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:
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.
Instead: Tuck drawstring sachet bags or fabric squares 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.