Air-Dry Your Clothes Instead of Using the Dryer (19/365)

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On any given day, if you were to wander into our laundry room, you’d find damp clothing hung up, laid out, or somehow exposed to the relatively warm and relatively dry air in there. They tend to dry out perfectly in a day or so, enabling us to just fold them up and take them upstairs without even having spent a single penny on drying.

This works particularly well in the winter months, when the air in our home is naturally dry because of the furnace. The air seems to simply wick the moisture out of our clothing, leaving them dry in a surprisingly brief amount of time.

Air-Dry Your Clothes Instead of Using the Dryer (19/365)

A clothing rack is certainly one option for doing this, as depicted above. You can make a clothing rack out of almost anything that provides really good air flow over most of the item. I’ve seen people use anything from treadmills to garden tools (in a bucket with the handle sticking out) as clothing racks in the past.

The most highly efficient way, though, is with a clothes line. Simply stretch a sufficiently strong line or piece of string between two points, grab some clothes pins, and hang up your clothes. It only takes a few minutes to hang them up and take them down and you can fit a lot of clothes onto a single line.

You can stretch a line across a spare room in your house. We’ve stretched lines across our guest bedroom and across our laundry room for the purposes of drying clothes. This can be quite convenient as you can just take down the line any time you’re not using it, so you’ll have a clothesline on a typical weeknight, but it can quickly vanish if you’re going to have guests.

However, my ideal clothesline is an outdoor one. One of my biggest regrets concerning our current home is that there’s no good place to put a clothesline where it catches adequate air flow without dominating the open space of our yard. A clothesline is one of the first things we intend to install when we eventually buy our house in the country.

An outdoor clothesline lets you capture the power of the wind to dry your clothes. The wind billows through, gently drying your clothes and making them smell fresh in a way that a dryer just can’t quite recapture.

How much does this actually save? Mr. Electricity reports that if you run 7.5 dryer loads per week and have a $0.15 per kWh rate from your electric company, you’ll save just shy of $200 per year by air-drying your clothes. Given how quickly I can hang up and take down clothes (remember, there’s no loading or unloading of the dryer if you do it this way), it’s worth it for me to do this most of the time.

From my experience, dryers are a convenience in time-pinched situations. We tend to use our dryer when we need to get a lot of laundry done quickly (usually in conjunction with rack or line drying) or when we need a specific item dried quickly. It’s a convenient tool, but it’s one where the costs can add up if we use it all the time.

Most of the time, we have the spare drying time and the spare space to hang our clothes to air dry, and it takes so little time to actually lay out or hang up the clothes that it’s well worth it.

It’s just another small step toward living cheap.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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28 thoughts on “Air-Dry Your Clothes Instead of Using the Dryer (19/365)

  1. I love air-drying my clothes, but I also live in a very dry place now. When I lived in the Pacific Northwest, I could never air-dry clothes during the winter, not even indoors- it took forever. I could do it outside during the 3 months it didn’t rain, but that was it.
    That said, our set-up here is great, and we have a fan in the wall that pulls hot air out of our boiler room and blows directly onto the hanging clothes, so they dry super fast.

    Since we use cloth diapers, we like to fluff them in the dryer for 5 minutes before hanging, as well as guest towels. This way, they are nice and soft without using much electricity.

  2. The laundry room is relatively warm and relatively dry – relative to where? Not the clothes dryer!

    Drying the clothes inside will raise indoor humidity and lower the temperature, that is what evaporation does. Not such a good idea in a tight house, adding a gallon or two of water vapor every day may create problems.

  3. I haven’t used my dryer in over 5 years (I live in the Midwest, in Indiana).

    Here’s what I do when I can’t use my clothesline outside… I hang my laundry on wire hangers, and put it in doorways, on the trim, over on the edge out of the walkway, two things per side (so four per doorway). Jeans and dress pants take two hangers and I clip them on the hanger by the waistband with clothespins.

    I fold sheets in quarters and put them on drying racks (I actually have a retractable clothesline that I sometimes use for big things like that).

    I put super-heavy/big things like my down comforter either over the washer/dryer overnight, or over my treadmill.

    I recognize that not everyone can or wants to go this extreme, but even if you do a little something like this, for the moisture it adds back into the air ALONE it’s worth it, at least to me. Everything dries usually overnight (sometimes a little longer), so I can do a load of laundry before bed and take it down sometime the next morning, and I don’t have to worry about people seeing laundry hanging all over my house, hahaha.

    Oh, and I like to dress nice, and I have had no problems with drying my clothes this way :)

  4. It’s interesting that in Trent’s article he links to, How Much Do you Really Save By Air Drying Your Clothes, published in 2010, the bottom line is that he air dries clothes because he enjoys the activity, not because it’s a big money saver.

  5. Depending on how air-tight the house is (if there hasn’t been a “seal the leaks in your house” post in this series already, I’m sure one is coming sooner or later) and where you live, you could easily spend more than $200 per year cleaning up mold and throwing away moldy furniture. And of course this puts zero consideration on the hanger’s time.

  6. One thing to note, just like washing on cold, is that air drying (inside) will not kill a lot of the bacteria and/or dust mites that might be on your clothes.

    Air drying outside is good because the UV rays from the sun will kill everything.

  7. I doubt that air drying laundry is going to cause any mold or moisture issues in most homes. It’s not that much moisture. It’s probably comparable to the steam that come off your shower every morning and your bathroom shouldn’t be ripe with mold from that. But you wouldn’t want to air dry your laundry in an air tight, small room.

    Our issue is that we just don’t have the space to hang very much laundry. We’re renting a small place to save money and having laundry hanging all over the house adds stress to my life. I have a hard time relaxing in cluttered areas. So drying in the dryer is well worth the $10-15 a month to me.

  8. Another benefit that I don’t see mentioned is that this can extend the life of your clothes! The dryer makes some fabrics feel softer, but it also breaks down the fibers and wears your clothes out faster. I pick and choose which items to air dry and which to put in the dryer. Towels and jeans are the worst if you don’t at least finish them in the dryer. But sweaters and synthetic fabrics come out great air dried.

  9. I seem to remember Trent didn’t air dry clothes because his neighbors didn’t approve.

    Line as long as possible, then socks and other small stuff on a hanging rack, larger items except sweaters and jeans in the dryer.
    It just takes too long for the items like towels and sheets.

  10. There are such things as outdoor clothing racks: they fold up like an umbrella when you don’t use them, y’know…

    But I completely agree: air-drying clothes and stuff is wonderful, especially in the winter, if you have cold and clear days. The smell is absolutely divine. I can do up to three loads of laundry in a day during the summer months.

    And it really does extend the life of your clothes: I’ve had shirts–just ordinary, long-sleeved t-shirts from the Gap (yes, fashion-challenged geek, I admit it)–for almost 6 years, now. Tank tops for just as long. The majority of my wardrobe, for that matter, predates my arrival in the Netherlands.

  11. Air drying prolongs the life of fabric. In summer, outdopors, dry the colored things on the line inside out to keep the color from being bleached. There is an interesting horizontal drying rack which folds flat into a small size which I’ve often seen used in European homes, many of which have no power clothes dryer at all. The heat of the dryer will kill germs, so if someone is sick, we wash their bedding with hot water and dry it the dryer. Same process keeps the dogs’ bedding flea free. Ditto for anything really dirty and germy.

  12. Once again – this doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. We mostly air dry our shirts and all of my kids’ clothing except pants. This reduces the amount of clothes we put in the dryer, which means that I usually do two loads a once and have to only run the dryer once. But I won’t air dry towels or sheets or anything really bulky. Jeans are also really difficult. Oh, and socks? That would take forever to hang up, not to mention little baby or toddler socks would fall off the rack they are so tiny.

    For my husband’s button down shirts, we have a rod hanging up in the basement, so I hang them on hangers. If you try to dry them on a rack, they will get weird wrinkles on them.

    But we certainly air dry our cloth diapers in the summer. This is as much to make them smell better as it is to save money.

  13. If you have someone who suffers from allergies in the house (as we do)-please remember that drying clothes outside can exacerbate their symptoms. We air dry clothes inside on a rack. Everything else goes into the dryer.

  14. Just a note because it bugs me when people misinterpret how this works:

    Indoor winter air is not dry “because of the furnace”. It is dry because the OUTSIDE air is so cold. Warm air can hold a lot more moisture than cold air. In the winter, the outside air is quite cold. Therefore, it cannot hold very much water. When you warm that air up to what we consider to be a “comfortable” indoor temperature (say, 60F), it still contains the same absolute amount of water, but now the percentage has dropped, making the air feel drier.

    This is why a glass of ice water will “sweat” on a humid summer day, but at the same temperature in the winter (or just in a drier environment), that same cold glass will barely have any condensation on it at all.

    It doesn’t matter how you heat the air. The furnace is not making the air dry. The low moisture content of the outside air is what matters.

    On that same note, drying clothes indoors is a FABULOUS idea if you live in a place with cold winters like Trent does. It will moisture to the air, and in cold climates, that is important, both for the health of the house and its occupants. The idea that you may suddenly get an outbreak of mold is ludicrous – you are far more likely to get structural problems, squeaky floors, cracked furniture, or other issues associated with shrinking wood if you DON’T add moisture to the air in the winter.

  15. I love air drying my clothes, but the condo we live in does not allow residents to dry anything outside. We have a small clothing rack inside, but we don’t dry much on it during the winter (we live in the Pacific Northwest and it’s very damp here, even inside).

    A lot of homeowners associations (for condos and houses) don’t allow air drying in their communities because they think it looks bad. I think that’s just crazy. Someday I hope to live somewhere where I can dry laundry outside.

  16. EngineerMom, very interesting! We heat with a woodstove that’s in our kitchen (our main gathering place) and I can’t help but think that – unlike a conventional furnace in the basement – the woodstove really does dry out the air in our kitchen. it certainly does a quick job of drying our clothes which we place on racks around it.

    My question has to do with the rack in the photo above. Why does it look like that? Is it a combination of water stains and dye that came off of clothing or are the dark marks mildew or what? We have new racks that look like the one pictured – except they’re not discolored – and I hope we can keep them that way.

  17. At #3 Angie yes, drying indoor on hangers , your doorknobs, you ex. machine is an option, I have seen in many homes of my elderly clients in the city. But how does once’s place look like with all those “decorations” and the smell of laundry detergent in the air? The comofter will take 2 days to dry. How can anybody visit one’s home, or how one come home from work to a place looking and smelling like a laundry room?

  18. Emma–It looks like a house people actually live in? And we happily visit each others’ homes by not being judgmental about its appearance, instead focusing on enjoying each others’ company? It’s really not that hard.

  19. Trent,

    I’m not sure I can take a year of this. Where are the thoughtful, thought-provoking posts that lured me to your blog?

  20. Agree that hanging clothes extends their life. Could not imagine air drying sheets/towels, etc., especially in the winter time. Those go in the dryer.
    Unfortunately, I have to agree with Elle. There just doesn’t seem to be enough new information to make this series worthwhile for me.

  21. There is an option for drying clothes outside. You have a pole in the ground and a retractable clothes line that holds 4 lines on a bar. Attach bar to pole to hang out clothes and retract back into its case when not needed and you can even remove the pole. I live in the tropics and no one I know has a dryer. It’s just not part of the culture.

  22. I live in a country that has monsoon during the summer months. Somehow the locals have lived without dryers until recently. Since they’ve hit the market a few years ago, every middle class housewife has went out and bought one, used it for a month, saw the electric bill, and then never used it again except when they really, really had to.
    I have a dryer that gets used heavily during the rainy season but then I still let my clothes line dry for a day before putting them in the dryer. In the winter its so dry that most things are dry in less than 24 hours.

  23. Outside air drying makes the laundry smell good, but…too many bugs, weeds, pollen and floating spider webs, end up on the sheets and towels. I don’t do it anymore. I’m all for inside drying. Clothing other than jeans, socks and things on which wrinkles don’t matter, go in the dryer. I’d rather use the dryer than the iron :)

  24. I do inside drying of some items during the winter, but it absolutely is a bad idea if you live somewhere very humid at certain times of the year. This past summer was especially humid, and several batches of my clothing ended up smelling very mildewy. I had to wash them extra cycles with bleach and borax and dry them in the dryer to get rid of the smell, so air drying wasn’t a savings at that point…. :(

  25. I used to dry my clothes indoors, but the smell and the humidity really got to me… Especially in the hot Texas summer! (I also try not to use the AC, but sometimes you don’t have a choice if the humidity is too high.)

    I love my drying rack. I’m single, so I only need to dry enough for one person, and the drying rack is perfect for that. (Though I still dry my underthings in the house. I guess I’m just shy like that!)

    At one house I lived in for the summer, I actually used the chain link fence to dry clothes on. You probably wouldn’t want to do this in a front yard unless you’re living in a poor neighborhood like I was, but it works beautifully!

    Just be carefully drying outside. It’s apparently illegal to line dry your clothes in some communities, and they can give you a fine for it if your neighbors complain.

  26. Emma #19: reread my original comment, but perhaps a little more s.l.o.w.l.y. this time:

    1)never said anything about doorknobs…

    2)I take pride in my home’s aesthetic appearance and it’s always presentable to company (i.e. no visible laundry, among other things); I alluded to that in my comment.

    3)how often do you wash a comforter, anyway.? say sometimes it takes two whole days to dry (but usually overnight is long enough). i’m fine with that. like i said, “I recognize that not everyone can or wants to go this extreme”….

    ok, what else.? oh, yeah;

    4) “…smelling like a laundry room”. what da fawk? i think most people think laundry detergent smells good. in fact, a lot of people use those stinky dryer sheets to soften and fragrance their laundry.:)

    Towels and jeans soften up after about,um,27 seconds of use/wear. People just usually don’t have patience to get to that point.

    Again, never had a problem in 5+ years, and I’m a bit particular (like many of you, but in my own ways). In case you didn’t notice :)

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