Clothes dryers are unnecessary luxuries that waste both energy and money. On one hand, they harm the environment since natural gas or coal must be burned to dry clothes (electricity comes from burning coal). On the other hand, clothes dryers are expensive. The cost of energy for a single load of laundry is around 40¢, which adds up to around $160 per year for a typical household (1). Yet besides the price of fuel, there’s also the cost of the clothes dryer itself, which is around several hundred dollars even before installation. The clothes dryer, then, is an expensive energy guzzler, a runner-up to the heater and air-conditioner.
Heat production inherently requires lots of energy, so even an energy-efficient clothes dryer wastes massive amounts of fuel. Producing any heat at all, however, is a silly idea; most of us enjoy an abundance of free heat each afternoon. Wherever there is sunlight, clothes can be hung-dry to harness no-cost natural sunshine. Hang-drying your laundry is minimalist, cheap, and low-tech — no drying machines or solar panels necessary.
Besides saving money on your energy bill, there are other reasons to avoid the clothes dryer. Clothes that are tumble dried get damaged quickly and need replacing more often. The tumble dry cycle, moreover, leads to static charge buildup (yes, you could add fabric softener, but why not just get rid of the source of the problem?). And most importantly, clothes dryers produce extra heat, making hot days more unbearable. When I used to live in sunny Southern California, daytime temperatures often exceeded 90°F (32°C) during the summer. When people used clothes dryers, it would feel 10°F (5°C) hotter inside the laundromat than outside. The sweltering heat would have been perfect for hang-drying laundry, but sometimes our culture forgets the painfully obvious.
Clothes can even be dried when it’s raining. If there’s no sunlight, simply hang your wet clothes indoors and allow the moisture to evaporate. Just make sure that the clothes get plenty of aeration. Sometimes, I use a fan to accelerate drying. I never let the occasional rainy day stop me from hang-drying my clothes during the rest of the year.
It’s simple to do laundry without a clothes dryer. Here are a few different methods:
- Use a simple clothesline. A sturdy clothesline can be made of metal wire, plastic, or natural fibers. Tie each end of the clothesline to a solid support (bars, poles, trees), then use clothespins or clothes hangers to attach your clothes to the line. In my house, we tie a piece of braided wire to the bars on our windows to support the clothesline. You probably don’t need to buy any equipment for this setup.
- Buy a retractable clotheslines. There are a few luxury models available that are much more elegant than my makeshift clothesline. Retractable clothesline fold away nicely for people living in tiny apartments.
Buy a clothes rack. There are two types: the traditional, heavy-frame variety, and the newer, collapsible models. Both types will provide a vertical support for when you can’t find a pole to tie your clothesline to.
Before we gave away our possessions, we used to own a lightweight, folding clothes rack. It was perfect for our tiny apartment, since it was designed for high-density stacking, allowing us to dry plenty of clothes even on a tiny patio. Hsinya used them for delicate clothes that had to be laid flat to dry (some delicate fabrics stretch under their own weight when hung). It was flimsy, however, so it quickly broke under the weight of wet clothes.
Traditional, heavy-frame clothes racks are much sturdier. You can get these used at a garage sale or flea market for very cheap. Because they can handle far more weight, these clothes racks are more practical for larger families. The only drawback is that they take up a lot of space.
- Improvise. When you only have a few clothes that need to be washed, you can hang-dry them on chairs, nails in the wall, closet poles, or even staircase rails. Let your imagination run wild.
- Mr. Electricity estimates a sample load of laundry to cost 49¢ using electric power and 31¢ using gas. If the average household does 7.5 loads of laundry each week, that comes out to 49¢ × 7.5loads/week × 52 weeks/yr = $191 for electric and 31¢ × 7.5loads/week × 52 weeks/yr = $120 for gas.
- Photo credits: Mike Lacon, CC BY-SA. greenlagirl, CC BY-NC-SA. ario_, CC BY-NC-SA. Noel Zia Lee, CC BY. Sarah Mae, CC BY-NC. Melissa Sanders, CC BY.
Hang-drying your laundry is cheap, simple, minimalist, and low-impact. Why would anyone ever use a drier again?