Friday, May 1, 2009

May Frugal Action Item: Solar Dryer

Photo credit: Professor Bop

Alrighty, folks. Time for another monthly frugal Action Item. This month, in honor of springtime (in the northern hemisphere), it's back to frugal basics with a call to get yourself a solar laundry dryer. That's what we call a clothesline around here. Solar dryer sounds so fancy though, doesn't it?

Clotheslines have become contentious issues in the appearance obsessed US. This may be difficult for some overseas visitors to believe, but we have numerous homeowners associations over here that forbid the hanging of laundry on clotheslines, or even draping towels over balcony railings. Essentially this boils down to snobbery; the assumption being that only poor people would willingly hang their laundry up to dry outside, rather than use an expensive to buy and expensive to operate dryer. And who wants their largest investment associated, by proximity, with poor people? Needless to say, I despise HOA's that discourage any practice so harmless, so frugal, and so responsible in the use of non-renewable and polluting energy. (Most electrical generation in the US comes from coal. Hardly a green energy.)

Nonetheless, I know some readers have to deal with such monumental stupidity from a HOA. Others don't have any property on which to install an outdoor clothesline. I myself don't have one outside either. So I'm going to talk about ways of air drying your clothes without going outside. By all means, if you have the space and you want one, get yourself an outdoor line. But also consider the advantages of an indoor system. To list a few:
  • Save money year-round.
  • No need to carry a heavy basket of clothes anywhere.
  • Clothes don't get coated with allergenic yellow dust during pollen season.
  • Sub-freezing weather or precipitation won't make any difference to the laundry routine.
I've already blogged about my indoor clothes drying routine. I like to be able to hang up my laundry inside, right where I washed it in the first place. That way I notice any stains that might have made it through the first wash, treat them, and add them to the next load of laundry immediately. Here's a great post by one of my co-authors over at the Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op, detailing her fantastic and homemade clothesline in her basement.

If space is tight, there are still ways to hang your laundry indoors. Some popular options include the collapsible folding wooden drying racks, or retractable clothes lines. If you go for the drying racks, I recommend getting at least two. A full sized load of laundry in my house will not fit on one rack. Retractable clothes lines can be discreetly installed in a shower stall, where clothes can hang over the tub, on hangers if need be to maximize the use of space.

Another trick I use is to hang my "smalls" with clothespins from the downward facing edge of rubber-coated wire shelving in my laundry room. The shelving is right over my laundry machines, but socks and underwear are short enough that they hang freely. This saves room on the drying rack and indoor clotheslines for larger items. If you've been wanting more storage space in your home, consider this added benefit if you go with this fairly cheap form of shelving.

You can buy ready made retractable clotheslines at the store. Or you can fire up your creative juices and come up with a hanging line on your own. Though I have retractable clotheslines, I find I never retract them. You may end up doing the same, so your homemade setup could be quite simple. Coming up with your own indoor clothesline is likely to be by far the most frugal option. Though wooden drying racks are great and will last for decades, they're still more expensive than some nylon rope and a few hooks to anchor the rope.

The Fine Print
I confess to using the dryer for almost every load of laundry I do. But wait! Before you write me off as a hypocrite, I don't use it to dry the clothes, only to soften them up once they are dry (avoiding the curse of the crunchy towel), and to remove a portion of cat hair. All that takes is five minutes on the unheated "air fluff" cycle. Hardly any energy used for that. And since all the clothes are dry by the time I put them in there, I can really overfill the dryer. So I usually batch two loads in the dryer at a time. Since dry clothes don't weigh much and I'm not asking the dryer to do much work at all, the machine doesn't break down.

Other considerations
If you live in a humid area, or if you do a lot of laundry, be mindful of the risks of adding more humidity to your home by drying indoors. Moisture is slow death for buildings, which is why bathrooms have ventilation fans. So open windows when you dry indoors, or when that doesn't make sense, consider aiming a low fan at your laundry. This will cost a little bit of electricity, but far less than a dryer. It will not only dry your clothes faster, but will disperse the humidity throughout a larger area, rather than allowing it to build up and cause damage over time. On the other hand, if you live in a very dry environment, hanging your laundry to dry inside may save you money in more ways than one. If you normally run a humidifier, hanging wet laundry inside may allow you to turn off that appliance.

If you truly live in a minuscule home, then even finding space to dry some of your laundry is better than nothing. If a few of your clothes hang from the shower curtain rod to dry, you won't need to run the dryer quite as long as you would otherwise. If you absolutely must use a dryer, be diligent about cleaning out the filters, exhaust system, and lint trap so that it works as efficiently as possible and to extend the life of the machine.

Advanced Action Item
Like last month, I'm not offering an alternative, but an additional challenge. I really believe that air drying or solar drying laundry is within the reach of most people. If solar or air drying your laundry is old news for you, consider whipping up a batch of homemade laundry detergent. Homemade laundry detergent is a fun and easy project for kids, because you get to make a cool looking gel. You can also play around with adding fragrance with aromatic herbs from your garden, or with essential oils that you purchase. You'll not only save money, but also save the energy of hauling home a heavy powder or liquid detergent, as well as spare the Pacific plastic gyre yet another new addition. Or try switching to vinegar for your fabric softening and static cling reduction needs. Just add some directly to the wash as you would a store-bought fabric softener. It's cheaper and much less toxic than most alternatives. And if you happen to have an apple tree, you could actually make your own vinegar from apple scraps, for free!

New to these monthly Frugal Action Items? Catch up with more here:
January: Compact Fluorescent Bulbs & Hot Water Pipe Insulation
February: Kitchen Competence
March: Rein In Entertainment Spending
April: Go Paper-less
June: Raise the Deductible on Your Auto Insurance
July: Stay Cool Without Touching that Thermostat
August: Repair It!
September: Insulate
October: Preventative Health Care
November: Frugal Holiday Wish List
December: Plan Next Year's Garden


ChristyACB said...

Oh yes, the dreaded HOA. Ours in Hawaii had that rule about towels...beach towels even. Go figure.

For those who have this issue, you may have an out as close as your family doctor. Sun drying also performs some sanitizing actions and if you have sensitive skin or any number of skin issues, sun drying has been known to present less of an irritant.

Go see the family doctor and get them to write a note about it. Present it to the HOA and voila! Since it is a medical issue, they won't dare tell you no. :)

I love air dried sheets...nothing better! And those rough towels that aren't stiff because the wind was blowing so hard..perfect!

Green Bean said...

I love my outdoor clothesline - but mostly when it's warm enough to dry stuff. We've had a cold wet spring so far and it's gotten little use. I admit to not being a fan of air drying indoors. I've got a tiny house and, well, all that clothes laying all over the place. It hurts my head. Maybe I just dont have the right system.

Michelle @ Find Your Balance said...

Very cool. I wish we had a backyard where our unmentionables could soak in the sun and dry! For now we make due with a collapsible drying rack at least for some of the clothes. I'd like to avoid using the dryer entirely, especially when we're running AC to cool the house! Seems ridiculous.

Wendy said...

Line-drying my clothes has been my favorite change since I started making more conscious choices.

I used my dryer this winter for a couple of weeks when we caught a "bug", but other than that, I never use the dryer, and my family hasn't complained about crunchy towels or cardboard-stiff jeans.

The only issue we've had is that I do have to be more conscientious about doing the laundry, because it takes more time for them to get dry. What's nice about it, though, is that I'm forced to be more "present" in my life, because even something as mundane as doing laundry requires thought. Although it may sound like not such a good deal, I think being "present" in our lives - in all aspects of our lives - is incredibly important, and it's the thing that all of our modern gadgetry has taken from us.

katecontinued said...

I line dry outside, but I was very impressed with Inhabitat's Green Gadget Award winner this year. This indoor drying rack is mechanically simple and aesthetically brilliant.

The basement drying rack is some kind of wonderful - especially if one lives in a northern climate.

Jeannine said...

There's always the option of getting some drying racks via freecycle, too, or at yard sales. I got a nice big drying rack and another smaller one through freecycle, and stand them out on my balcony on sunny, dry days. I'd also used some dollar-store laundry line rope to put up several "clotheslines" between my balcony rails, which was nice b/c it kept my clothes out of sight, even by close neighbors.

BTW: love the blog!

Cheap Like Me said...

Oooh, "solar dryer" does sound so very fancy. I am utilizing my solar dryer as I type. We could also call it harnessing wind energy to assist with laundry?

In an apartment in New York, we had a wonderful old dryer in the kitchen that was bars behind a door. The door opened and the bars clicked up and rotated apart so we could dry quite a lot of laundry in the kitchen. It would be great to see similar doo-dads come back into fashion now.

Kate said...

Christy, that's a great tip. Thanks for sharing it, and for pointing out that the natural world can often do better than our chemicals and contraptions when it comes to keeping us healthy.

GreanBean, maybe so. There might be a good system that you could make work for you. There are virtues in tiny houses too though.

Michelle, I hope you can find a system that works for you so as to avoid that heating/cooling competition in your house.

Wendy, good points, as usual. I also find I have to be more mindful of laundry, just because I can only hang one load at a time. But we skate by without much difficulty because we're a family of just two adults.

Kate, yes, I saw that Mark had posted that at boingboing. It sure looks lovely, but I wish there were some pictures of it with wet clothes hanging all over it. It looks to me as though the clothes would be too close together to dry easily.

Jeannine, thanks. And great suggestion about freecycle.

CLM, I suspect we may indeed see the return of such clever but simple tools in the not so distant future.


Nick said...

Drying clothes indoors is easier if you put them somewhere where there is moving air. Near a heater vent in the winter or under the ceiling fan in the summer.

Here is the clothes drying rack I use. Since it is round it works great under a ceiling fan :)

Anonymous said...

I have to say I have NEVER understood this about American culture? In Australia we grow up drying everything outdoors because it is so hot... I mean we are the home of the hills hoist! I LOVE my hills hoist, it's a genius invention and will dry clothes in a fraction of the time a drier does, at zero cost (apart form putting it up obviously). I can get up 6-8 loads of washing dried in a day (on a nice summer's day)... previously I lived in a flat and had to use a drier and it was awful. SO expensive and could only dry a few loads maximum a day... and the humidity it created in the house, mould problems galore! Mould is so very bad for you. I would never want to go back from having a hills hoist!! I can't believe Americans are so backwards on this issue!

Kate said...

Anon, thank you for being such a little ray of sunshine to all of us poor, backwards Americans. It's a reassurance to me to hear that every last Australian is following a frugal, green, low-carbon-footprint lifestyle. Thanks so VERY much for being such an example to the rest of humanity.

Anonymous said...

I didn't mean to cause personal offence with my comment about hills hoists... I do think perhaps you are a little oversensitive?
and by no means did I mean to suggest that all or even most Australians are living a "green" lifestyle... because that is certainly not the case!!! however, culturally we do grow up drying our clothes outdoors... we live in a very hot country and I think we are amongst many hotter climate countries that culturally dry our clothes outdoors... even in flats you will find people drying their clothes on the balconies (I mean, it is the more normal place to dry clothes you would think?!)... it's only a newer train of thought (based obessively on appearances) that some flats are forced to dry their clothes indoors in dryers...
I do find it shocking when a country is so culturally similar yet so very different from my own... and I find it bizarre you take such personal offence when you are obviously trying to live a greener lifestyle and my comments were not directed at you personally? Your country does not boast such a green claim as you do... America is one of the least green countries in the world when it comes to carbon footprints, (in fact second worst in the world for CO2 emissions after China- which is 20 times the carbon emissions of Australia)... I am certainly not proud of everything my country is doing, yet you are so quick to jump to the defence of your country when its track record is pretty disgraceful!

Anonymous said...

oh, and if your sarcasm was supposed to be funny... it doesn't culturally translate...

Tibbe-Line said...

Hello, I am the inventor of the Tibbe-Line, a device used to airdry laundry. The Tibbe-Line can be used on an existing clothesline and can be made into a portable clothesline. You can hang 21 articles of clothing in the space of 39" and hangars are used instead of clothespins. ( The Tibbe-Line is multi-functional in that it can also be used to transport clothing in a vehicle, as a spacesaver in a closet and for people in wheelchairs giving them access to their own clothes in the closet.