Okay, but how *do* I dry my laundry?
August 8, 2017 9:17 AM   Subscribe

If you live in a climate that is damp in the winter (like me in the Pacific NW, or perhaps those of you in the UK with your damp grey underwear, how do you dry your clothes without a dryer? What works best?

This is a practical question, not just a musing one -- we moved into our new house in February and quickly discovered that the poorly vented dryer was so poorly vented as to be unusable. With a quote of $800 to fix it, and our fancy high mortgage, fixing it is not a financial priority. We used a neighborfriend's dryer for a while, and then switched to drying outside. I'd love to be able to continue line-drying through the year, but...Winter! Rain! Damp! What do we do?

- This house is pretty well insulated and ventilated; it was built in the last 30 years, and, unlike our previous 80-year-old house, was fairly dry through the late winter. No water condensing on the inside of the windows or on the walls, for example.
- I dried some stuff on our small wooden drying rack over the winter, but it took a zillion years to get dry, mostly because there wasn't a lot of room for air to circulate.
- There's no central heat in this house -- it's all electric wall heaters, which I oughtn't place fabric too near.
posted by linettasky to Home & Garden (32 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Heat isn't as important as moving air across the items for evaporation. We've done this in our garage (Fairly dry, even this past winter, PNW same as you) You need something along the lines of a boxfan or smaller to just get air movement going. If things are still going slowly, I would get a dehumidifier going in the space you'll be drying in. You can dry clothes quickly in a dry, cold area, but airflow is key.

Drying racks like these (which, can be DIY'd fairly easily with window screen materials) can help circulate air above and below items if hanging isn't preferable. We built several that look similar to this though, but not nearly as fancy (or expensive).
posted by furnace.heart at 9:25 AM on August 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

We like this foldable Ikea drying rack, paired with a fan aimed directly at it. Served us well in times of extreme humidity and a laughably inadequate dryer.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:34 AM on August 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

We had the same issue last winter. As others have said, a big drying rack with lots of circulation makes a difference, as does a fan. I found that keeping the laundry in an enclosed room helps too (in our case a large bathroom, with the fan running occasionally).
posted by Ideal Impulse at 9:37 AM on August 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

I use a tall foldable drying rack in the bathroom, with the fan running for about an hour per day. Laying clothing across multiple bars (2 for shirts, 3-4 for pants/dresses) helps with faster drying. This requires doing smaller amounts of laundry more frequently, or setting up several drying racks.
posted by esoterrica at 9:40 AM on August 8, 2017

Ventilation is definitely key. Here in Switzerland a lot of apartment buildings have laundry and drying rooms and they have little machines in the drying rooms that create airflow.

I grew up without tumble dryer and we used something like this. Key is that everything is just far enough apart that nothing touches anything else. This would be supplemented by something like this for your smalls and shirts or trousers can also hang on coat hangers on the backs of doors if need be. Use the highest spin setting your washing machine has to offer.

I've also used this system in the UK. And it never even occurred to me to point a fan at the rack although that would definitely help.

This was all in circumstances, when things could not be dried outside. If there is enough wind stuff still dries outside even if the air is somewhat humid, as long as it doesn't rain outright.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:44 AM on August 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also, for many garments, an iron is your best friend. When I didn't have access to a clothes dryer, many times the Garment I planned on wearing in the morning wasn't quite dry, and a quick ironing made all the difference.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:44 AM on August 8, 2017

I line dry everything but in especially wet winters I'll sometimes resort to using this Lakeland Heated Airer in the spare room with a small window open. It costs the same as a lightbulb to run but dries things fairly quickly.
posted by humph at 9:44 AM on August 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'll backup all the comments about airflow. The PNW may be renowned for its damp winters—and I do love them myself—but it's worth remembering that damp is relative. Chill air holds very little moisture, no matter what it may fee like. Once you bring winter air to room temperature, its relative humidity is always quite low, so a bit of air movement and a drying rack can do wonders.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 9:51 AM on August 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

I live in Chicago and have no clothes dryer, just a large portable washing machine. I've been hanging everything to dry year-round for the last 5+ years.

I have this exact drying rack. It's from Ikea though I don't see it sold anymore. I don't think it's substantially different an any way from this one except in shape and hangable area.

Every individual slat of the rack gets a piece of clothing draped over it. Towels get three slat spaces for aeration. For chunky things like sweaters, I lay them flat across a surface. Sheets and blankets get tented over the whole thing.

With a few exceptions (denim, heavy blankets) everything is always dry within 24 hours. If it's damp out I'll sometimes stick a little desk fan on the floor and angle it up at the rack.

Nothing ever has a mildewy smell and my clothes are never crunchy. (I use fabric softener. Protip--give your towels a good solid shake before hanging them wet and then once they're dry before folding them, it'll help soften them up.)
posted by phunniemee at 9:54 AM on August 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

A dehumidifier in the room with the drying racks will be perfectly sufficient, based on my PNW basement clothes-drying (for non-dryer items). If you can run the output of the dehumidier to a drain, rather than having to empty it, it will be even easier/mindless.
posted by janell at 9:57 AM on August 8, 2017 [6 favorites]

I have an oil furnace that keeps the furnace room warm and dry. That's where I put the drying rack. The furnace room is small, so I also hung a bar from the ceiling joists so I can hang sheets and towels on hangers. The dryer is for de-wrinkling things that need it. Washer is next door to furnace room. If I hang a lot of laundry, I sometimes run a small fan.

In my old house, the washer and dryer were on different floors (2 family house, dryer would not fit into preferred dryer space on my floor, did fit in hallway nook on tenant floor, so we shared it) and it was fine.

People get wiggy about crunchy towels and socks, but the crunch lasts a couple seconds, and the energy savings is worth it.
posted by theora55 at 10:08 AM on August 8, 2017

Also, hanging up clothes on a curtain rod, a freestanding rack, shower rod, etc. In Malaysia, you can buy clothes hangers that are loops of plastic-coated wire which keep the front and back of the garment separated for more air flow. These are similar (if the loops were horizontal) but I've never seen them for sale/online in the US. I've been thinking of making some DIY ones because they work so well.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:12 AM on August 8, 2017

I don't exclusively line dry our clothes, but I live in the PNW and I dry a lot of my stuff on a rack in my bedroom, no matter the season. The key is not to let things touch each other.
posted by stowaway at 10:17 AM on August 8, 2017

I live in New England, which is also damp/humid (although colder, so take this with a grain of salt!). We dry our clothes on large wooden indoor racks most of the year. I find things dry faster in the winter because we have the heat on, unless it's a hot really dry summer day; stuff takes forever on rainy summer days! Key things: having several racks so that clothes are spread out, not folded on themselves or bunched up with each other, not grouping together all our jeans on one rack, and not having too many racks in the same room. I put one rack with light stuff in our small laundry room, and a rack in each bedroom with the appropriate clothes. I do find towels need the dryer year round to prevent mustiness, and that sheets are easier in the dryer, but that's because each sheet needs it's own rack. I do also try to time laundry with drier days - if Monday is rainy I'll wait till Tuesday when it's sunny, for example.
posted by john_snow at 10:21 AM on August 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I live in a damp flat in the UK with single glazing. Similar to your first place, complete with condensation and lack of central heating. We do two things:

1. We use these over the door laundry thingies to dry tshrts and blouses. I have two that I got from the betterware catalogue in the UK, but I'm sure amazon or some place sells them in the US. Blouses in winter are washed on Thursday afternoon and dry by Saturday.

2. A regular old airer from Lakeland (although not the one that's linked above), placed in the hallway. The heated ones are great if you can get one.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 10:26 AM on August 8, 2017

I upgraded my bathroom fan to one that moves a ton more air than the old one (and it's whisper quiet), and I hang some of my laundry on the shower curtain rod. Works great. The bathroom fan is on a timer, but I pretty much never turn it off.
posted by halogen at 10:27 AM on August 8, 2017

We use a ceiling mounted drying rack. It's out of the way and, since heat rises, tends to be warmer/dryer up there than closer to the floor (especially in our drafty home that we heat with a wood stove).
posted by borsboom at 10:45 AM on August 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding the use of a dehumidifier, particularly in a small room. Be aware that they are expensive to run in terms of electricity. We have this one and it costs about 4 cents per hour to run on low and about 8 cents per hour on high. You can set a timer on the device to run it for two, four or eight hours. We didn't dry clothes with it, but I'm pretty sure it would work for this purpose. We did not find that the humidity sensor on the device worked well. We had to run it on a timer for it to be useful, but it definitely removed humidity from the air.
posted by cnc at 10:51 AM on August 8, 2017

I second the FROST drying rack from Ikea. It is great. I'm also in the PNW and hang dry most of my clothes. In the winter it takes a couple days for thick things like jeans to dry. Asa result, I need more than one rack to dry all my clothes. I always dry things on a rack in the warmest room I can, rather than in the basement where my washer is. I also hang things that are thicker over more than one rung so there is more air between the layers of fabric. Some shirts and dresses I hang dry on plastic hangers. Bonus: saves some ironing sometimes. Upon reading this thread, I will now add a box fan to the mix!

Depending on how much laundry you do and your budget, getting the dryer fixed might be worth it? (I hope you got more than one estimate?) I can't imagine trying to get my sheets and all my towels and everything else to air dry. I prefer to do all my laundry in one day though, so that would mean like eight drying racks spread over every available surface in my home...
posted by purple_bird at 10:58 AM on August 8, 2017

Your washer may be able to handle a lot of laundry at once, but you might want to limit the amount you wash to the amount that will fit on your drying rack. If you can adjust your spin cycle to be longer, that will help, too. Another drying method is to put shirts on a hanger and put one or two in each doorway hanging from the trim.
posted by soelo at 11:05 AM on August 8, 2017

In terms of strategy, it's good to get in the habit of washing things 24 hours before you'll need them, which is a bit of an adjustment if you're used to having a drier. In my experience, a lot of things will dry faster than that, but 24 hours gives you a good buffer zone.
posted by colfax at 11:06 AM on August 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Fan for air movement, drying racks as many have suggested. Also one or more of these for socks, underwear, and other small items. They are excellent for hanging things from shower rods. I'm not sure where exactly you buy them in the US - ours are all from Japan, where they are an absolute staple of laundry. (You are likely to find them if you have an Asian supermarket with a homewares section nearby.) The search term I was most successful with to find that image was "lingerie drying rack".
posted by telepanda at 11:37 AM on August 8, 2017

Apparently, the UK is windy. That's the thing that people who've moved to the UK tell me about the weather here. If it's cold and wet you won't be able to get the laundry dry outside before it gets dark (because hotter days in winter) but cold and dry with a bit of a breeze you probably will. Like everyone's saying, air flow is important.

Also do a second spin.

If I can't dry washing outside I dry it in the bathroom on an airer where I have a heat exchange fan. Don't overload the airer and make sure there's space for the air to circulate. It can take more than a day to dry things this way. I'm single and small, so my clothes don't take up much room and I only do one load a week. If you have more washing, you might need better systems. I also use over the radiator airers.

I can hang a complete double duvet bedding set on my airer, you just have to fold the sheets into four length ways and turn them a couple of times to make sure all sides dry.

Also, my grandmother always told me you should hang your sheets out overnight in the frost to crisp them up. They do seem better this way.
posted by Helga-woo at 11:41 AM on August 8, 2017

We have the dampest basement flat. Our solution to this problem has been to buy a dehumidifier and dry clothes on a drying rack in front of it. This works best when the flat is also warm (ie the heating is on) but also works when we are being stingy and therefore cold.

This would be difficult if you had a family's worth of laundry to dry, but for us (a couple) it has worked well even with a cheap portable dehumidifier. Bonus - it also dries the house!
posted by bored_now_flay at 11:50 AM on August 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

You can get the type of drying rack telepanda suggested at Daiso Japan stores. Also they carry really great lingerie bags for washing delicate things!
posted by purple_bird at 2:40 PM on August 8, 2017

You may have already considered this, but have you looked into whether your dryer vent is just clogged with lint? There's a cheap power drill attachment which will push all the lint out for you. Might be worth a shot before more expensive fixes.
posted by zug at 5:44 PM on August 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I found buying a really sturdy folding rack in this style (sorry UK site) really helped compared to wrestling with older, cheaper models. Agree with everyone above that you might have to change your expectations about how often you do laundry/how much you do at one time. I hang duvet covers and sheets over doors and flip them once or twice and they dry usually within a day. If you can situate your rack near an open window, that'll help too. Works for me in cold, damp, Scottish winters.

Also useful is hanging some stuff on hangers to dry - saves ironing and seems neater. Sometimes it does feel like there is laundry everywhere, but if you keep on top of it, it's not too bad...
posted by sedimentary_deer at 1:03 AM on August 9, 2017

With a quote of $800 to fix it

You know you can get a new, energy-efficient dryer for half that, and less off Craigslist or a 2nd hand refurb store, right? Because I am a fan of the planet but I live in Ireland, where I have previously hung out washing on over-radiator racks, and it was okay, but with electric heaters that isn't possible. Steamy damp multi-day interiors are an asthma trigger for me, but regardless, I'd want a tumble dryer.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:59 AM on August 9, 2017

Also one or more of these for socks, underwear, and other small items. They are excellent for hanging things from shower rods. I'm not sure where exactly you buy them in the US

IKEA sells an adorable version shaped like an octopus. I place this over a shower rod, then set up a drying rack in the shower. That holds most of it, although we do put larger items (my dresses), over the backs of our kitchen chairs or the towel bar in the shower if the drying rack gets too full. This dries everything in super-humid Florida in 8-10 hours, although I try to plan to wash things a day before I need it, just in case it's still a bit damp. Some items with lots of folds and creases, like cardigans, take longer to dry or need to be adjusted/turned mid-dry so they're not still damp in the folds of the arms.
posted by PearlRose at 9:32 AM on August 9, 2017

During our rainy San Francisco winters, I use this Vornado heater/fan. It has 2 air speeds and an adjustable thermostat that turns the heat on and off according to the room temperature. You can use the fan with no heat if you want to. It's supposed to be good for rooms up to 200 square feet. Vornado has lots of other models, but this is one of the cheapest.
posted by wryly at 12:57 PM on August 9, 2017

I'm British and have never had a dryer. I dry my clothes on an Ikea collapsible airer set up in the bathroom, where I can run the extractor fan if need be. I have my washing machine set to spin most loads as fast as possible (1300 rpm, I think), which means most things are already pretty dry when they come out. I can usually put everything away and fold the airer up again in 12-36 hours - less in hot weather or when the heating's on, more for towels. In previous houses I've dried clothes in the hall, the kitchen, a corner of the bedroom... anywhere there's enough space and a bit of air flow. I don't wash anything unless I know I have space to dry it: there's a heap of towels and another of bedding waiting to be washed right now, but it's all going to carry on waiting until my week's worth of wool jumpers are dry. (British summer. Of course I'm wearing sweaters still.)
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:51 PM on August 13, 2017

I didn't have the floorspace for a drying rack or airer when I was hanging clothes to dry inside. I put everything on clothes hangers and hung it on a rod suspended from hooks in the ceiling.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:06 PM on August 13, 2017

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