Why I air-dry my clothes — even in a tiny apartment

Here’s how I got started — and you can, too

Published March 11, 2022 1:00PM (EST)

 (Ty Mecham / Food52)
(Ty Mecham / Food52)

This story first appeared on Food52, an online community that gives you everything you need for a happier kitchen and home – that means tested recipes, a shop full of beautiful products, a cooking hotline, and everything in between!

One or two days a week, my entryway transforms into a makeshift laundry room. It's a little inconvenient to maneuver around the drying clothes, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Sure, I love a romantic stock shot of sheets on a drying line as much as the next person, but living in a city apartment, I, like many people, have access to neither a yard nor an old-school, outdoor clothesline.

Ditching the dryer is a worthy goal: After your heating and cooling, your dryer is likely the biggest energy hog in your home. According to the non-profit Green America, air-drying your clothes can reduce the average household's carbon footprint by 2,400 pounds a year! I always thought the dryer was a necessary evil living in the city until I spotted a shot of an indoor clothesline on a blog, which made me realize I could air-dry just about any clothing indoors — not just my special hand-wash items. Nearly a decade into my air-drying routine, I can tell you the benefits go way beyond the impact on your utility bill.

Skipping the dryer reduces the wear and tear on your clothes. (All that lint you see? It is tiny pieces of your clothes that have broken off in the dry cycle!) Because clothes wear out more slowly, it keeps them out of the landfill longer, and in turn, your wardrobe's increased longevity discourages you from buying new clothes that eat up precious raw materials. Air-drying also prevents laundry mishaps: If you hang-dry, it's much harder to accidentally shrink a garment or to set in a stain permanently. Best of all, for anyone with a penchant for the color black: Air-drying keeps your blacks and other darks, like deep indigo denim, looking their best much longer.

Hanging your clothes to dry may also be healthier for you and your family. A new study suggests that tumble drying is spewing microplastics into the air we breathe (yikes!). And an increasing body of research reveals that you'd be wise to think twice about a gas dryer because of the impact on indoor air quality (more on that here, if you're curious). Finally, dryer exhaust vents can become clogged with lint, which causes nearly 3,000 house fires every year, according to FEMA. Friends, get your vents cleaned, please!

If I have persuaded you to give air-drying a go, here are some tips to get started:

Buy a good rack

I spent years using the most basic wooden folding rack and it was fine. However, when it finally gave out, I explored bigger options to increase my drying capacity. It took me three tries to find the perfect rack; a large wooden one wouldn't stay up and a metal one I found was pretty great, but then I came across Brabantia's 25-meter Hang On rack. As soon as I saw the extra hanging rod and the clever hooks for hangers, I ordered myself one. As an added bonus, I discovered it folds up SO much smaller than my previous racks. (Pssst . . . there's a smaller 20-meter version.) An architect friend who is also a passionate air dryer swears by IKEA's basic rack and Leifheit's retractable rack for delicates or small hanging.

Don't skip the clothespins

Just because you're not drying on that picture-perfect backyard clothesline doesn't mean you don't need clothespins. These handy clips will help you hang smaller and awkward items like socks, underwear, and baby clothes.

Shake and smooth as you hang

I remember the aha! moment when I watched my former roommate carefully smooth his jeans flat before hanging them up to dry. A little effort to shake something out and smooth it flat before placing it on your rack or hanger result in a much nicer look to your air-dried garment. Pay careful attention to collars, pockets, and cuffs that can get bunched up in the wash.

Dry shirts on hangers

For all our button-up shirts, I simply dry the shirts right on the hangers, which leaves them looking their best. In fact, when I renovated my bathroom, I was adamant that we have a fixed, not tension-style, shower curtain rod because I wanted something that could hold up to the weight of my drying garments.

Take your time with linens

I love air-drying cloth napkins because they look so much better than they do out of the dryer that I can skip the ironing (unless it's a truly formal occasion). The trick is to carefully hang the napkins evenly so the drying rack's bar is along the midline where you would normally fold the napkin.

Lay knits flat

One thing I don't put on the drying rack are sweaters and other knitted garments, which can stretch out when hung. Instead I lay these flat on a terry cloth towel (either on a wing of the rack or another flat surface).

Use the dryer strategically

I haven't given up my dryer completely. Since I live in a city apartment, towels, sheets, other bedding, and extra bulky garments still go in the dryer. But I'm more strategic when I do use the dryer: I tumble towels and heavier items separately from lightweight ones to reduce drying times. And if you don't like the stiff, sometimes crunchy feel of air-dried clothes, Janice Christie, one of the founders of Germantown Laundromat, suggested tumble drying clothes for 10 minutes in the dryer and then hanging them dry, which I've found super helpful for linen garments.

Don't delay folding

My last piece of wisdom goes back to my entryway's double use as a drying zone. As soon as my laundry is dry I take it off the rack and fold it. Living in a small apartment, a drying rack does take up a lot of space, so it's key to avoid procrastinating about the final step.

By Laura Fenton

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