How should you dry your clothes?
We debate the dryer vs. the clothesline
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Sure, your laundry might be a dry topic (pun absolutely intended) and one you might not think about too much. But, maybe you should. Not only does when, where, and how you dry your clothes—by air-drying or machine dryer—impact how they look and feel, it also affects how your clothes fit and how long they’ll last.
Pretty much everyone has a heart-breaking story of a treasured piece of clothing getting run through the dryer and shrinking down so much that it could fit a small child. Avoid the potential heartbreak by figuring out how to dry your clothes with as little pain as possible. And, there’s no best, one-size-fits-all method.
Method: Air-dry your clothes
You know that Latin phrase that means, "First, do no harm"? Well, it’s widely applicable. It’s always best practice to start with the gentlest method, and then build up to more extreme methods if the first one doesn’t work. Air-drying your clothes takes far less a toll on fabrics than machine drying does, not to mention it’s more energy efficient.
Air-drying is easier on fabrics
Using a machine dryer wears clothes fast, thanks to the increase in friction and heat. Washing your clothes and then drying them on a clothes drying rack or outdoor clothesline minimizes that impact.
Air-drying also avoids static cling, eliminating the need for dryer balls or dryer sheets.
Your favorite apparel pieces will thank you for keeping their color, shape, and texture intact longer.
Pro tip: Be smart about how you air-dry your clothes depending on what they’re made of. A chunky knit or other stretchy materials should never be hung on an outdoor clothesline with clothespins, instead lay it flat on top of a clothes drying rack.
It’s how to avoid shrinking clothes
Laundry instructions exist for a reason. If you wear expensive, delicate, or irreplaceable clothing, it pays to read their tags. If an item should be hand washed or run on the delicate cycle, you shouldn’t put it in the dryer. And, if you’re concerned about fit, it’s best to let those clothes air-dry.
Pro tip: If air-drying delicates feels a little too revealing, use the shower or towel rod in your bathroom to hang items you don’t want to put outside. Plus, the surfaces in the bathroom are meant for water, and, unlike wood and metal, tile doesn’t warp or rust.
Air-drying won’t lock in stains
If your life is stain-prone (i.e. kids, pets, messy work) air-drying gives you the option to continue a stain removal process. Stains set when they’re placed in the dryer at a high temperature, and it’s pretty easy to miss stains on clothing when you’re transferring them from the washer. So you might find out too late that a stubborn mustard splotch is still there.
Pro tip: If you air-dry a stained item, you can continue to treat the stain and wash the item until it’s removed. Oil-based stains aren’t easily removed using water, so it might be smart to dry clean to remove it.
Air-drying is eco-friendly
Air-drying your clothes doesn’t use any electricity or gas at all. You may think this laundry tip saves you money on your electric bill, but it doesn’t always. The average cost of running your dryer ranges between 36 and 45 cents per load, depending on the dryer type and load size. But if you have a large family and have to do multiple laundry loads per day, that savings can add up over time.
What we don’t like about the air-drying method
Air-drying your clothes means you need space to do so, and we don’t all have that. Laying out individual pieces of clothing takes up a significant amount of surface area and requires ventilation.
If you don’t have a laundry room or an outdoor retractable clothesline, it can be difficult to dry a large load of clothing. An umbrella clothesline takes up less space if you do have a small yard, or a collapsible drying rack that expands vertically can work indoors, too.
If you do have a laundry room, make sure it has adequate ventilation, like by using a dehumidifier; drying clothes indoors increases the room’s humidity.
Speaking of humidity, depending on the temperature and humidity in the region where you live, as well as the density of the piece of clothing, drying can take a day or more, which is a long time to wait for a clean shirt or a pair of socks. High humidity levels and lower temperatures can also encourage mold growth and that gross mildew odor.
Bright or dark colors can also fade in the sun. Snow, rain, and wind can each prevent you from drying your clothes at all, and this is really inconvenient if you live in an area prone to these elements.
Method: Use an electric or a gas dryer
With all the pros of air-drying, you still shouldn’t discount your dryer!
It’s not a stellar choice for every type of clothing, but it allows busy people to do a load of laundry with a lot less effort. Plus, a dryer is a reliable constant when life and weather gets unpredictable.
To prevent damaging your wardrobe, make sure you only put clothes that can be dried—read those care instructions!—into the dryer. Delicates and knits should be air dried separately.
Machine drying dries clothes quickly and easily
For busy people and large families, a dryer’s efficiency can’t be beat. If you’re doing a load or more of laundry every day, having the time and space to hang and spread it all out to dry is pretty unrealistic.
Most dryer cycles take about an hour to complete, making it easy to throw in a load after work when you can.
Pro tip: To increase your dryer’s efficiency, don’t pack it full of wet clothes. You’re better off dividing a wet load into two parts to ensure there’s enough room for air to circulate. Also, make sure your vents stay clean and clear, it also helps your dryer work more effectively.
Using a dryer helps prevent wrinkles
Applying heat to clothing helps eliminate wrinkles and weird creases that sometimes stick around in air-dried clothing.
Before you place wet clothes in the dryer, shake them out piece by piece. This helps separate a rogue pair of socks or underwear from larger items like towels, pants, and sheets, while also helping with wrinkles.
Once the load is done fold it all as soon as possible (while the clothes are still hot).
Pro tip: You can even use a dryer to eliminate light wrinkles between washes; spritz an item with water and fluff it in the dryer for 10 minutes, no need to iron!
Dryers can be space conscious and customizable
A dryer takes up less space than spreading and air-drying your clothes around your house or yard. It sits in a corner, in a cabinet, or a basement—as long as there’s a vent and access to an outlet.
Dryers also now have a variety of settings that can cater to the types of clothes that are being dried. Delicates, heavier items like towels and sheets: You can customize how high you set the heat.
Pro tip: Not all clothes need to be dried on high heat. A good rule of thumb is dry items based on their fabrics. Lycra, nylon, acrylic, polyester, viscose, or spandex (think workout clothes) benefit from lower heat, while cotton is high-heat tolerant.
What we don’t like about the machine dryer method
Heat damages clothes, and as we mentioned before, the heat and friction from the dryer takes its toll on fabrics over time. Shrinking, fading, and changes in fit can all happen if you use a dryer for the wrong piece of clothing.
But, if you’re careful, you can minimize these effects by drying items on lower heat and using laundry detergent and fabric softener that help preserve the elasticity of your clothing.
Not only can spending your hard-earned cash on repeatedly replacing your wardrobe (because your clothes are wearing out) get expensive, a dryer is a pricey appliance. So, buying a dryer for your home may or may not be an option.
And then there’s the maintenance, which you can do yourself if you have the know-how, but if larger problems pop up you’ll have to hire someone to do the work. What will lessen your cost is to regularly make sure there’s no lint in the dryer vents and keep out substances that can melt—like crayons—and ruin the drum of the dryer.
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