8 Top Energy Efficient Clothes Washers for 2013

Considering the purchase of a new energy efficient washing machine this year? Read this post first.

According to the ENERGY STAR website, the average American family washes about 300 loads of laundry each year. In order for a clothes washer to be ENERGY STAR qualified, it must use 20% less energy and 35% less water than regular washers. ENERGY STAR washers also have a larger tub capacity for fewer washings.

Both top- and front-load washers can be ENERGY STAR certified. ENERGY STAR top-load models do not fill water to the top of the tub like standard top-load washers do. They clean by flipping or spinning clothes through a stream of water and have sensors to monitor water levels and temperature. Rinsing is also unlike traditional top-load washers; ENERGY STAR top-load washers rinse clothes with repeated high-pressure sprays rather than soaking. Front-loaders, on the other hand, simulate the motion of putting clothes in water by dipping them over and over via spinning. They only fill partially with water and spin faster to reduce drying time and energy consumption by better extracting moisture.

We have reviewed major brands and identified 8 of their most efficient washers for sale in 2013, based on ENERGY STAR ratings. These comparisons focus on two equations: Modified Energy Factor (MEF) and Water Factor (WF). Energy efficient washers have a high MEF and water efficient units have a low WF value. These numbers are often compared to Federal Standards as a benchmark. The Federal Standard MEF is 1.26 and the Federal Standard WF is 9.5. All 8 of our picks exceed the Federal Standards by varying degrees.

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Product Review: Coffee Sock

The Coffee Sock is a cloth coffee filter that is an eco-friendly replacement for paper coffee filters. I recently purchased a Coffee Sock for my personal 5 cup coffee maker. Although up until now I’ve been composting my unbleached coffee filters, I figured I’d give the Coffee Sock a try.

I’ve been very pleased with the result. Although the Coffee Sock required a bit of care and maintenance, I’ve found that my coffee actually tastes better than with a paper filter. This is the most surprising thing about my experience.

I was also surprised to read that the life expectancy of my coffee sock is only about 4-5 months or so. This is ok, though, as the manufacturers have made a great effort to make the materials 100% biodegradable.

Overall, for $4.99, I’m very pleased with my Coffee Sock. It’s eco-friendly and has actually improved the experience of my morning ritual.

Thumbs up!


Ant Invasion? Dr. Bronner is Here!

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I’ve heard that mint is a natural repellent for ants, so I tried out Dr. Bronner’s Organic Peppermint & Mentha Arvensis Castille Soap to treat a serious ant problem we’re having.

Seems the little buggers like our kitchen scraps we have set out to take to the compost pile. We tried it out (diluted) and it works great. It seems to actually kill them on contact, too. I tried Dr. Bronner’s out on cockroaches and it works the same. We poured it directly on the cockroaches after they crawled up a drain at night, and within a few seconds they were dead with their legs sticking up in the air. It’s organic, smells great, and kills ’em dead!

Dr. Bronner. you’re my hero. You’re right up there with Dr. K!


Product Review: The Hula Ho Weeding Tool

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It’s spring and that means we at the Practical Environmentalist have started gardening!

The compost bin is shaping up nicely, I’ve recently started a new worm farm, and I’m busy planting seeds and dealing with those inevitable weeds.

Since I spent the last several years in a big city with just a patio garden, I’m excited that I now have moved to a new city and a new apartment with an actual yard where I can grow a modest garden of veggies and ornamentals. The house I’m now renting with my family has been unoccupied for quite some time, so we’ve got all kinds of nasty weeds to deal with.

When the first weeds popped up, I decided to go out and buy a handy weeder called the Hula Ho made by Flex Rake that I had used many years ago when working for a summer for a landscaping company. I found it at a small local garden shop that I support and spent a morning cleaning up the yard.

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The Hula Ho is by far my favorite weeder that I have tried. When weeding the other day, I was able to remove about 80% of all the weeds by the roots with minimal effort. This is due to the fact that the Hula Ho is a loop weeding tool, allowing you to scrape the soil and dig out the weeds with a quick pull.

Another great feature of the Hula Ho is that you’re able to remove weeds without displacing the soil. A quick pull with the Hula Ho pops out the weed, and then you just smooth the soil back into place with the flat edge of the ho.

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The Hula Ho works by either pushing or pulling, depending on the size and position of the weed you’re removing. Because it’s shaped like a rectangle, you also get the advantage of sharp cutting edges at the corners of the ho. The corners are actually slightly rounded, and the blade itself is able to move on a small hinge. The “wiggle blade” they call it on the website. They say the blade is self sharpening. Does anyone know what that actually means? It sounds good on paper and I assume that it means I don’t have to sharpen it very often.

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A few other things I like about the Hula Ho:

*The blade is made of heat treated high carbon so it’s very durable.
*The Hula Ho is made in the U.S.A., which means I’m supporting a local manufacturer. Not that a globalized economy isn’t great, but I do like buying things that are made a little closer to home. I love garden accessories that are made in the USA.

To find out more about the Hula Ho and other weeding tools in the series made by Flex Rake, see their website.

You can buy the Hula Ho online here.


Product Review: Equal Exchange Organic Chocolate Minis for Easter

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These organic dark chocolate minis from Equal Exchange are a perfect treat for those who want just a little chocolate to nibble on at a time. They are 55% Cocoa and have a very rich flavor. Not too sweet and not bitter either.

I had them out in a little bowl for guests to our house and they were consumed very quickly! They make great party favors as well. We’ve got several birthday parties coming up so I’m thinking of stocking up on more. They’re also perfect for the coming Easter holiday.

Instead of mass produced sugar gunk, try out these organic, Fair Trade chocolates and this Kid’s Chocolate Garden Seed Kit to stuff their Easter baskets.

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Here’s a list of the Ingredients for the chocolate:

*Organic cocoa liquor, *Syramenaâ„¢ Organic Raw Cane Sugar, *Organic cocoa butter, *Sucanatâ„¢ Organic Unrefined Whole Cane Sugar, Organic ground vanilla. Cocoa 55% min. (*Fair Trade Certifiedâ„¢)


Product Review: Organic Mint Chocolate from Equal Exchange

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Today I sampled a new chocolate product from Equal Exchange, which in addition to chocolate sells a variety of fairly traded products.

First off, I thought the packaging was very nice. It features a photo of a cacao farmer and some nice graphics. The inside of the packaging includes a description of the benefits of buying fairly traded chocolates.

The smell is light and refreshing when you open the package. Also, I loved the texture. The chocolate has organic “peppermint crisps,” which are made from cane sugar and peppermint oil. It also has ground vanilla beans. This makes for a hard chocolate with a slightly crispy texture.

As for flavor, I was almost expecting a stronger mint taste after smelling the chocolate, but found the light bitterness of the dark chocolate was the first flavor to hit to tongue. The mint is softer and more delicate. There is almost an initial conflict of the two flavors, but as they combine, the effect is very pleasant.

This chocolate contains:

*Organic cocoa liquor, *Syramenaâ„¢ Organic Raw Cane Sugar, *Organic cocoa butter, *Sucanatâ„¢ Organic unrefined whole cane sugar, peppermint crisps (*Organic cane sugar, Organic peppermint oil), Organic ground vanilla beans. May contain traces of milk, peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios & pecans. Cocoa 67% min. (*Fair Trade Certifiedâ„¢)

The Bottom Line:

• Great texture and aroma
• Good flavor with delicious aftertaste
• Excellent packaging with lots of useful information
• A stronger mint flavor would be nice, but overall the flavor is excellent
• I appreciate the fact that Equal Exchange chocolates are tasty and provide well written educational material about the chocolate industry.

Overall Rating: 8.5 of 10.0

You can purchase this chocolate and other products here.


Product Review: Dagoba Organic Chocolates, Good for You and the Environment!

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While a student, I spent some time working at La Montanita Co-Op Supermarket in Albuquerque, New Mexico. During that time I was privy to some of best organic chocolate makers out there. One of my favorites was (and is) Dagoba Organic Chocolates. Not only is their chocolate amazingly tasty, they’ve also got a great philosophy. Here it is (from their website):

We are dedicated to full circle sustainability: crafting exquisite chocolate that blends quality, ecology, equity and community. We have been honored with Food & Wine’s 2005 Tastemaker Award, the EPA’s Green Power Leadership Award, “World’s Best Chocolate” – CNN/Money and “Best Dark Chocolate” – San Francisco Chronicle. Our greatest honor is exceeding your expectations through the ancient jewel of cacao so please share your thoughts with us.

My favorite is their 59% dark chocolate, which is the perfect blend of bitter and sweet.

Check out www.exploringchocolate.com for more information on organic chocolates, chocolate history, etc.


Product Review, Annie’s Naturals: Great Food, Happy People, Healthy Environment

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Annie’s Naturals has been producing excellent natural salad dressings, sauces, barbeque sauces, etc. for over 20 years.

Based in Vermont, this small company uses only natural ingredients and you can find some awesome and unusual products on her website including salad dressings using sea veggies, sesame seeds, etc. Her website also has ingredients and nutritional info so you can see just what you’re getting into.

My absolute favorite dressing of all time is Goddess dressing. This dressing has Tahini, which gives it a wonderful flavor. It is creamy and slightly exotic.

While many of her products aren’t necessarily easy on the waistline, I think you’ll feel better slopping on some Goddess dressing with tahini and fresh herbs than that Hidden Valley crap.

Enjoy!