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FEATURE ARTICLE - SUMMER 2009
Fire Your Clothes Dryer
Make this the year you reduce your energy use (and your utility bill) by air-drying your clothes as often as possible.
The news is in: Many of America’s clothes dryers may soon be getting a pink slip. One in every three
Americans sees the clothes dryer as an unnecessary extravagance.
Every few years, the Pew Research Center asks about 1,000 Americans what they think about various appliances. Three years ago, 83 percent of respondents said a clothes dryer was a “necessity.”
Since then, something striking has happened—the people that Pew surveys have begun to think differently about energy- intensive appliances: the percentage of respondents who describe a clothes dryer as a “luxury” has more than doubled in just three years to 33 percent.
About a third of Americans have figured out that it takes a huge commitment of energy to run a dryer—all to do something that our great-grandparents knew that the air, given a little more time, could do for free. In many other countries, this wisdom is more widely shared, and drying clothes on a line or a rack is the norm. Whereas 75 percent of households in the US own a clothes dryer, for example, only about half of households in Europe own one, according to the Netherlands Statistical Office.
If you haven’t already, join the trend and make this the summer that you reduce your clothes dryer use and return to old-fashioned, free techniques for drying laundry. You can air-dry clothes no matter where you live, and this green step will cut your energy bill, reduce your carbon footprint, and preserve your favorite clothing longer.
Save Energy and Curb Emissions
Given the seriousness of the climate crisis, it’s time for Americans to get serious about cutting out “luxury” energy use. Each watt of electricity our homes are using that isn’t necessary wastes money and drives the expansion of dirty coal-fired power plants. Green America’s Climate Action Program calls for everyone to cut energy use in houses in half over the next five years. Reducing your energy use by 50 percent is doable—it’s a reduction of only ten percent every year, for five years in a row.
“Firing” your clothes dryer would likely achieve that first year’s ten percent reduction all by itself, because in many households, the dryer is the third-most energy-hungry appliance, after the refrigerator and washer. Air-drying your clothes can reduce the average household’s carbon footprint by a whopping 2,400 pounds a year.
These days, not many people can afford to spend any more than necessary on energy bills, and many households pay more than $100 a year on the electricity claimed by their “luxury” dryer.
While the racks, clotheslines, or clothespins you may need to purchase to shift to air-drying may cost something, firing your dryer will pay for these accessories in energy savings. Most households will likely have less than a year of payback time for purchases that enable air drying.
Durability, Safety, and Flexibility
There are lots of added benefits of air-drying your clothes:
All that lint you scoop out of a dryer’s lint trap after each load is evidence of your wardrobe literally wearing away. The dryer shortens the life of your clothing by over-drying items and thinning them out. So firing your dryer is also a great strategy for conserving your favorite clothes longer and saving the cost of replacing them before their time.
Also, anyone who’s had to wait around the laundromat or delay an errand to fold clothes right when the dryer finished will appreciate the flexibility of air-drying clothes. While it may take longer for clothing to get dry—from a few hours to about a day—you don’t have to be present to fold them to prevent wrinkles or leave a shared dryer for someone else. You can hang your laundry on the rack or line and go about your day, then come back to fold whenever you get around to it.
Another perk to “firing” your dryer is that it eliminates the risk that your dryer could ever start a dangerous fire. According to a report by FEMA, clothes dryer vents can become clogged with lint, causing more than 15,000 house fires every year.
Air-Drying Clothing Outdoors
A natural option, especially in summertime, is to hang clothes out to dry outside, on a line or a rack. A clothesline enables you to spend some of your laundry time enjoying the outdoors, your clothes smell “sunny” when they come back in, and drying in the sunshine helps to naturally disinfect clothes, and to gently bleach whites.
It’s worth noting, too, that walking around an outdoor clothesline hanging up the clothes is a moderate form of exercise. An Australian named Karen Gatt has written several books about “The Clothesline Diet,” which helped her get in shape by power-walking around the clothesline in her backyard; she’s since founded a network of Clothesline Diet Clubs.
You can purchase a variety of racks and lines for outdoor air-drying of clothes. Some fold out into a rotary umbrella shape; others stretch multiple lines between two “T” posts. (Find more items for outdoor clothes-drying here.) Gaiam’s Real Goods offers a $20 retractable clothesline that can mount to a post or the side of a house (www.realgoods.com). The innovative Cord-O Clip is a time-saving clothesline with built-in clips that close automatically when people place clothes on the line and push, and open automatically as the line is pulled around once the clothes are dry (www.cordoclip.com). One Green America member gets her active family’s clothes—including cloth diapers for two young children—on or off the line in less than ten minutes with this device.
Air-Drying Clothing Indoors
If you have pollen allergies, don’t have an outdoor space for hanging up clothes to dry, or expect the weather in your area will be too rainy or cold for a successful outdoor clothesline, forego the outdoor approach and use an indoor drying rack instead.
Many online retail stores, including members of Green America’s Business Network™, offer racks and other accessories for air-drying your clothes indoors. Many of these creative items store flat or retract to save space when not in use. Gaiam’s Real Goods, for example, offers a pine drying rack made in Maine that can handle a full load of laundry, with 50 feet of drying space, and it folds flat between uses ($89 at www.realgoods.com). Other drying racks perch over a bathtub ($31.95 Leifheit Pegasus V), in a shower ($79.95 Leifheit Tower 195), or lower from the ceiling to which they’re bolted ($135.99, Stewi Lift Ceiling Dryer)—all available here.
Large items like sheets and towels can dry draped over a door, banister, or a shower rod; and tablecloths generally dry happily right on the tables they cover (use your best judgement as to whether a damp tablecloth will affect the finish on your table or not). Socks and other smaller items can air-dry using hangers lined with clips (such as the $19.99 Stainless Steel “Lingerie Dryer” with 14 hooks at www.containerstore.com).
Nancy Hoffmann in New York City has been drying her clothes indoors in her apartment for years. To speed up the process, she turns a floor fan on a low setting facing her drying racks. She reports that “most of my clothes dry in a couple hours, max” with much less electricity use than a dryer would require.
Drying clothing indoors can also have an added perk when it helps to keep indoor winter air moist, a kind of low-tech humidifier.
Speak Out for the "Right to Dry"
Households that do commit to hanging laundry outside in a yard or on a balcony may discover an unlikely obstacle—their homeowners’ association. Unfortunately, many community associations prohibit clotheslines and other efforts to let the sunshine dry residents’ clothes.
Project Laundry List is a nonprofit that has helped to fight anti-clothesline ordinances in many neighborhoods, often by passing city or state legislation that invalidates such ordinances. To find out which cities and states have the “right to dry” and to sign a petition for a national law—and to urge the First Family to line dry their clothes occasionally on the White House lawn—visit right2dry.org.
Fire That Dryer!
If you haven’t already, make this the summer you fire your clothes dryer, and join the thousands of Americans whom the Pew Research Center found are thinking differently about clothes-drying.
“Simply putting up a clothesline in the back yard and hanging out clothes to dry on a sunny day has reduced our electric bill,” say Green America member Steve Breckheimer from Saluda, NC. “And the laundry smells fresh!”
Whether you hope to hang up your laundry inside or outside, you can share tips and strategies for shifting to air-drying clothing at Project Laundry List’s blog, “The Clothes Peg."
Reduce Your Dryer Use
Even if you aren’t ready to completely swear off the dryer, you can begin by becoming a dryer reductionist. Tumble clothes in the dryer for five-to-ten minutes to eliminate wrinkles, then hang them on a rack or line to finish drying. You can also add a little vinegar to your washing machine’s rinse cycle to soften clothes, or an eco-friendly liquid fabric softener like the Sunny Day Fabric Softener from Ecover or the blue eucalyptus- and lavender- scented Natural Fabric Softener from Seventh Generation.
A Greener Spin on Washing Clothes
There are many ways to fold a concern for people and the planet into your laundry routine.
Look to Green America’s tips and resources for greener ways to clean your clothes:
• Hang once- or even twice-worn clothes on a shower rod to air out, and then wear again before you wash. Try to save the hamper for truly dirty clothes.
• If an item gets a single stain on it, see if you can wash it out by hand.
• Be energy-efficient by washing only full loads.
• Look for greener detergents that are free of phosphates, which cause overgrowth of algae and harm marine life. Find Green America business members selling eco-friendly detergents in the “Cleaning Products” category of the National Green Pages™.
• Avoid conventional bleaches, dryer sheets, and fabric softeners, which routinely contain toxic chemicals.
• Washing your clothes in cold water gets them just as clean as washing in hot water, but uses half the energy.
• Use your washer’s “suds saver” function, which reuses soapy water from a first load of laundry in the second load.
• If you do use your dryer, use the moisture sensor, if it has one, so that the dryer will shut off after clothes are dry, rather than continuing for longer than necessary.
• Electricity demand goes down at night and begins rising in the morning, peaking at mid day. It is our peak demand that determines the expansion of coal-fired power plants and other polluting forms of energy generation. Someday, utilities may use smart meters to help us even things out, but until then, you can do your own private “load shifting” by trying, whenever possible, to do laundry at night and as far as possible from mid-day.
• When it’s time to buy a new washer, choose an energy-efficient front-loading model with an Energy Star label. The ACEEE recommends replacing clothes washers older than ten years with Energy Star models. Read Real Green’s advice on energy efficient appliances. (Energy Star does not rate dryers, because they all use a similar amount of energy.)
• For your “dry clean only” clothing items, look for green alternatives that avoid toxic perchloroethylene.