6 Household Chores That Create the Most Carbon Emissions

Do your part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by making changes to your cleaning routine.

By Deirdre Mundorf | Published Aug 25, 2023 2:55 PM

We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs.

African American teenage girl helping her grandmother with washing dishes.

Photo: istockphoto.com

When you hear about carbon emissions, you probably think about gas-powered vehicles, burning of fossil fuels to heat homes and businesses, and plumes of smoke coming out of factories. While these are some of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases, they aren’t the only ones. Believe it or not, many of the daily chores you do around the house also can contribute to carbon emissions. Making minor changes to your cleaning routine can make a difference in helping you cut these emissions back, much the same way that getting an energy audit and making the recommended changes can help you reduce your carbon footprint and cooling costs.

RELATED: These are the Biggest Electricity Hogs in Your Home

1. Vacuuming

Handsome young black man vacuuming the carpet in his apartment.

Photo: istockphoto.com

Whether you have kids, pets, or simply live by yourself, keeping your floors clean can be a real chore. Vacuuming is a quick and efficient way to suck up dust, pet hair, and other debris, leaving carpets and hard flooring nice and clean. However, 1 hour of vacuuming releases 765 grams (1.69 pounds) of carbon dioxide equivalent.

While completely cutting vacuuming out of your cleaning routine isn’t realistic, taking steps to decrease the frequency with which you vacuum can make a difference. When possible, opt for a simple broom and dustpan to take care of hard surfaces, and try to go a few extra days before vacuuming carpets and rugs throughout the home.

RELATED: 9 Things You Should Never Vacuum

2. Washing a Load of Laundry

Hand turning on washing machine

Photo: istockphoto.com

Washing clothes is another one of those tasks that just can’t be avoided. Even with a large wardrobe, at some point, everyone needs to do some laundry. Before emptying your hamper into the washer, however, keep in mind that washing two loads of laundry can release 546 grams (1.2 pounds) of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere.

To minimize this impact, look for opportunities to combine loads of laundry to cut back on the total number of cycles run. When only one item needs cleaning, consider hand-washing it instead. If running a smaller load, be sure to change the water settings to avoid heating more water than is necessary. Switching to using cold water instead of hot water for each wash cycle could also significantly reduce your carbon footprint—heating water accounts for 90 percent of the energy consumed by washing machines.

RELATED: 14 Sneaky Ways to Save Money on Your Water Bill

3. Drying a Load of Laundry

Portrait of a young woman smiling, hanging linen in a courtyard

Photo: istockphoto.com

Once clothes are washed, they need to dry. Drying laundry is actually an even bigger culprit in energy use and carbon emissions. Drying just two loads in an electric dryer produces 2,148 grams (4.73 pounds) of carbon dioxide equivalent—that’s nearly four times the emissions released by the washer. Sustainably minded homeowners should consider investing in a drying rack or clothesline to air-dry clothing and linens when possible.

RELATED: This Is the Best Time to Do Laundry

4. Doing a Load of Dishes

Adult man unloading dishwasher machine

Photo: istockphoto.com

Every time you run a load of dishes through the dishwasher, 608 grams (1.34 pounds) of carbon dioxide equivalent are released into the air per kilowatt hour. To reduce emissions related to this household chore, look for ways to minimize the number of times you run your dishwasher. This may mean waiting until the dishwasher is full to run it or washing some of the dishes by hand—particularly those that are bulky and will take up a lot of space in the machine.

RELATED: How Much Does a Home Energy Audit Cost?

5. Mowing With a Gas-Powered Mower

Gardening equipment in the backyard. Young guy in casual clothes refills a gas mower

Photo: istockphoto.com

If you cut your lawn with a gas-powered mower, now may be the time to make the switch to an electric model. Gas-powered mowers are responsible for approximately 5 percent of the air pollution in the country. Moreover, the emissions from each individual mower or tractor may be 120 times or more than what is released from a car or truck being operated for the same length of time.

If you can’t make the switch to electric equipment just yet, consider mowing, blowing, and trimming less often. You could also reduce the percentage of lawn that is covered with grass by planting a ground cover that doesn’t require mowing (and maybe cut some water use as well).

RELATED: What’s the Difference? Gas vs. Electric Lawn Mowers

6. Taking Out the Trash

Women preparing vegetable meal for cooking, everything is so green, healthy and freshly harvested from garden. Making compost from leftovers.

Photo: istockphoto.com

While the act of taking out the trash won’t necessarily impact carbon emissions, what’s inside the trash can most certainly will. One way to cut back significantly on the emissions your household produces is by composting food waste instead of tossing it in the trash can. A 2021 report from the UN Environment Programme estimated that between 8 and 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are related to food waste.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, composting can help cut greenhouse gasses by supporting the soil’s carbon sequestration. Moreover, composting minimizes methane emissions because the microbes responsible for these harmful emissions are not active when around oxygen. When you compost food scraps, you’ll also be contributing to local farmers, habitats, parks, and more. If you don’t want to start a backyard compost pile, you could look for community collection options or even a compost pickup service.