Editor’s Note: This is a guest contribution as part of our Sustainability Scavenger Hunt series. Read more here, and download the fun activity book for families and classrooms!
by Amy Alstad
My grandmother was a very thrifty person; having grown up during the Great Depression, she didn’t like to see anything wasted. She chewed half-sticks of gum to make the pack last longer, used narrow-mouth canning jars exclusively, since the lids were less expensive than wide-mouth jars and hung her laundry to dry. It took me a while to appreciate this last habit, as my younger self was very focused on getting the laundry done as quickly as possible, but now my family doesn’t even own a clothes dryer and I’m thankful to have had an early example of thrifty clothes washing (I think the saying goes: “the older I get, the smarter I think my parents and grandparents were…”).
Air-drying laundry has several benefits, but I will focus on three major factors: ditching the dryer will save you electricity, money and will make your clothes last longer.
A typical family will run a dryer for something like a half hour per day on average. Most dryers use between 1800 and 5000 watts. If we take an average of 3000 watts, the typical household will use about 45 kilowatt hours of electricity per month to dry their clothes, making the dryer the third most energy-hungry appliance in the home behind the refrigerator and the washing machine.
Using the energy usage statistics listed above multiplied by current energy rates, a typical household spends more than $75 per year to dry their clothes. Ditching the clothes dryer for a year would save the normal family more than they are billed for electricity in a month.
Saves your clothes
Dryers shorten the life of your favorite clothing by over-drying and thinning the fabric, weakening the fibers. The lint that collects after a cycle is the fabric slowly wearing off of your clothing. Air-drying reduces both wrinkles and cling, meaning your iron won’t get a whole lot of use either.
Drying inside or outside
In summer, drying clothes outside is great, works more quickly, and the sun leads to whiter whites reducing need for bleach. In northern climates, though, there are many months out of the year where this is not practical, so we have a drying rack that we can use inside that folds out of the way when not in use. Our winter house gets dry, especially with the wood stove going, so having a bit of humidity in the air from our drying clothing is a welcome side effect.
What you need to make the switch
There are few things better than sun-dried sheets and shirts. Having some sort of outdoor option to dry clothes is really nice, or you can use a retractable line if you want it to be out of the way when not in use. Having an indoor option is also helpful during the winter or in case of rain. For this, I would recommend something that has high capacity and folds away when it’s not in use. Ours is a collapsible wooden rack, handed down from my wife’s family, but there are many options available anywhere you buy home goods.
Air-drying clothes may seem like an obvious thing, but surprisingly few people do it. Yes, it’s difficult to wean yourself off the clothes dryer when it’s so convenient, but it’s worth it—both for your wallet and for our planet.