Help me learn how to dry clothes!
September 4, 2015 6:32 AM   Subscribe

I'm living in an apartment in Ljubljana for 5 months without a dryer. What can I do to get my clothes to dry effectively?

I'm from the states. I've never not had a dryer. I have a balcony, a folding drying rack, and clothespins. If it's hot and sunny, things dry ok, but when it's overcast and cool/humid, it takes a long time. Towels take forever.

Help me learn how to dry clothes! What can I do to make this work better? Stop washing things? Buy a fan and blow it on the clothes?

I'm resigned to be needing to always doing laundry (the capacity of the washing machine is not huge, and there's 4 of us, including two kids), and I don't mind hanging up the laundry, but it would be good if I had the capacity to wash towels one day and be able to use them the next day (or, ideally, wash in the morning and be able to use them in the evening).

Bonus question: Things are crunchy after they're dried, even if I shake them out before I hang them up. Is this just the way of line-dried things, or is there something I should be doing? I saw lots of varieties of fabric softener, which I never use because my husband is sensitive to synthetic fragrances and dyes and things. Does it help?
posted by leahwrenn to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What is the heating situation like? I used to just set up my clothes horse right next to the electric radiator on wheels and everything would dry overnight. Otherwise, yes, a fan will help. Make sure not to overload the machine so the spin cycle can be the most effective a spin cycle can be.

Line dried things will always be crunchy, yes. Softener can help but I feel like it made drying times somewhat longer, although I have no hard data to back this up.
posted by poffin boffin at 6:37 AM on September 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

The main thing that gets clothes on drying racks dry faster is having lots of space between each item for the air to circulate. You might need to get a second rack to make this possible.
posted by lollusc at 6:41 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Can you rig up a drying rack that hangs from the ceiling? Lowers with a rope and pulley. You can even use a ladder and clothes hangers. I find that line-dried clothes hold their shape better. I hate limp, staticky dryer-dried clothes.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:42 AM on September 4, 2015

Line dried items will be less crunchy if you bring them in as soon as they are dry. But if you give them a good shake when you take them down, they'll soften up.

I dry most of my clothes on their hangers in the bathroom; they dry overnight even in humid weather. This frees up the drying rack for things like towels (lollusc is right that you need to space them well to encourage drying).

Quick-dry towels are tricky; the best long-term solution might be to switch over to the thin pestamel type (ikea has them). Or you could get a heated drying rack.
posted by veery at 6:45 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Supposedly distilled white vinegar works as a fabric softener, but good luck finding that outside of the US. I've never been able to find it in Western Europe.

When I have to hang towels indoors in rainy weather, I hang them over two rods each on the drying rack so that there is more room for air to move between the layers. The outside will dry faster than the inside, so I will come back after a few hours and re-hang them inside out. It's a pain, but it helps. I do the same for jeans- dry one way, turn them inside out, dry the other way.

And poffin boffin is right- things dry much faster when you've got the heat going. Where I live you can even buy racks that are made to hang over the radiator.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 6:47 AM on September 4, 2015

European here. Honestly, the best thing to do is just plan a good 24 hours for them to dry. If you know you want to wear something on a particular day, wash it a few days before. Make sure you don't overcrowd the drying rack, and hang things on or as close to radiators as you can. Then wait.

If you're worried about crunchy clothes, a fabric softener will fix that.

My least favourite game to play in winter with freshly-washed clothes is 'is this cold or still damp?'
posted by toerinishuman at 6:48 AM on September 4, 2015 [12 favorites]

One more comment, just to piggyback on what very said- you best solution might be to get rid of your fluffy, slow-drying towels and buy turkish bath towels, which dry in no time.

I've had a heated drying rack, though, and found that it didn't help, not in the slightest
posted by lollymccatburglar at 6:50 AM on September 4, 2015

Get the biggest drying rack you can, so you can space things out. Personally, I strongly prefer this style over this style. If it's humid, just bring the rack inside. It can be annoying if you live in a small place, but it's better than clothes that smell mildewy because they didn't dry fast enough. It helps if there's one part of your house or apartment that is normally warmer than other parts.

Are you using a front-loading washing machine? If so, be sure to clean it regularly and thoroughly. I've found that this is important for keeping clothes non-crunchy. I use white vinegar to clean mine. Wipe down every surface you can reach with a soaked towel, then pour some into the place where you'd put detergent and run an empty load. Also, be sure to leave the door open when you're not using the machine, so the interior can dry completely.

Another way to soften clothes is to try adding some baking soda to laundry loads. If you have trouble finding it, try looking at Asian supermarkets (I also live in Europe, and that's where I buy it).

Clothing quality can also affect the crunchiness factor. My partner's cheap t-shirts get stiff easily, while the nicer ones from Land's End are always soft.
posted by neushoorn at 7:04 AM on September 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Africa-tested solutions:

Hang stuff behind the fridge (we use to dry our school uniforms there)

If you have air conditioning, turn it on in one room overnight : A/C dries clothes in no time

If you have electric/gas heaters, hang your clothes on them

Otherwise, dry cleaning for the towels and bed sheets. In Ljubljana, it shouldn’t be that expensive.

Also, iron/press your clothes when they are not totally dry, lest they become crunchy
posted by Kwadeng at 7:35 AM on September 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Wash in the morning/use in the evening won't work reliably for towels, except in the hottest summer weather: buy a second set of towels. Also regarding crunchiness, you are using some kind of water (not fabric!) softener with your wash, right?
posted by Dr Dracator at 7:49 AM on September 4, 2015

Grew up with Mom line drying a lot of stuff, partly for economic reasons.

Agreeing with this:
The main thing that gets clothes on drying racks dry faster is having lots of space between each item for the air to circulate. You might need to get a second rack to make this possible.

Drying outside on a nice sunny day, especially if there is a bit of a breeze, goes fast, but we never had much luck with inside drying going fast, and usually it took from 24 - 48 hours, depending on the fabric and temp/humidity of the air.

Agreeing with veery's tip to hang clothes on hangers to save drying rack space.

Frankly, one of the coping mechanisms was to have more of certain stuff, so it could air/line dry for a few days while we were wearing the other things. We had at least 2 sets of sheets and towels (quantity was more important than quality, so grab something inexpensive though I like cotton). The other thing we did was to wash stuff less often. We were changing the sheets and towels every two weeks instead of weekly (obviously this changes if there are "accidents" or someone is sick.) This was true with clothes as well. We changed and washed underthings and socks frequently (and had enough of a supply of those to last us while the washed ones were drying), but other clothes got worn several times and not washed till they got smelly or had food spills.

We tried various strategies to cope with the "crunchiness", none of which worked all that well in my opinion. When it comes to clothes, ironing when still damp will finish drying them and help prevent crunchiness (but I hate ironing!) We kind of just got used to it, and the crunchiness went away when you used things. Not a fan of crunchy towels, but it does go away when you use them. Try the baking soda method neushoorn recommends.

Assuming space is tight, store extras in creative places, including in bags or boxes under the beds.
posted by gudrun at 8:15 AM on September 4, 2015

Whatever it is that you are drying with towels, stop doing it and air dry instead. You will need towels a lot less.

If you are drying human bodies with towels scrub the bodies thoroughly with a wash cloth during the washing stage so that there will be less skin dander to get on the towels and they will need washing less often.

Wear thin fabrics near the skin that will absorb the sweat and can be dried easily after washing. Only wash thicker slow drying things when necessary. Between times hang them up, pinch and tug them into shape to get the crush wrinkles out and use a clothes brush.

Use linen tea-towels as much as possible when you do need to use towels instead of fluffy terry towels. A nice linen tea towel works fine on your hair after you have drip dried your body.

Ask your neighbours what they do.

After taking down the clothes, before you fold them, shake the heck out of them to help remove the stiffness and crunchiness. It gets worse with every wash so seriously look into a vinegar rinse and anything your sensitive spouse can tolerate to help with this. Over time cotton diapers can get so stiff that you can take them off the line and stand them up in an upside down V. You want to closely scan the shelf at the store where the laundry soap and bleach is stored to see what you can buy locally.

You may want to buy some locally available clothes too. It may be that in where you used to live nobody wears undershirts, but where you are now everybody absolutely always wears undershirts so they don't have to wash their shirts as often. It may also be that everybody takes their laundry out once a week. The locals will know exactly how to work with a system like you've got. Like I said above, ask your neighbours.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:18 AM on September 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Your washing machine may have some options for removing more of the water from the clothes. Try that.
With towels, I try to wash them immediately after I shower. Getting more towels may also make things easier. Washing sheets was more of an issue for me with this.
posted by k8t at 8:43 AM on September 4, 2015

Are there any heated towel drying racks there? Similar to the ones linked here at the UK shop Lakeland?

I live in England and I hang clothes on a clothes horse. The towels occasionally get a little hard, but I use a little fabric softener. I also wear undershirts.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 8:49 AM on September 4, 2015

Spin them twice, for starters. I always associated the "crunchy" with fresh, clean. I still dry bedding outdoors when I can. I think in areas without dryers, people go with different fabrics that dry more quickly. Maybe change out a few items that averaged out, make the process less time consuming.
posted by Oyéah at 8:49 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As a native of this city, I'm chiming in not with smart solutions to your problem, but because I want to say this is just the way doing laundry works here, which is why you might not end up finding a solution that works. My family has never owned a dryer. Most people I know use large drying racks. We keep them on the balcony and put them inside when it's raining. When I need a piece of clothing to dry fast, I do in fact take a hair dryer and blow it on it.

Alternatively, you might consider using a self-service laundry where you can use a dryer. I found some for you: (Stegne) (Vič) (BTC - Nove Jarše)

MeMail me if you need help with translation or directions.
posted by frantumaglia at 9:52 AM on September 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

Pointing an electric fan at hanging laundry definately works.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 10:14 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Do you have a water heater in the apartment with an empty cupboard over it?
posted by brujita at 11:06 AM on September 4, 2015

You need to allow two days for things to dry. Sorry that's not what you want to hear :-( but some tips: double spin in the machine; outside, they will dry faster on cold windy days than cold sunny days (I'm in the UK, I don't know how much this changes when things are below freezing), don't overload the rack, beware that drying lots of loads indoors can lead to damp problems. If you're doing a load everyday (or more depending on how old your kids are), and the weather means you won't be able to dry outside, you might want to use the laundromat. Crunchy towels are great :-) and they dry you much better than ones airdired inside - that might be a lifetime of indoctrination talking though.
posted by Helga-woo at 2:14 PM on September 4, 2015

Are you cross-ventilating your home sufficiently? I've noticed that people from countries were air-con is the norm are not used to the practice of cross-ventilation. At least once a day all year round, you must open windows in your home in such a way that the air literally blows through. All older buildings are designed to work this way, unfortunately it can be a little more difficult in a modern apartment: you might need to open the door to the hallway. You only need to do this for 10-15 mins, but if you don't, your home will be too humid, not only for drying laundry purposes, but for your general health. Dust-mites love humidity, as does mold and worse stuff.

I'm in rainy Copenhagen, and it only rarely takes more than 12 hours to dry clothes inside my apartment, but I also rarely close my windows, summer or winter.

I don't know about the water-quality in Ljubljana, here I need to use a water-softener with each wash, both to keep colors bright and pretty, and to not break the washing machine.

Use vinegar for towels and wool, instead of fabric-softener, and yes, ironing softens the towels.
posted by mumimor at 11:24 PM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Check out all the different spin options on your machine - they can make a huge difference.

I once had a lodger who actually read the washing machine manual before using it (I know, who does that, right?) and found that the additional spin option (rather than the one used automatically by the machine as part of its usual cycle) was waaay faster. Now my laundry always gets a turn in the 13 minute spin after it's finished the regular washing cycle, and the difference is amazing, I'd guess it takes a day off the drying time.
posted by penguin pie at 4:45 PM on September 5, 2015

When I do a load of towels I sometimes haul them (wet) to the laundromat to use the dryers. Everything else we live with being crunchy - most stuff isn't rigid if you shake it out well before folding.
My last top loading washer could be disassembled to clean the inside of the agitator and where it covered the inside of the drum. That cuts down on the algal growth that makes your washer smelly and your clothes excessively stiff. My front loader drains completely so it's not a problem.
posted by gingerest at 6:34 PM on September 5, 2015

Best answer: Do your washing more frequently so that you can pick a nice day. If you wait to do your washing until you're out of clean things, you have to take whatever the weather is giving you that day. Also, buy more towels (and sheets and things, too, if you don't have two sets).
posted by anaelith at 7:32 PM on September 5, 2015

Seconding what anaelith said: More towels--and more underwear. If you have radiators, use them. I installed mesh wire baskets above mine and dry little things very quickly.

A few tips from martial arts, because you have to line dry cotton martial arts uniforms or they shrink like holy crap: The crunchiness from line drying goes away once you move around a bit. If it's your sheets, try jersey sheets. If it's your towels, throw them in a cotton bag and whack 'em around a bit after they've dried.

Another thing I do with my 100% cotton "must be line-dried" stuff is to take a piece of fabric-softener paper (like that Bounty stuff you would toss in a dryer) and rub it inside the neck-facing fabric on my uniforms. It creates a little layer of whatever it is that softens the fabric, so it's not so harsh on my annoyingly sensitive skin.
posted by aaxelrod at 8:13 AM on September 9, 2015

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