On Personal Energy Use and Hang Drying Clothes

Greetings, friends! Today, I want to share with you a post that’s a bit different from what I usually write about: personal energy use and hang drying clothes. At the beginning of 2016, one of my new year’s resolutions was to put into action a lot of the no-brainer ways that individuals can be more environmentally friendly. This year, I took an online course, “Our Energy Future,” through Coursera, and I read a great book called No Impact Man. Both of these made me incredibly optimistic about the impact personal efforts can have on the environment. It’s easy to shake our heads and think there’s nothing we can do because the responsibility lies with businesses, technology and politicians. And yes, getting those parties on board with making human activity more sustainable is crucial. But it’s also crucial to take personal action. I would go so far as to argue that if we make personal efforts, it will be easier to make more systematic change. If we’re using less electricity, it becomes easier for renewable energy to meet these needs. If we all stop buying single-use products in favor of reusable ones, there is less trash and fewer resources being used irresponsibly. Taking small steps in the beginning makes it easier to take bigger steps, and to eventually tackle huge problems that seem insurmountable. And the small things add up. There are so many conveniences we’ve grown accustomed to that aren’t really that convenient for the planet. Often, the sustainable alternatives have many more benefits! You just have to start somewhere. Roughly 37% of electricity consumed in the United States is for residential use. That means we can have a significant impact if we make changes at home to reduce the amount of electricity and energy that we use. 37% makes me excited about how much impact we can have!

The first thing I began doing this year was to hang dry all my laundry instead of using the clothes dryer. Did you know that, with typical appliances operating over the course of a year, a clothes dryer uses as much energy as a refrigerator, clothes washer and dishwasher combined? That’s a large fraction of your appliances’ energy use. And so, I set out to hang dry my clothes.

My setup:

I live in a two bedroom apartment with no backyard, and our lease prohibits us from hanging things on the rail of our balcony. This means that I hang my clothes indoors even though I live in sunny & warm California. I bought this drying rack from Amazon, although I’m sure you could find some used or that are made of recycled metal, plastic, or sustainably harvested wood:

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Source: Amazon.com

This rack alone is typically not enough space to hold an entire load of my laundry. To supplement it, I put my clothes on hangers and hang them on hooks on my door, our shower, closet doors…you get the picture. It’s not always pretty, but they all get hung up somewhere! I long for the day where I have my own laundry room to put up clever hang drying systems, or a backyard to put up a clothesline. For the time being, I’m considering asking my landlords to put up some collapsible drying space in our shared laundry room.

My endeavor, so far, has worked out better than expected!

hang_drying_clothes

Benefits to hang drying clothes:

Electricity Savings – This was of course the reason for this, and so it leads the pack in terms of benefits. In reality, I haven’t completely eliminated my dryer use. Now, I use it about once a month. When I do use it, it’s typically for big items like sheets and towels. Or, when I need clean, dry clothes in less than a few hours. (Such as forgetting to do laundry for a trip until the morning of your flight — guilty!) So, if I used my dryer 1-2 times per week before (averaging out to 1.5 times per week), and now I use it once per month, I now only use one sixth (or 17%) of the energy I was previously using to dry my clothes. That’s a huge percentage drop for a small effort!

Keeps clothes in better condition – Do you know what all that lint is which shows up after a load of laundry? It’s small threads and bits of your clothes that have come off them. Hang drying your clothes is one of the easiest ways you can make your wardrobe last longer. As someone who hand makes a lot of their clothes and advocates for spending good time and money on your garments, it’s a pity to see them deteriorate just from putting them through the laundry. Buying fewer clothes is another easy way to live more sustainably, and hang drying makes the ones you already own live that much longer.

Drying Indoors Adds Humidity – OK, so maybe this isn’t a benefit for those of you who live in already humid climates, but for me, this was a surprising upside of drying my clothes on a rack in my room. It can get very dry at certain times of the year here, and the first time I dried my clothes overnight in my room, it was noticeably more humid than the rest of my apartment the next morning. And it wasn’t an uncomfortable humid, it was a pleasant relief for my skin even for those few hours. Try it out, and see if you get the same benefit!

Less waste – This is an upside that doesn’t directly apply to me, but I imagine it applies to others. If you hang dry your clothes, you don’t create waste in the form of dryer sheets. You save money by not buying them, and you reduce the amount of chemicals that go onto your clothes and eventually onto your skin.

Conscientious of Laundry The time and space required to hang dry my clothes have made me more conscientious of how much and how often I wash my clothes. This is one of those subtle psychological benefits. I didn’t want to have to do so much, so I ended up taking efforts to simply not wash my clothes as often as I typically would. I make a more deliberate point to hang up my worn shirts or pants outside my closet so they can air out and dewrinkle. That way I can get another wear or two before putting them in the laundry. And, as I already mentioned, less washing requires less electricity, less water for the washing machine, and keeps clothes in better condition.

Downsides:

Space – Yes, this takes space in my apartment. And if I hang them in our shower, and one of us needs to use it, the clothes have to get moved somewhere. Fortunately, they aren’t hung for very long, and they are portable. So, for me, this isn’t a deal breaker. I can see how it would be for others, especially with larger loads, but personally I find that the benefits outweigh this downside.

Time – Instead of one hour to dry a load of laundry, it does take several hours. That is an obvious downside. However, since our goal was to reduce electricity use (and not eliminate it completely!), I think that machine drying clothes only every once in a while is still a success. It does take a little bit of planning, but nothing you can’t handle! Pro tip: don’t hang up your drying underwear and forget to take it down before guests come over 🙂

Crispy clothes – This is another thing I want to mention because I’ve heard this complaint from others. Sometimes when you air dry clothes, they get a ‘crispy’ or stiff texture to them. Personally, this doesn’t bother me, but I can see peoples’ objections. A good solution is to ‘fluff’ them in the dryer for 5-10 minutes before hanging them to dry. I also give my garments a good shake, like you’d shake a rug, before putting them up to dry, which I think helps mitigate this issue.

This is clearly not an exhaustive list, and a simple Google search will tell you all about other benefits and fixes to the downsides. From my experience, I’ve found that the benefits to hang drying my clothes definitely outweigh the downsides. And, it’s made me more aware of the electricity use by appliances in my home. I’ve been motivated to find more easy ways to reduce my electricity use at home, which I hope to share with you in the future!

What are your thoughts? Do you hang dry your clothes? If so, do you have any tips?

References:

US Energy Information Administration: http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=86&t=1

EPA: https://www.epa.gov/energy/end-users-electricity

NRDC: https://www.nrdc.org/stories/easy-ways-save-energy-home

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4 thoughts on “On Personal Energy Use and Hang Drying Clothes

  1. I love this post! For the last couple months, I’ve been trying to cut back on our electrical consumption. Our new house has a pretty big laundry area….especially compared to what we have now! I can’t wait to try out this idea. Thanks Caitlin…you are an inspiration! Keep sharing more ideas.

  2. Growing up I so loved the smell of fresh sheets after they were dried hanging outside on the clothesline. I was so impressed with the book No Impact Man. It is surprising what a single person can do to make an impact on saving our environment. Thanks for the referral.

  3. I’m really late to the party here, but I hang dry a lot of my shirts and a few pants to prevent changes in the garments. It didn’t even occur to me that I was being environmentally responsible 🙂

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