Costume Collection program will pick up any usable costumes or costume pieces from closing shows, and provides discounted rentals to nonprofit theatres.
Materials for the Arts accepts donations of costumes, fabrics, trim, and other accessories. Shows can drop off donations at their Long Island City warehouse. Donations over 250 pounds and/or over $1,000 in value qualify for a free pickup. Pickups should be scheduled 3-4 weeks in advance. Donations can also be shipped. Contact Materials for the Arts at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 718-729-2065.
Wearable Collections also has many drop-off locations throughout New York City, including a collections barrel at the BGA office, Actors’ Federal Credit Union, and Local 764 Wardrobe Union year-round.
The BGA also hosts semi-annual textile drives in Times Square in the Fall and Spring) to collect used costumes, clothing, accessories (such as shoes, handbags, belts, hats), curtains, linens, towels, and other textiles for reuse and recycling by Wearable Collections.