Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Going green the easy way - life without a dryer

Did you see last weekend's New York Times magazine on going green? Will pointed it out to me yesterday, noting that even without trying we were going green because we recycle, walk to work, drive a car rarely, have no air conditioning or central heat, and don’t use a dryer. Since we live in a city where most of our neighbors could say the same thing, I didn’t think we should gloat, but it did make me think about dryers a bit more. Because according to the NYT, they use up to 10 times more energy than a washing machine, and are second only to the refrigerator as the top energy-eating household appliance. The magazine even featured a long paragraph on "Project Laundry List", discussing one guy's clothes line advocacy movement.

Clothes lines: shudder the thought, right? When American friends talk to me about drying clothes without a dryer, one of the first things they say is, "I don’t have a place outside where I can hang my clothes to dry." What they mean is, "I really don’t want to have to haul a heavy basket of clothes to a stand outside, only to wrestle with face-smackingly wet sheets, sundries and clothes pins and then pray it doesn’t rain. I don’t want all my clothes on display to the world, let’s leave that for old timey photos of Hell’s Kitchen or picturesque images of back streets in Italy."

And I understand that, really I do. Growing up, my sister and I used to play in the side yard of our great-great aunt‘s house that still had the rusty drying racks standing at attention in the tall grass. This yard was so out of the way and such a throwback to another time, we would only venture there if we got chased into it, or needed a quick exit through the fence to the yard next door. Drying racks seemed as ancient as dinosaurs to me then and I didn't give them another thought for years.

Then I moved to Prague, where gas and electric dryers are rare and expensive, and if you find one, only dry clothes halfway. Here, through trial, error and a series of educational lectures presented by our babysitters, I learned how to easily dry clothes inside our flat without a dryer. I thought you might be interested too:

Use a drying rack, not a clothes line.
Clothes lines are space inefficient and rotten for your back. Hang clothes on a clothes rack. You'll save a ton of space and find that hanging clothes at hip height avoids clothespins, is easy on your spine, and you can hang several loads at a time. When I did a quick search through Amazon I found a drying rack pretty similar to what we use.

Hang your clothes with forethought
Wrinkly clothes are a natural byproduct of hanging to dry, right? Not if you follow our babysitters' maxims:
1. Pull button downs immediately from the washer and hang them on hangers to dry.
2. Hang knits, towels and sheets on their first fold. Hanging them on their first fold means when you pull them off the rack, not only are they fairly smooth, but you’ve started the folding process already.
3. Stretch out knits and make sure sleeves, toes, legs are not bunched up when you hang them. This makes them easier to fold later anyway.
4. Give your clothes room, don't scrunch them up.
5. Hang lighter clothes in the middle of the rack, heavier (and wetter) clothes on the edges.
6. Hang bigger clothes first, socks and small things last - this avoids having to redistribute later.

Take the crunch out of towels and blue jeans
True, blue jeans and fluffy towels are the hardest clothes to dry by rack (accidental pun, I promise). We switched to waffle weave towels that don’t hold as much water as regular towels. After you've used them once, they are just as soft as their mechanically dried compatriots. For blue jeans, a quick snap or two gets rid of most of the crispiness.

Drying by air doesn't have to take forever
Use your air vents/radiators/fans to speed up the process. I’ve washed and dried four loads of laundry in a day using fans. Radiators are even faster. And if you need to dry something really quickly, an iron works wonders.

Do you have drying rack tips? Send them over if you please!


jessmonster said...

I'm having flashbacks to my drying rack days in Italy - the worst part was having all the laundry on display in the living room/dining room. I'm tempted to invest in a drying rack here, now, except my bath towel barely dries in between showers. Hmm...now you've got me thinking.

Kelly said...

Prior to moving here, my experience with non-drier households was limited to our family vacations in Minnesota where you only did laundry on sunny days because the line out back was the only drying option. The drying rack is fine, but I live for the warm weather where I can hang out the clothes - "green" or not.

Julia said...

Jess, Portland is tricky because of the humidity, but what I find is that fans in the summer really do help a lot, and in the winter radiators dry clothes lickety split. We keep our rack tucked in our bedroom and do our laundry once a week so we don't have to look at it most of the time. Towels are definitely the hardest things to dry though - especially in the bathroom!

Sun dried clothes do smell good! If we didn't have a construction site just beyond our balcony I would dry there too - the rack makes it easy to move clothes around.

countrypeapie said...

We dry ours in the hot Alabama sun. It's pretty windy here, too. None of my city friends believe me, but a load of clothes dries just as fast on our line as it would in a dryer. We've got a parallel umbrella model that holds a great many clothes. I rather enjoy carrying my basket of clothespins, and pinning them all along the bottom of my shirt in between loads. One day, the UPS man came by and I had clothespin fringe along every available seam. I shrugged my shoulders and said I was doing laundry that day. He just laughed and said he hadn't even noticed -- thought I had on a fancy dress.

Thanks for the waffle weave towel tip -- hadn't thought of that.