Global laundering practices – Alternatives to machine washing


*Corresponding author
1. Consumption Research Norway (SIFO), Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, Oslo, Norway
2. Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Science and Engineering Faculty, Brisbane, Australia


This article discusses laundering practices around the world including alternative methods such as washing by hand, airing, steaming, and dry-cleaning. These methods, which have received little attention in research, are often more suited to products made of wool, silk or other materials able to be cleaned using gentler techniques than more commonly used fibers such as cotton and synthetics. The material is based on an extensive review of literature from the past 20 years and reanalysis of previously unpublished survey data. The results show that washing by hand is common and that is the main laundering method in most rural areas of developing countries, but also significant for a smaller proportion of laundry in developed countries. Dry cleaning is less common, and mainly used for specific clothing items. Simple method such as airing can reduce the washing frequency, and thus reduce the environmental impacts resulting from the cleaning of clothes


Laundering practices have been studied before from different perspectives, such as gender equality, hygiene and their environmental contribution. However, most of these studies focus only on machine washing (1), while other cleaning methods have received little attention. Alternative methods of clothing care include techniques such as washing by hand, dry-cleaning, airing, steaming, ironing, and stain removal. These maintenance practices are common in many places and their environmental footprint differs from machine washing. This article studies which clothes cleaning methods are in use, their distribution globally, reasons for choosing them, and variations between different clothing items. Their environmental implications are also briefly discussed. 


This article is based on an extensive literature review on consumers’ laundering practices (2) and previously unpublished data based on reanalyses on existing survey datasets collected by Consumption Research Norway (SIFO), a non-profit research institute, and the Nielsen Company, a marketing research company present in more than 100 countries. The sco ...