Greenwashing* is Bad, but Green Drying is Good

We often discuss ways to help make our homes and offices more energy efficient, such as using air barriers, insulation, and triple-pane windows. But what are some of the loads that you can reduce yourself without a major cash outlay or disruption to your home?

Recently, I investigated getting some drying racks for my own home – in part because I kept draping the waterproof mattress pads for my preschoolers’ beds all over the house to dry (as the dryer heat impacts their functionality). So I purchased two drying racks, one for most of the clothing and the other so the kids could help hang up their clothing on their own special rack.

Air drying your clothes saves a lot of energy. Flickr/Till Westermayer

Growing up, we always used a dryer in my house, and, ever since, I’ve continued to do so. It hadn’t really occurred to me to dry clothes any other way. Most Americans are in the same boat: almost 80% of American households have a dryer – and four out of five of those are electric, according to this EPA report on Residential Clothes Dryers. It seems to be one of those, “it’s the way I’ve always done it and haven’t really thought about it much” deals. But a few things got me thinking about dryers recently: wondering how much damage they do to my clothing/how much they shorten its life and going though Passive House training. The former thought occurred because I had just gotten this great new dress and, after a few washes, it was suddenly shorter than I liked. (I had also noticed this happening to a number of shirts over the years.)  As for the latter thought, I became much more aware of the amount of energy used by dryers and how we waste much of it by creating a lot of warm air that gets released straight outside.

On the energy consumption front, clothes dryers aren’t much more efficient than they were decades ago – unlike other major appliances such as dishwashers and refrigerators. According to the National Resources Defense Council, dryers are one of the biggest energy users in homes, consuming as much as a new refrigerator, dishwasher, and clothes washer combined. Although gas dryers are more cost-effective, most homes have electric dryers that, on average, cost $100 annually to operate.

So, although dryers are energy hogs, they cost less than $10 a month to run (and even less if they are gas-operated). Nonetheless, I love using the drying racks and here’s why:

  1.  I get a little bit of Zen from both hanging the clothing up (which takes more time than putting it in the dryer) and folding it (which takes less time than grabbing clumped clothing from a heap). The Zen likely comes from this ritual, the knowledge that I am not using unnecessary energy, and the accompanying quiet (dryers are noisy and this is not).
  2. No dryer lint or clothes damage. If only I had started doing this before I washed that dress a few times! The clothing is a bit stiffer (which I heard you can combat by adding some vinegar to act as a fabric softener), but I only really notice that when I am folding it. After a minute of wearing, it is as soft as if it had come out of the dryer.
  3. The kids think it’s great and like helping to hang and fold the clothing. Enough said.
  4. Since it’s dry inside in the winter and just-washed clothing is wet, it’s a beautiful marriage. We’ve had multiple overnight visits from family in the last few weeks and, normally at this time of year, guests keep asking where the lotion is because their hands get so dry… But it seems that allowing moisture from clothing to evaporate into the air has improved my home’s relative humidity (clearly astounding, breaking-edge science).

So far this is only a month-long experiment in the Osterwood household – but so far, so happy. Maybe in the hot humidity of a Pittsburgh summer I’ll have other things to say. But then maybe I will venture outdoors and use some sunshine for drying assistance. Either way, for now, this is definitely a successful experiment in my home. In case you’re curious, the racks I am using (between the two of them, they’ve been able to handle all the laundry I can cram in our washer) include a folding drying rack like this one for the kids and a gullwing one like this for everything else.

This topic is a bit of a departure from our normal focus, but since I have found air-drying is making my home healthier (increased relative humidity in winter months) and higher performing (less energy use), I wanted to share. Happy drying, everyone!

*Greenwashing: a form of marketing that organizations use to promote a perception of themselves or their products as environmentally responsible.

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3 Responses to Greenwashing* is Bad, but Green Drying is Good

  1. Genia Gorbachinsky January 31, 2017 at 9:12 am #

    There are a lot of countries in the world where a cloth dryer is a privilege to have at home, so people there always use dryer racks. But when it is dry, they iron their cloth. I always wondered why. So according to some research in these countries, the ironing is the ability of a hot iron “kill” bacteria and dust mites larvae, which remain after washing on linen fabric, especially if you wash at temperatures below 120 F degrees. So the cloth dryers have 125-135F temperature rise that allows also to kill bacteria. It can be the main argument of using cloth dryers that we need to think at too. So what is more efficient: a cloth dryer or an iron + time spent on ironing?

    • Kristen Osterwood January 31, 2017 at 10:10 am #

      Genia – thanks for the comment. Two thoughts: one about energy use and one about necessity. On energy use – I believe that an iron would be less energy intensive as irons use 200 – 800 watts, while a dryers use 1000 – 4000 watts. So even if it took you twice as long to iron – it would use less energy. As far as necessity: my understanding is that one of the best ways to tell if you have a problem with dust mites is if a person with a dust mite allergy has an allergic reaction. In my family we (fortunately?) have one of those bellwethers and have not noticed any negative impacts from using the drying racks. Note: we do still use the dryer once a week for bed sheets, as those become a bit unmanageable to hang inside, and as bedding is often a home for dust mites, if that is a problem, it is being addressed. Lastly: sunlight is quite effective against waterborne pathogens – so hanging your clothing outside may be the best option if you have concerns about disinfection and reducing energy consumption.

  2. Quinn Zeagler April 13, 2017 at 3:48 pm #

    Scientists at Oak Ridge National Lab have recently developed an ultrasonic dryer. They expect it will be 5 times more efficient than current conventional dryers (but still not as efficient as a drying rack!)

    More Info:

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