The Loma Prietan - May/June 2009

Get Your Clothes Dry; Skip the Hot Air

story and photo by Margaret Okuzumi

Direct sun is good for sanitizing dry blankets, not for regular drying of wet laundry.
Direct sun is good for sanitizing dry blankets, not for regular drying of wet laundry.

Americans are so used to electric dryers that many who would like to air-dry their laundry hardly know how to start—and some have such bad experiences that they give up on the idea! To learn a convenient system for air-drying laundry that will take no more of your time than an electric dryer, read on. You can easily reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 7%, and enjoy a lower electric bill (ours is $20/month). And your clothes will last longer.

Make the Space

Get rid of the dryer, and you'll instantly have space to hang the laundry. Seriously, you don't need it! I've only needed one twice in twelve years. On the rare occasion you need one, go to a laundromat, or ask a friend or neighbor if you can use theirs.

Clothes dry quickly in our climate. Hang laundry indoors; a place near the washer is most convenient. A sheltered area outdoors is okay. Outside in the open is not advisable. The direct sun along with dirt and pollen is hard on clothes, bugs can fly into them, and the occasional bird poop is a problem. Direct sun is good for sanitizing dry blankets, 10 minutes on each side, to kill dust mites.

I live in a 1000-square-foot townhouse. If I can find room to hang all our laundry, you can, too. All you need is proper equipment.

Ditch the Clothesline

Most people start with a clothesline. Don't! It will sag, take up an enormous amount of space and require too much time and effort to hang up clothes. Instead:

For socks, underwear, and other small items: Go to a well-stocked Japanese or Korean market and buy a clothes-hanging device for $8. It's a round or rectangular plastic rack about 2 feet across, designed to hang down from a rod, with a few dozen clothes-pins permanently attached. These make it super quick and easy to hang up an amazing number of small items in a compact space. And never again will you accidentally drop a clothespin.

Button-down shirts: I hang these on regular clothes hangers, on a clothes rod mounted above the space where the dryer would normally go. When dry, I simply move the shirts, hangers and all, back into our bedroom closet.

Pants, towels, large linens, blankets: At the Kyo- Po Korean market on El Camino Real in Santa Clara, I bought a laminated metal stand-alone clothes-drying rack for $20. It folds out tall enough to dry a queen-sized bed sheet, and has an area where you can lay a sweater flat to dry. I also use one of those chrome-plated folding clothes-drying racks. I recommend chrome over wood which tends to warp, break, mildew, or splinter over time.

More hanging space: Above the washer I set up a pulley (I used a bike storage pulley that you can buy from Performance Bike for $40 or so when it's on sale) to lower or raise a small clothes drying rack as needed.

Last, I mounted a clothes-hanging rod across a four-foot-wide entryway. It's high enough not to catch anyone's head but low enough for me to reach it. I just throw a queen-size sheet over the rod, spreading it out to maximize surface area and minimize wrinkles. The sheet dries within 24 hours.

Shake the Wrinkles

Shake out the wet clothes with a flick of your wrist when you hang them, so they don't dry wrinkled. Dry pants inside-out so that pockets will dry out faster.

Front-loading washers spin more of the water out of clothes than top-loading washers do. Use a front-loader, and your clothes will air-dry much faster.

Hang up clothes within a few hours of the wash cycle to keep them smelling fresh. A generous squirt of Bac-Out Stain & Odor Eliminator in the wash also helps get sweaty clothes clean even in cold water.

If you follow these tips, you'll save a lot of money, and as a bonus, be able to fold and put away the dry laundry much faster. You won't miss that dryer at all!

Margaret Okuzumi is a member of the Chapter Executive Committee. She lives in Sunnyvale with her husband, Bruce.