The carbon footprint of your clothes could be excessively large depending on how you wash them, how you dry them and how often you do your laundry. Research done by a Queensland University of Technology researcher has assessed t-shirts, comparing cotton to polyester in areas such as the production, use and disposal and the impact on the environment.
The research has taken the life cycle of a t-shirt measuring the impact of the growth and production of the materials used to make it, the environmental cost of its manufacture, transporting it, retail, wear and disposal.
It turns out that over this lifetime, around 75 per cent of the t-shirts carbon footprint will be caused by machine washing and drying (around 19 per cent of the life-cycle energy consumption on washing and 53 per cent on tumble drying). The figure falls significantly if you dry the t-shirt on a clothesline as opposed to frequently tumble drying it.
The study also concluded that the manufacture of a polyester t-shirt will consume slightly higher levels of energy.
A goal of the study was to analyse the effect of increasing the number of times the t-shirt is worn before washing. It was found that a polyester t-shirt is more prone to sweat odour than a cotton t-shirt. Therefore, it would be more likely that you would get away with wearing a cotton t-shirt multiple times before washing it reducing the carbon footprint of the cotton t-shirt over its lifetime.