Sunshine & Sachets: How to Dry Clothes for Health, Wealth & Happiness

Drying laundry in a machine dryer can be the single harshest thing we do to fabrics.

This was brought home to me when I noticed my brother-in-law wearing a shirt I had given him 14 years prior (from my trip to Hawaii – who forgets that?!) and it still looked new. The secret was, it had never seen the inside of a dryer.

How we dry clothes makes a huge impact on their longevity, their cleanliness, our finances, and our health. Consider these tips for better ways to dry laundry:

Dry promptly

Not to skip the obvious, the single most important best-practice for drying laundry is to get it drying as soon as it’s washed. Clean, wet laundry sitting around becomes stinky, wet laundry. Before you read further, do you need to check what’s in your washer?

For whitening whites and fast, efficient drying

Sunlight. Safer than bleach and free. Great for whitening any whites, and especially recommended for cloth diapers. Turn bright colors inside out to reduce color fade. Best of all, sunlight is free, and dryers are one of the biggest energy eaters in the house.  Any device designed to change temperature gobbles electricity: HVAC, water heaters, fridges, and dryers. I happen to have solar electricity on my house so even my electric dryer is run by sunlight, but there’s no substitute for the fresh smell of direct sun-dried clothes. If environmental allergens are a problem, check out the next tip.

For preserving bright or delicate fabrics

Air Drying. Whether you hang them to dry on an outdoor clothes line, on hangers, on a drying rack, over the shower rod, or out flat on a counter, fabrics last so much longer if they are allowed to air dry. The abrasion laundry undergoes during tumble-dry wears down fabric fibers quickly. I hang dry almost all of my clothes. It’s a huge time and money savings to prolong the life of my clothes.  

For the dirtiest and germiest laundry  

Heat. As high as fabrics can take in a tumble dryer. I reserve this for towels, sheets, and underclothes. The heat of the dryer, on average 135° F, can make fabrics cleaner, reducing the number of residual germs and even dust mites or other microscopic life.

For scenting clothes

In the dryer, go with herbal sachets or nothing. Personally, I don’t care about scented clothes. However, I know for many, certain smells are a powerful communicator of “clean.” I’ve seen herbal sachets for purchase on Etsy or at Trader Joe’s. Please recommend other sources (or if you sell them yourself) in the comments.

You can also make your own dryer sachets following this tutorial, which is a great way to customize your scent. Sewing them shut is key to keeping them sealed in the dryer.

Instead: Tuck drawstring sachet bags or clothes sprinkled with essential oils into your drawers and cabinets to give your clothes and linens your desired scent. Scents such as cedar can even deter pests. If using essential oils, be sure to keep the oils away from the fabrics in order to avoid oil smudges on your clothes.

Why not dryer sheets

Dryer sheets can be hard to pry out of the grip of even the most die-hard, deeply green people. For many, they are the smell of clean laundry. But dryer sheets are problematic because of their fragrance and because of their disposability. There are so many studies on the negative impact of fragrance from laundry products that I couldn’t decide which one to cite, so take your pick from this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, or this one. Plus, their single-use nature and polyester content generates a whole lot of unnecessary non-biodegradable trash.

Instead: for softening fabrics, add 1 c. (240 mL) white vinegar to the rinse cycle of the washer or use 4-6 wool dryer balls, which also can speed drying time by keeping the clothes fluffed and apart.  

Why not essential oils in the dryer

Flash point. The temperature at which a vaporized oil will catch fire if an ignition source is present. Many common essential oils, such as all citrus, fir, spruce, bergamot, and nutmeg, have very low flash points, lower than even the delicate heat setting on an average dryer. New, well-maintained dryers have a heat range usually between 125-135° F, but lint build-up or age can cause them to run hotter. A ready ignition source is static. Just one static spark can ignite these low oils. Take sweet orange oil – my favorite scent – but with a flash point of 115° F, it’s a terrible idea in the dryer. Plus, oils run the risk of smudging clean clothes.

Instead: See the sachet options above.

For static reduction

Static is caused by fabrics rubbing against each other in the tumble dryer. Synthetic fabrics build up the most static. Fabric softeners and dryer sheets carry the host of problems mentioned above.

Instead: Air drying eliminates agitation. Other easy remedies for static are vinegar and wool dryer balls. Spray a washcloth lightly with vinegar and toss in the dryer (the scent disappears when dry) or toss in wool dryer balls.

With three kids, two cats, one dog and a couple acres of dirt at my house, laundry happens. There’s a certain rhythm to it though, and not one I mind. I’m still fine-tuning and streamlining how I do laundry and I welcome your tips! For a broader overview of laundry, check out my Green Laundry Care video.

25 thoughts on “Sunshine & Sachets: How to Dry Clothes for Health, Wealth & Happiness

  1. I’ve used Sal’s Suds now for 6 years. A couple squirts in the machine. Also use Sal’s for dishes and washing the car. Cleanest nontoxic product to keep my life clean besides dr. Bronner’s products in the bathroom to wash hands, shower.
    Thank you for keeping the legacy.

  2. Hi Lisa! This post sparked a question I’ve meaning to ask. I hand wash ALL of my laundry. I soak my clothes in warm water & Sal Suds. My question is do you have any scientific knowledge of how long clothes should be soaked for? Like, after a certain time is it even doing anything other than just sitting in dirty water. Curious to know the “action” time of Sal Suds

    • Hi Adam- I don’t have scientific backing on this, nor definitive time, but I have some thoughts stemming from practice. I generally recommend a 10 minute soak time when hand washing: initial agitation, 10 minute soak, follow up agitation, rinse. However, let’s say you leave it to soak and head off to have a cup of coffee and some other distracting household crisis keeps you away for several hours or more (maybe that’s just me), I would feel comfortable continuing the second agitation and rinse after as long as 12 hours. If it got much longer than that, I’d probably start the whole process over. I know you’re looking for something more than my intuition, and I don’t have that. It all depends on how dirty the clothes are, which impacts Sal Suds ability to keep it in check, temperature of the water and the day, what your initial dilution was… all things that would affect when the soaking becomes ineffective. If it smells off or looks off, I’d start afresh with the washing process. I covered handwashing in this video post, https://www.lisabronner.com/handwashing-delicates-with-dr-bronners/

  3. Since downsizing selling my home, and with on going issues with washers using so much water, I rinse, everything I wear out after wearing or throw in the dryer. Dr. Bonner soaps are my choices for bath, etc. but for washing clothes, I simply use baking soda and white vinegar. folks ask how do I wash sheets and towels. well I dont use towels as much as I use bed sheets to wrap myself up after a shower. When I wash sheets I put them in the tub after my shower run some water and stomp on them like grapes rinse and hang on my second shower rod, let them drip and then dry. But with my clothes I wash in the sink hang on a rack and let air dry. I love the time spent washing my items. I am not only getting sweet smelling clothing but exercise as well..

  4. Hi – I grew up without a dryer, but now living in an apartment with limited space makes for line drying kind of hard. But some items I do use my shower curtain rod , bike hanle bars and towel rods for drying. I have also learned that 1/2 c. – 1c. of salt in your wash will soften clothes too. Depending on the size of your load. I tend to use 1-2 dryer sheets, but am looking to eliminate the use. Thank you for the wool dryer ball idea.

  5. Hi, Lisa! I’ve loved Doctor Bonner soaps for several years; currently I’m using the Lavendar and Rose scented liquid soaps for everyday.
    And I *do* in fact own a clothes line!

    However, I am also looking at my 72nd birthday in less than a month, and I am recently widowed. And I live in Arizona, with an expected high temperature today of 102. Getting the wet laundry out to the line, and then the dried clothes inside and put away, has become a major project! The dryer is very non-green, but it’s faster and physically far easier.

    Any suggestions?

    Kate

    • Hi Kate – I hear you! A couple thoughts. Since it is so dry in Arizona, your interior air will likely still dry the clothes fairly quickly. Hanging them on a drying rack, or on hangers on door jambs will still take advantage of free drying and cause less stress on the clothes. If you do need to run your dryer for large items like linens, take note of different times of day for energy cost, and save yourself some money by drying during the off-hours. I know that here in SoCal, energy is more expensive from 4-9 pm.

  6. I haven’t owned a clothes dryer in more than 20 years. We live in sunny San Diego, and I have a wonderful clothes line on a pulley as well as racks, etc. Even when the kids played sports and dirtied things constantly, we made do without a dryer. I have found that this is not uncommon in Europe, but very unusual among most Americans. Some of my favorite moments are spent hanging clothes on the line, looking over our canyon, watching birds and coyotes and the beautiful natural world. If I absolutely need a dryer (for down comforters/jackets) I go to a laundromat. Very, very rare.

    • Hi Jill – Sounds gorgeous! Great encouragement as well!

  7. I use my almost empty YL essential oil bottles as a fabric scent in my dresser drawers. An almost empty bottle will give a nice scent for weeks and when it stops I just pop in another bottle!

  8. I haven’t used dryer sheets in many years. I bought a set of three wool dryer balls and they work very well. I also shake out each item of clothing before putting it into the dryer. I would like to hang clothes outside but we get a lot of rain and since I’m considered an “essential worker” I’m away from home for much of the day.

    If you buy the wool dryer balls, please try to order them from a company that treats sheep with kindness and respect. Although it’s difficult to do, as much as possible I try to only buy food, clothing, and other products that don’t harm people, animals, and the planet.

    Thank you, Lisa, for helping us keep our planet healthy and beautiful!

  9. my fave to do is put dr bronners liquid soap a couple squirts in the laundry soap cup in the wash first, then put my free and clear gentle detergent in on top, it works better than the reverse, and of course some vinegar in the rinse cycle, my clothes smell super fresh out of the cold water delicate cycle wash, and what’s funny is if I use almond dr bronners my clothes smell like a salad from it and the vinegar, nothing more green than that 🙂

  10. Great tips. As for an alternative to sachets or essential oils in drawers or cabinets, I have used naturally scented soap bars tucked in. I leave them in their wrappers. Pick your favorite scents and you don’t need to wear perfume when wearing these wonderfully scented clothes and undies!
    I am already subscribed and loving it!

    • Hi Vitina – Excellent idea! The Dr. Bronner’s bar soaps work well for this.

  11. I like the ideas of herbs in sachet bags for drawers. My grandmother taught me to line my sock/ underwear drawers with those magazine pages that have perfume samples on them when I was a pre-teen.

  12. Here in Australia, every backyard has a rotary clothes line (I think we invented them, actually). We dry on the line first and maybe finish laundry off in the dryer, if the weather is poor. Everyone has “clothes horses” to dry washing inside during the winter. My past 3 homes have had a clothes rail suspended from the ceiling for drying shirts on coat hangers- cuts down on ironing. Why would you not dry clothes in the sunshine when it is good for the environment, your clothes and your wallet?

    • Hi Judy – Excellent thoughts! I couldn’t agree more!

  13. I have an alarm for “start laundry” set on my phone for 9:30 every night. I check the laundry basket, and if it has enough for a load, I put it in and add detergent. I wash in cold water. The cycle finishes before we go to bed.

    In the morning, I put the clean clothes in the dryer and set it on low heat to dry. I use six wool dryer balls, and check the lint filter every time. This process seems to save so much time during the day. I use terry cloth bar towels for the kitchen and cloth napkins, so those added help make up a laundry load, too.

  14. Love this. I have been a professional fitting model in the fashion industry for decades, and I care for my clothes by air-drying them. My garage door is a tilt-up, and I place a wooden closet rod (covered in plastic) in the arms of the open door, and hang hangers in the metal ribs of the door over my head. I have about 10 plastic hangers with rounded shoulders for perfect form. Wonderful results. Also, I have a wooden drying rack. Really cool ones in Old England are attached to the ceiling and can be moved up and out of the way by a rope, it’s just genius because the hot drying air rises!
    Sometimes, just for fragrance, I even put a little of the SalSuds in my rinse.

    I am already subscribed I think…

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