Let It All Hang Out! There's More Than One Way to Dry Those Jeans

I love warm, clean clothes fresh from the dryer on a cool autumn evening, so when a friend suggested that I hang my clothes outside as an energy saver, I put my foot down. While I consider myself a dedicated environmentalist, the dryer was a luxury I wasn’t willing to give up. How much energy could my once-a-week drying sessions consume anyway?

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I did some research. When I stumbled across a ubiquitous figure that’s reported all over the Internet, including on the U.S. Department of Energy’s website, I knew I had to change my ways: “Six to 10 percent of residential energy use goes towards the electric dryer. If Americans, or even just New Englanders, would use the clothesline or wooden drying racks, the savings would be enough to close several power plants,” reports Project Laundry List, a pro-line drying website.

To say that I was surprised to realize that such a significant part of my electricity bill goes to drying clothes is an understatement. Depending on how much you pay for electricity, and how many loads you dry a week, the dryer habit could be costing your household anywhere from $75 to $300 a year. That’s enough to buy a pair or two of new organic jeans!

High and Dry

Even with the money and energy savings involved in avoiding or minimizing the use of my dryer, it’s always tough to change. I pictured stiff line-dried clothes, or interminable waits for my favorite denims to dry. But for every problem I had imagined, there was a solution, and there were even some advantages to solar-powered drying beyond the energy savings.

According to Alexander Lee, founder and executive director of Project Laundry List, “Line-dried clothes smell better and last longer.” Spinning clothes around in a dryer for 40 to 50 minutes involves a lot of wear and tear on shirt edges, buttons, straps and detailing. Just think: That massive amount of lint you find at the end of a dryer load is the fiber from your clothes, which are slowly disintegrating.

There are a variety of clothes dryers and lines you can set up in your backyard, including retractable lines so you don’t choke yourself while chasing the dog across the lawn, and umbrella-shaped doohickeys that take up minimal space. Yes, you have to lug the damp laundry outside and hang it all, but I can’t be the only one who could use some arm-strengthening exercise. As a bonus, the sun will zap stains from many fabrics, and they”ll be naturally disinfected by ultraviolet (UV) rays.

In the end, you”ll save time line-drying; you can hang your whole wash and forget about it. You won’t have to be at the beck and call of the dryer buzzer or worry about partially dried clothes becoming moldy if you leave them too long.

If you don’t like to deal with the stiffer, sometimes wrinkled fabric that results from al fresco drying, add a bit of fabric softener into your wash, throw it into the dryer for five minutes, and presto, the softener is activated. Using less detergent when washing can also make for softer clothes.

To Dry or Not to Dry?

Not everyone can dry their clothes outside; if you live in an apartment, you may not have the space to do it (though drying racks that are configured for tubs or will fit in corners are available). And unfortunately, quite a few housing developments outlaw line-drying. More than 35,000 developments in sunny California make free and Earth-friendly drying a crime. Florida and Utah have “Right to Dry” laws, and legislation is pending in a few other states.

The next best thing to drying outside is to reduce the amount of time you use your dryer. The Spin-X, which is basically a centrifuge for fabrics, can remove one quart of water from just-washed clothes in about 15 seconds. With that much less water in your clothes you can reduce drying time by one-half for hard-to-dry items, like blue jeans and towels, and more for others. Arthur Edelstein, president and CEO of Spin-X, imported the device from Europe (where it has been in use for more than 60 years) about 16 years ago.

“We’ve found that the Spin-X uses so much less electricity than the dryer that it pays for itself in about three to five years. After that, you’re putting money in your pocket,” says Edelstein. He adds that clothes come out cleaner and stay brighter since more detergents, perfumes and other irritants are extracted during the process.

STARRE VARTAN is an E contributor who runs Eco-chick.com, a blog about women and the environment.