Laundering costume pieces every day- especially on a large show- naturally use up lots of water and energy. Try to use machines that have the Energy Star Label. Energy Star is the Canadian rating system for energy-efficiency standards for many different appliances, as well as building systems, lighting, electronics, and more. According to their website, “Standard-size clothes washers must be at least 59 percent more efficient than the minimum federal energy performance standard in Canada’s Energy Efficiency Regulations to qualify for the Energy Star mark… Energy Star qualified clothes washers must have advanced design features that deliver cleaning performance while using less energy and 35 to 50 percent less water. The washer extracts more water from clothes during the spin cycle. This reduces the drying time, saves energy and wear and tear on your clothes.”
More information can be found here: http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/equipment/manufacturers/specifications/10762
In terms of soap, it’s a good idea to stay away from conventional detergents because of the amount of chemicals in them that can cause anything from irritated skin to a damaged immune system, and are obviously awful for the planet in general. There are tons of different “green” and “eco-friendly” brands out there. A couple of brands I’ve researched and/or used myself that work well are Seventh Generation (http://www.seventhgeneration.com/), and Ecos Liquid Laundry Detergent (http://www.ecos.com/ecosliquid.html). Ecologo is a third-party certification program for environmentally-sound products, and they list many different types of bleaches and laundry detergents on their website (http://www.ecologo.org). Another option is to make your own laundry detergent. Here is an easy recipe using baking soda, borax, and natural soap:
“Green” detergents are gaining in popularity and many can be purchased in places like Planet Organic and Earth’s General Store as well as large grocery stores and Shopper’s Drug Mart. Here is a fun article about experimenting with different eco-detergents: http://grist.org/living/its-a-wash/
Often, costume pieces can’t simply be thrown in the washer with everything else, so they are taken to the drycleaners. Simply put, dry cleaning is BAD. The process uses tons of chemicals, most notably tetrachloroethylene/PERC. PERC can cause dizziness, headaches, sleepiness, confusion, nausea, difficulty in speaking and walking, unconsciousness, and death. PERC is also linked to menstrual problems and spontaneous abortions in females working in dry cleaning. On top of all this, there is a bit of research pointing to it being a carcinogen. And not only is it harmful to workers, but residual PERC left on clothes can continue to off-gas onto costumers, actors, etc. Yuuuuuck!
A solution to dry cleaning garments is a process called “wet cleaning” which customizes cleaning procedures for each garment. Wet cleaning uses computer-controlled washers and dryers and special mild detergents that can be used on many different types of fabric. Gentle agitation is created using tiny air bubbles or ultrasonic sound waves (I know, right?) instead of mechanical agitation to remove stains. The garments can be pressed as usual after the wet cleaning process. A case study conducted by the US Environmental Protection Agency can be found here: http://www.epa.gov/dfe/pubs/garment/wsgc/wetclean.htm
“CO2 cleanings” takes gaseous form of CO2 and pressurizes it into a clear liquid. Add soap and clothes and ta da! They are clean! A case study about CO2 cleaning can be found here: http://www.epa.gov/dfe/pubs/garment/lcds/micell.htm