The Case for Line-Drying (Sometimes)

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How often do you run your clothes dryer? Do you live somewhere where you could line dry? Line drying costs almost nothing and saves lots of energy. So why aren’t we all doing it? In this post I’ll quantify the energy and cost savings in an attempt to encourage you to consider line drying, if only on occasion. I’ll also provide some helpful effort-saving tips.

The math:
There will be some variety due to characteristics like the size of the load, the wetness of the clothes, and the efficiency of your dryer. No matter how efficient your dryer though, it can’t beat the efficiency of line drying.

At VisibleEnergy we are all about learning from actual data (as opposed the advertised data in this case). So, based on actual sample cases in which we dried large loads of laundry after they had been run on a “max extract” cycle in the wash, we found that our test dryer used around 3.5 kwh per load. That’s about 35 cents of electricity. If we do two loads of laundry every week for a year, we’re consuming 365 kwh ($36.50) annually for drying our clothes. This shakes out to between 1-2% of typical residential energy consumption. You might prefer these metrics:

  • It takes about 300 pounds of coal to deliver 365 kwh of electricity to your house.
  • 365 kwh is the same amount of energy contained in 10 gallons of gasoline.

The hardware:
If you have some string you can start now. If you want to get fancy, here are some fun tools:

  • I’m a fan of the retractable clotheslines like the pictured one that they sell at Home Depot.
  • The picture at the top of this post features another cool retractable line that I use for indoor line drying.
  • If you want to impress the neighbors, you can go high-tech with something like this (kind of pricey for marginal benefit though in my opinion):
  • Plastic clothespins will generally stay prettier and last longer than the wooden ones. For indoor line drying I find that the lack of wind negates the need for any clothespins.
  • Outdoor patio umbrellas can provide a nice frame in which to hang clothes.

Some tips:

  • Occasionally wipe the line with a damp cloth to keep it clean. This will seldom be necessary if you use a retractable line.
  • Generally hang things upside down to keep any clothespin or line marks in the less noticeable places.
  • If drying outdoors, hang colors inside-out to avoid sun bleaching.
  • Shake the items out really well before putting them on the line and then smooth them out with your hands to reduce wrinkles.
  • If you want faster drying, run your washer on “Maximum Extract” or similar fast-spinning cycle to get them as dry as possible before drying. Yes, this does use a little more energy, but nowhere close to the amount your dryer would take for the same effect. Using “Maximum Extract” is even more important when using the dryer to reduce drying time and energy use.
  • If clothes are left feeling stiff, pop them in the dryer for just a couple minutes.
  • If your Home Owners Association or other authority forbids outdoor drying consider using a well-ventilated room in the house and starting a dialogue about changing this policy.
  • If you don’t have space consider an indoor rack.

More tips on line drying and a NY Times article on the topic.

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