When we talk about sustainable fashion, we usually talk about where an item has come from. Who made it, how they were treated, and what it’s made from. What sometimes gets forgotten is the importace of examining how we treat things once we own them. The most sustainable thing is always going to be the item we already have, and the way we wash our clothes is a large part of this.
So, here’s what I want to tell you today: it’s time to ditch the tumble dryer. Some people have genuine reasons for using a dryer, such as accessibility, but for those of us who don’t the dryer does nothing but cost you money, use a lot of energy, and ruin your clothes. Here’s why it’s time to say goodbye.
Save your clothes
Studies show that tumble drying can cause significant damage to clothing, mainly in regards to shrinking and wearing fabric down.
Drying shrinks clothes twice as much as washing, and tumble drying shrinks clothes twice as much as air drying. However, whether washing or drying, it isn’t temperature that affects shrinkage. The issue is the use of mechanical agitation and forced air. When clothes are washed they absorb a lot of water, causing them to swell. The forced air from the dryer then causes the fibres of the fabric to constrict, causing shrinkage. Simultaneously, the constant tossing of clothes also causes material to constrict and become damaged, leading to further shrinking. All fabrics are prone to shrinking in these conditions, but the most susceptible are materials like cotton and wool.
Consistent dryer use will also literally wear your clothes away, the lint you find in your dryer is evidence of this. Each laundry load imparts microscopic damage on fabric, and lint is produced from the resulting micro-tears in the fabric’s fibres. Over time, these tears will cause clothes to fall apart. A study on how dryers impact these tears found that after only twenty cycles of washing and drying, fabric lost approximately 50% of its tensile strength, making it twice as easy to tear. Tumble drying without heat results in a 24% tensile loss, which is half as bad but also not ideal. Plus, the tensile strength doesn’t level out over time. Each dryer cycle destroys your clothes a little more than the last.
In most homes the dryer is one of the most energy-intensive appliances, alongside fridges and washing machines, with an average dryer using 4kWh of energy and producing around 1.8kg of CO2. Where other appliances, such as fridges, have easy available options with A or A+ efficiency ratings, tumble dryers still score much lower, at a C rating or below.
The Energy Saving Trust endorses only three products, and only one of those has an A rating. The other two have a C rating but are recommended because they have an auto-sensor that stops them working once the clothes reach a specified level of dryness.
In the UK alone, approximately 60% of households own a tumble dryer. That adds up to over 15 million households using energy to dry clothes instead of hanging them out. Choosing air drying over tumble drying has the potential to reduce an average household’s carbon footprint by 2,400 pounds a year. It’s estimated that if all households with a dryer opted to air dry one load of washing instead of by machine each week, they would save over a million tonnes of CO2 in a year.
For a typical 40°C wash nearly 75% of the carbon footprint is due to drying. The more heat used, the more energy needed, and dryers use electricity to generate this heat. Gas tumble-dryers do exist, which consume significantly less energy but aren’t yet widespread. That being said, natural gas is also a fossil fuel that will need to be phased out so, unless hydrogen powered dryers are invented, this doesn’t seem like a long term solution that aligns with decarbonisation (read more on this here).
Because the dryer is so energy intensive, it can also be a serious contributor to energy bills. According to OVO, if every household in the UK with a tumble dryer air dried their washing during the summer, they’ve collectively save around £180 million a year.
Air drying clothes instead
No matter which method you choose, there are some key tips for drying your clothes.
Firstly, if you’re buying a washing machine, try and find one with a good spin function. A good spin will remove more water more quickly and efficiently than drying, setting you up to get dry clothes faster.
If you can, hanging your clothes on a line or rack outside has some strong benefits. Beyond the arguments listed above, sunlight is naturally antibacterial. UV light kills bacteria that may survive the wash, including those that cause clothes to smell and those who might have a health impact. Plus, sunlight can gently bleach clothes too. If you’re looking to keep your whites white, hanging on a line can help with that.
If you don’t have access to outside space to hang laundry, or weather doesn’t permit, you can opt for an indoor drying rack instead. Many of these fold up and store flat to save space, and there are racks out there which are specifically designed to be space efficient; perching over a bath or lowering from the ceiling on a pulley system, for example. You can also hang items over doors, banisters, shower rails and radiators, while small items like underwear can be clipped onto hangers to air dry.
If you have to use the dryer
Because, let’s be honest, everyone has different needs and the dryer might be vital for some people out there. If that’s the case, here’s what you can do:
- Check the care label: this is a must before washing anything you own. Some items should never be in the dryer, some can only be washed on certain temperatures and settings. Knowing what the label says gives you a better chance at making your clothes last.
- Try to avoid longer dryer cycles: a shorter cycle means less time that your clothes are being thrown around and getting damaged.
- Use a low heat setting: The higher the heat, the more chance of shrinkage occurring. A lower temperature reduces this risk.
- Try to only use the washing machine and the dryer with full loads: this uses less energy
- Turn the machines off fully when your wash is finished: this will save energy and money.
- Wash your clothes on a cold setting: not only does it save energy, it means clothes won’t be as hot when placed in the dryer, which reduces the risk of damage.
- Empty the dryer straight away: Taking clothes out of the dryer and folding or hanging them as soon as possible will help them keep their shape.
- Dry similar fabrics together: this means they’ll dry at the same speed (don’t put thick towels in with cotton clothes, for example)
- Stop the dryer when your clothes have dried, not when they’ve been in longer and warmed up.
- Clean out your lint tray between dryer loads
- If something is stained, use a stain remover first: you don’t always need to wash a full item just because of a small stain. Use this natural soap from BLANC, it lasts for years and works literal miracles. Your life will be changed!
And, most importantly, just try to wash your clothes less often in general. Things don’t need to be washed after every use, and if you make sure you’re wearing everything in your wardrobe you’ll also find you need to do less laundry than you think. Look into consciously rotating your clothes, and by working through your wardrobe rather than overwearing a smaller number of items, you should reduce your laundry needs too.