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Airing your clean laundry: Skip the dryer, rack up savings

Save electricity -- and money -- by air drying.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 1, 2009 3:18AM

Tired of putting quarters into the dryer? Save two bits and do your bit for the environment by getting a drying rack. 

According to a group called Project Laundry List, electric dryers amount for 5% to 10% of residential electricity usage in the United States. Racks are the green/frugal solution for apartment dwellers who don't have access to outdoor drying. 

They're also useful to homeowners in places where housing covenants ban clotheslines. Apparently the sight of damp clothing flapping in the breeze brings down property values. A Boston Globe article quoted Frank Rathbun, a spokesman for the Community Associations Institute: "If you imagine driving into a community where the yards have clothes hanging all over the place, I think the aesthetics, the curb appeal, and probably the home values would be affected by that."

I wonder if he means all clothes, or just boxers and briefs?

Clean and green
I've been a fan of drying racks since I was a single mother in Philadelphia. Unable to afford the coin-op, I did all our laundry by hand -- including my daughter's cloth diapers -- and draped it to dry. Even after I married and had a washer and dryer at home, I still used racks.

Now I'm single again and an apartment dweller, and I've got three wooden folding racks: two large and one small. The big ones came from Seattle thrift stores for $5 each; the small one was a gift from my mom three decades ago. (More on that later.)

I still do a fair amount of hand laundry, which is easy because my clothing is simple and not heavily soiled. Under certain circumstances, I will rewear clothes without washing. Between these practices and my drying racks, I spend only $2.25 a month in laundry costs: $1.25 to wash and $1 to dry. (Machine-drying helps keep towels, washcloths and jeans from mildewing in Seattle's damp climate.)

Everything that isn't terrycloth or denim goes in the dryer for five minutes, just enough to get out the spin-cycle wrinkles. After that, it goes on racks or plastic hangers all around my apartment. Sheets and pillowcases also go on racks. The top sheet usually ends up draped over my (unplugged) halogen floor lamp. 

I wish I could dry outdoors, having fond childhood memories of sheets that smelled like spring air. Of course, I have less-than-fond memories of hanging clothes and linens out on below-freezing mornings. They'd hang out all day long and eventually dry; they'd freeze first, and flap as stiff as signboards in the breeze.

However, I have to admit that December-dried sheets smelled pretty good, too, and that a little Jergens took care of my chapped hands.

Racking up savings
Still not convinced? Here are a few more persuaders from Project Laundry List:

  • You can save more than $100 a year on your electric bill.
  • Clothes last longer. That lint filter is made up of teeny little pieces of your garments. 
  • Indoor racks can humidify indoor air in dry winter weather.

Plenty of discount store and online marketers sell drying racks. You may also find them in thrift shops, and possibly at yard or rummage sales. 

When I moved to Philadelphia almost 30 years ago, my mom added a small drying rack to my small pile of belongings. I'd already bought two large racks because I knew I'd be doing laundry by hand. Looking at the little one made me want to laugh. 

A few weeks later, I finally recognized what she was trying to say: I love you. I worry about you. I want to help. So I made sure to tell her how useful the rack turned out to be.

It's unlikely you'll have such a deep emotional attachment to the act of drying your clothes. But if you're deeply into environmentalism, or saving quarters, using racks can be very satisfying.

If not, you can at least be glad that your clothes don't disappear gradually into the lint filter.

Published March 24, 2008


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