By Nick Heap, Research and Policy Analyst

We're fortunate to have a great front-load washer and a clothes dryer in our Vancouver home. We also have a deck running along the back of the house, complete with a clothesline. It's a great place to hang clothes to dry, and I do so year round — when it's not raining, that is.

So why do I do this? Given the outfit I work for, you may think I'm a humourless electro-pauper, scratching my constant itch to sacrifice my time and energy on behalf of the environment. But no. I hang my laundry to dry because it means I don't have to iron them later on — and in my house, I'm the one who irons my shirts and pants. I find that if I dump my clothes in the dryer, they usually come out with wrinkles dried in.

And I use the clothesline because the clothes smell so good when they come off the line.

Drying clothes on an outdoor line is also an illicit activity in many parts of North America, and I like to live on the edge. I'm not kidding. Check this out to find out more, and to read about Ontario's recent legislation to protect the rights of its citizens' damp clothing.

It's not like I throw all my clothes on the line; the dryer still gets the towels, sheets, underwear and socks. But my shirts and pants get a public airing when they dry, and that alone takes a lot of bulk from the dryer. I figure if I am willing to go out in public with these clothes on, it can't be all that indecent to decorate the outside of my home with these garments for a few hours every week or two.

But as a conscientious enviro writing an efficiency blog, I also feel the need to justify my shamelessly self-serving behaviour in terms of sustainability. So, here goes. Forget what I said above. This is "really" why I dry my clothes.

1. Because it reduces my household's electricity consumption. In the United States, the average dryer consumes almost a thousand kilowatt hours a year. That electricity could be better used for something else.

2. Because sunlight is a natural disinfectant. When I said I loved the smell of my line-dried clothes, what I meant to say was that I have a deep appreciation of the sun's UV rays, which naturally disinfect clothing and create that ozone scent.

3. Because fabrics last longer and colours remain brighter with line drying. (Dryer lint is your clothes dying one fibre at a time.) Nicer clothes for longer means less needless consumption — fashion imperatives notwithstanding.

In recent months, I have also begun to wash most of my clothing on the cold cycle. Except for highly soiled loads (items like rags and dishtowels come to mind) where disinfection is a priority or clothes with oil and grease stains, modern detergents perform extremely well in cold water. And by foregoing the hot water, you can reduce the overall energy consumption of your clothes washer by 90 per cent! Save the planet in your fancy, fresh-smelling duds!

More info on energy efficient clothes drying and clothes washing.

April 22, 2010

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