The Wrinkled American: Tumble Dryer Addiction

So while we’re on the subject, has anyone checked out the tumble-dryer posts over at Bean Sprouts? Read through the comments on the last two, “Tumble Dryer” and “Tumble Dryer Again,” and you’ll meet scads of people who don’t own dryers. As I said in a comment, my bet is that most of them are British, not American or Canadian. Over here, if you live in a house it’s got a dryer, and if you live in an apartment, you probably wash AND dry your clothes at a laundromat.*

Sometime this summer I discovered that #1 son almost never uses a dryer. Inspired, I’ve been trying to wean myself from dependence on the thing, as it's a veritable energy-sink, and have dried more and more clothes on racks. (There are no radiators in this house, just hot air vents, so what I’m coming to see as the British Dryer Alternative (BDA) isn’t really an option.)

One of the comments on the Bean Sprouts posts said that unfortunately an iron appeared to be indispensable unless you wanted to go around looking like an American. (Horrors!) Like others, I’ve discovered that five minutes in the dryer removes most wrinkles, or at least gets shirts to a point acceptable here in Bozeman, where standards are even lower than in the rest of Wrinkled America, thank heavens.**  After the five-minute stint, shirts go on hangars hung on a pipe, and so do a lot of T-shirts, since rack-space is at a premium.

To my surprise, even down quilts do fine on a rack as long as they get pummeled with tennis balls for a few minutes in the dryer first. They do need to be flapped and fluffed (with enthusiasm) once dry, but that’s it. I suppose that in a more humid climate they might mildew or mold before they dry, but in Montana, that’s, well, not too much of a problem.***

Drying on racks does entail some sacrifices, of course, but in these hard times someone has to step up to the plate. For example, there’s only drying space for one load, so I’ve had to give up the idea of getting all the laundry done in one day. Since this is merely an idea, having little relationship to or impact upon reality, it hasn’t been too hard to let it go.

The time required to hang clothes can be more of an issue. If I still had little kids, or if I had a full-time job out of the house, I probably couldn’t do this, and if I had any sense I probably wouldn’t, but at the moment it feels worth the time it takes. Having a radio in the basement helps a lot.

For the first time this weekend I did not use the dryer to dry at least one load. I did use it for touch-ups: twice for an anti-wrinkle treatment, and once to remove the blue blanket fuzz from an entire load of dark clothes. (Note to self: NEVER again buy a washer without a lint trap.) (P.S.: Do not wash a wool blanket with anything else unless you plan to use the dryer.) Four loads, big ones, all dried in the basement on hangars and racks.

I don’t consider myself cured of Dryer Addiction, just in recovery. If I keep working the steps (wash only one load a day, keep the radio playing, and so on) I may be able to stay clean.


*  When my husband and I bought our first washer and dryer (they’re always sold as sets here), we exchanged some chagrined looks and a few comments to match. We knew we’d left behind any pretensions to an alternative life-style, any claims to hippy-dom, and probably any hope of redemption as well. We were going main-stream. We were becoming middle class—in the worst way: dull, conventional, normal. It was scary.

Not that we’d dried our clothes on a line before that; no, we went to the local laundromat, where we washed and dried everything. In approximately ten years of that, it never occurred to me to take the wet clothes home and dry them there. We were the only people I know who used cloth diapers through two children, and I felt quite virtuous about those diapers (almost all at the laundromat stage), and almost betrayed when someone suggested that the energy required to wash and dry them might be almost as much of a hit to the environment as dumping disposables in a land fill.

**  And then there are husband Steve’s standards, which are even more relaxed. Which is why I am doing his laundry instead of the other way around. He was officially banned from washing clothes after he put a wool sweater in the dryer. One of our sons, both teen-agers at the time, held it up afterwards and commented, “So, we’ve got toddlers in the house now?”

To be fair, I must admit that I have shrunk far more sweaters than he, but never so—efficiently.

***  The biggest problem here is getting them into the dang washer: I push and shove and wrastle them down, but they hold so much air that parts keep popping up above the water line. So I squeeze out air, push them down again, and lie in wait for them to pop back up. It’s quite a little dance we do.

16 Responses to The Wrinkled American: Tumble Dryer Addiction

  1. Nothing beats the smell of line dried laundry! I own lots of things that are linen, pure cotton or wool that cant go in a drier, but I do own one. NOTHING beats tumble dried towels, its all about moderation?
    From a Brit with a tumble drier (an energy efficient German one)

  2. Agreed about the towels, Zoë. Even with fabric softener, line-dried towels are like boards. HOWEVER–even these, I find, are hugely improved by just a few minutes in the dryer, and I suspect that if I tossed them in for another five minutes at the end, you couldn’t tell the difference. I’ll have to try this.

  3. I agree that the biggest hold back to me is the time it takes to hang the laundry. That, plus I remember it giving me a backache. Still I intend to cut back on the dryer–especially in the summer, when all I wear is shorts and T-shirts. I have a dryer rack design in mind to build–I figure it can also double as a bean-pole! ;-)

  4. I’m a Brit and I have a tumble dryer – I have had one for years and years. I do try and be good and dry things on the line outside but it this summer it has rained and rained. Some things are labelled not to tumble dry and I dry these in the house but it does lead to condensation which is a pain.

  5. I think clothes dried on a line outside smell better than dryer-dried stuff any day. Even better, my Mom used to hang laundry out in the rain because (back in the day) the rain would provide a final rinse and impart an even fresher scent. Not sure if that would work in an urban home these days.
    I’ve got plenty of excuses about why I am addicted to my dryer. C’mon, I wash in cold water and take stuff out to fold when it’s still damp.

  6. Lots of Aussies seem to shun the dryer too. Most of the laundry we did during our 6 month stint there was line dried. (Going back a few years: We compromised on the pre-fold diapers we used for Kalin and dried them until they were mostly dry but fluffed them up in the dryer afterward. Otherwise they were barely able to be folded!)

  7. Forgot to mention: after getting used to line drying things I mentioned to Doug that we should get a clothes line when we get home. But we realized that it may actually be against the home owner assocation’s covenants! We can’t remember seeing any (although that could just be faulty memories).

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  9. How rude – I wouldn’t say that Americans were any more likely to wear wrinkled clothes than anyone else. But I could be wrong!
    I love line-drying and was delighted when I got my second line back this summer. I don’t really find hanging out the clothes a chore – there’s something restful about it. Obviously I’m British, so have a culturally-induced tendency to do this anyway, but I have noticed that a lot of other people in this part of rural Ontario hang out their washing, too. They can’t all be British!
    Of course, in the Canadian winters it isn’t really an option, so I use my dryer then. I reckon all the line-drying in the summer makes up for the winter dryer-use.

  10. My objection to dryers is that they leave the clothes smelling… weird. Whereas if you dry them on the radiator they smell fresher and more pleasant. But hey…

  11. I have never owned a clothes dryer! All our clothing is dried on the line, in fact the good old Aussie invention, called a ‘Hills Hoist.’ I would never use a dryer when there is cheap natural energy from the sun ready to dry my clothes :) Also I like stiff towels, they are like using an exfoliater after showering :) hehe… Thanks for the post, very interesting reading.

  12. Me too! Me too! No dryer here. It wouldnt fit into my apartment and in my other home, there are wide open spaces and lots of sunshine just calling out for clotheslines.

  13. Things that give one a back ache, Susan, are to be avoided. I’m surprised, though, that you can hammer and saw and so on, but it’s hanging laundry that does it. Go figure.
    Helen–You’re talking about window condensation? That is a pain. What about the basement?
    Weeping Sore–That’s the first I’ve heard of drying in the rain. Did your mom iron everything afterwards?
    Michãel–I got scolded for hanging laudry–minus lingere, I think–on my balcony in Berkeley, lo these many years back. I’ve read about line prohibitions. Insane.
    Aymi & Laurel–Wow. Thank you!
    Amanda–Very interesting, especially coming from a Britisher now living in North America. I wonder, though, if Canadians are less wrinkled than Americans? I can hardly compare Bozeman, where I live, to Toronto, where my parents live; but what about Toronto and Buffalo? Hmm.
    Soilman–Well, no radiators here, but racks work as well, if more slowly.
    Sowing the Seeds–No dryer? Ever? At once I know you’re not from the States. Good for you. Hadn’t thought of the ex-foliator effect of line-dried towels.
    Sunita, is no dryer normal for your area/ socio-economic status, etc. in India, or do all your neighbors look at you funny?
    Thanks, everyone–

  14. I use a dryer a couple times a year, maybe, and wish I hadn’t bought it when I moved here (one of the rainier sections of North Carolina, so yes in the US).
    Clothes dry just fine in sub-freezing weather, it’s called sublimation. They go straight from frozen to dried. I get rather amused hanging out handkerchiefs that are already frozen stiff in the basket.
    I guess I’m used to line-dried towels so the scratchiness doesn’t bother me. As for wrinkles, that’s what cotton knit was made for.

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