Kilowatts a Killer? Tips for Air-Drying Clothes

Photo: miflippo

Not only does reducing your dryer use save money, but it is also much easier on your clothes. I recently donated a dress to Goodwill that I’d had for seven years — not because it was worn out, but because I was sick of wearing it. You don’t really realize how hard a dryer is on your clothing until you stop or reduce your use of the appliance. Here are some hints for air-drying. (See also: 16 Ways to Make Your Clothes Last Longer)

1. Be Patient

Air-drying clothes takes much longer than using a dryer. If you know you are going to want to wear a particular shirt or dress that week, plan for it — otherwise, it may not be dry in time.

2. Own at Least Two Sets of Sheets and Towels

Don’t expect that if you hang your towels up in the morning, they’ll be dry by the next morning’s shower. They can take a while, unless you live in Arizona.

3. Follow the Rules

If you want to put up a clothesline, first make sure you aren’t violating your neighborhood’s CC&Rs or condo association's rules (nothing like getting into trouble trying to save money). Even some beachfront condominiums do not allow you to hang beach towels on the railings.

4. Know That You May Not Be Able to Go Totally Dryer-Less

Sometimes, especially after days of rainy weather, we can’t get things completely dry. If they get left outside, there is a risk they will mildew, and then it becomes really difficult to get the odor out. So, we have learned to throw nearly dry items into the dryer for just 10 or 15 minutes. A few minutes in the dryer is still cheaper than running a whole cycle. If you are on a “timed usage” electrical meter program, avoid using your dryer during peak hours (when it costs more) for further savings.

5. Learn to Compromise a Little

Towels, for instance, are not nearly as soft as when they are dried in a dryer. Jeans are also stiff. Conversely, though, I love the crispness of fresh sheets, and air-dried garments have a fresh smell.

6. Love the Laundromat

For items such as comforters, one-piece dog beds, or pillows, don’t bother with the clothesline — head to the laundromat, where the size of the washers and dryers is appropriate for heavy items.

7. If You Have the Room, Develop Two Clothesline Areas

Our first area is covered and has eight lines: four at “normal” height and four about 16 inches higher, where we can hang smaller items like socks or washcloths. Area two is uncovered and stretches over the back lawn. It is retractable, so that it is out of the way most of the time. We use this one for sunny-day drying only, for items like sheets and pillowcases that dry quickly.

8. Keep It Clean

You will need to clean your clotheslines every couple of months. Just run a damp rag down each line. Otherwise the dust and gunk build-up can get on your clothes.

9. Choose the Right Clothespins

Some wooden clothespins can stain clothing. If you can find them, the heavier-duty plastic clothespins beat the light, cheap ones, which break too easily. They also have stronger springs, which hold garments more securely on windy days.

10. Experiment Where You Want to Pin Items

If you pin it in an obvious place, you’ll have visible clothespin impressions on the garment when it dries. You can also hang shirts on plastic clothes hangers, which cuts down on ironing as well.

11. Separate the Layers

Most garments are naturally two layers of fabric — a front and a back of a blouse, for example. Any time those layers can be separated by creative hanging, drying times will be decreased. For example, hang a pillow case by only one side of its opening, and let the other side hang open. Or hang a pair of jeans by the back of the waistband, and let the front hang open.

It’s called “air drying” for a reason, so the more air getting to both sides of the fabric, the better the evaporation. If you have a prevailing wind direction from one side of your drying area, you can even hang items like that with their openings to the side, so the wind billows them open and increases air flow to both sides of the garment even more. Make sure your clothespins are strong, though, or a pillowcase full of air can pull loose from the line.

12. Pay Attention

More than on one occasion, clothes have been dry, but we were distracted and didn’t take them down in time — and then it rained. Even with a covered clothesline, clothes pick up moisture from humid air.

13. Also Dry Indoors

Towel racks and shower rods can be put to use, as can a drying rack. Our dorming daughter has used her sunny window seat for drying her sweaters. Lingerie and light items dry well inside, but I would draw the line there. I have tried drying clothes near our wood stove, but they end up smelling like wood smoke. If you have a radiator, that can be a good spot for indoor drying. You can also put clothes on a rack near a ceiling fan or heat register.

Even cutting down on dryer use can help reduce your bill. Give it a try!

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Guest's picture

These are some great tips for clotheslines indoors. We are seriously considering adopting this to see just how low we can get our electric bill.

Guest's picture

I have air-dried nearly all my clothing for years.

For households which generate large volumes of laundry, it is important to do laundry regularly so that there is line space available for drying. Most lines can accommodate no more than two loads at a time, so you may need to have several washing days each week.

Don't discount basement or attic space to dry! I have an outdoor line for summer, and an indoor line for cool weather. In fall, winter and early spring my clothes dry very quickly because the lines are near the furnace. The heated air is dry, and really pulls moisture out of the clothing. I can't use my basement line during the summer or during periods of extended rain, when the basement air is humid. Clothes take a long time to dry, and the drying process adds to the existing humidity and can compound mold issues.

Marla Walters's picture

J.S., thanks for your helpful comments, especially the attic/basement ideas. It's true - every day has to be laundry day, if you are air/line drying!

Guest's picture

I've been using the blinds in my son's room to hang/sun bleach cloth diapers in the window.

Marla Walters's picture

Jessica, this is brilliant: you are multi-tasking by drying and dusting those blinds, when you take the diapers down. Good for you for doing cloth, too.

Guest's picture

When I dry clothes inside, I just put them on hangers and hang them - from the shower rod, door handles, door frames, wherever. Then the hang-up clothes are ready to put in the closet when dried. Easy!

Guest's picture

While it is true that air-dried clothes are not as soft as tumble-dried clothes, sometimes clothes are stiff because you are using too much laundry detergent. You can get away with using a lot less detergent (1/3 of the recommended amount with conventional detergent) and still get clean clothes. I have found that by doing this, I no longer need fabric softener of any kind.

Also a consideration: Check for wasps before folding outdoor air-dried clothes!

Marla Walters's picture

Justine! What a great suggestion, reducing the detergent. Fluffy towels AND savings. Got to try this. I've never had the wasp problem but assume you learned this the hard way. :-(

Meg Favreau's picture

Ooh, I'll second the wasp warning. When I was growing up, our clothesline area was their favorite place to build nests. But a bit of wasp-watching was worth it for sleeping on sheets with that great outdoor-air smell.

Guest's picture
L Bowser

One thing that I remember from when I lived in Germany was everyone had a centrifugal dryer that they used before line drying (or machine drying for that matter). Two minutes of spinning cut 30 minutes of machine drying time or more. And as long as there was no rain, everything I hung out in the morning was done by the evening.

Guest's picture

I have used all of these tips for my 40 years of marriage. However, no one has mentioned my one softening ritual. While I hang the socks, underwear, etc., I throw the shirts, pants, and towels in the dryer on the fluff cycle. They only need a few minutes. I then hang them with the rest of the laundry and I have no or very little ironing to do, and no stiff towels. The fluff cycle is the only time my dryer is in use except for "emergencies".