My Family Ditched Our Dryer and Never Looked Back

Our four-human, two-dog household has air-dried our laundry for years, and you can too.

A woman pulls on a rope attached to a ceiling-mounted drying rack in the hallway of her home.
Photo courtesy Brianna Sharpe

The author raising her drying rack to the ceiling

“Remember the furnace guy is coming this morning,” my husband yelled from the other room. 

“Maybe I should move the laundry so my underwear isn’t in his face?” I chuckled at the idea and then dutifully pulled my freshly dried clothes off the rack.

Why is our washing not in the tumble dryer like a normal family with two kids and two dogs, you ask? Because we never replaced it when it broke four years ago.

Going dryer-free was initially an experiment: Were we three dryer sheets to the wind to think we could actually go without something so seemingly essential? Could we even find floor space for a rack in our no-basement, 90-square-metre home? We live in Alberta, where rain, snow, or smoke prevent outdoor airing much of the year. But between dryers’ carbon footprint, the microplastic they spew into the air, plus the wear they put on clothes, it was worth it to find out.

And the experiment was a resounding success! Line-drying 100% of the time is not for everyone, but with some hacks, climate hope, and lateral thinking, it might be easier than you think.

Canadians love costly laundry systems

When it comes to our laundry, North Americans are statistical outliers. As noted by a 2020 peer-reviewed article in PLOS ONE, over 80% of US and Canadian households have a tumble dryer, among the highest percentages in the world. To contrast countries with similar demographics, Australia sits at 55%, the UK at 58%, Norway 47%, and Germany 42%. Globally, these numbers are even lower: Libya, for instance, is just 18%. That said, the study’s authors note that many Asian countries that used to have few dryer-owning households are seeing sharp increases, which reflects a global trend. 

I recently replied to a social media post in which the original poster discussed laundry systems in her tiny apartment. It sparked a long thread wherein people from around the world shared their perspectives on drying clothes. 

Many folks talked about drying all their laundry on racks, radiators (mmm, warm), and lines. Others only dried socks, undies, and towels in a small machine or a combination washer-dryer, because many Europeans have much smaller homes and make do with what fits. Some told me about innovative alternatives such as a DriBuddy in South Africa—basically a solar-powered drying bag you hang clothes in—or a dehumidifier with dryer function in the UK. One respondent from Nigeria commented on how many people there just use the sun, and there were comments from Europeans about heat-pump dryers. 

Why try to line-dry?

Like any reasonable person, I wonder why I stress about kilowatts of energy use while Taylor Swift takes her private jet from Tokyo to Las Vegas to smooch her boyfriend. But I decided long ago to spend less time being annoyed about how my carbon footprint compares to celebrities’ and billionaires’, and more time contemplating my climate shadow—a term coined by writer Emma Pattee as a way of considering our climate impacts beyond emission reductions, by including everything from the discussions we have to how we vote—because my children are standing in it. 

The cost of dryers goes beyond the obvious dollars and cents; in fact, according to Natural Resources Canada, they require more energy than any other household appliance, despite their infrequent use. Natural Resources also reports that in 2021—the most recent year for which data is available—the average household dryer released 1.1 metric tonnes of “carbon dioxide equivalent” into the atmosphere per year, the same amount as ranges. Fridges, the next highest emitters, produced an average of 0.8 metric tonnes.

Dryers constitute anywhere from 5% to more than 12% of our household energy needs.

University of Alberta professor of textile sciences Rachel McQueen has made it her mission to help Canadians ditch their dryers.“Canadians per capita have among the highest GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions in the world,” she said in a 2023 interview with U of A’s student paper. She pointed out that home energy use is a big source of emissions in Alberta because “most of our electricity is sourced through fossil fuels.” As dryers can constitute anywhere from 5% to more than 12% of our household energy needs, it makes sense to start here. 

Most Asparagus readers are likely aware that washing synthetic fabrics releases teeny plastic fibres into our waterways (up to 35% of ocean microplastic pollution is thought to come from our washing machines). But recent studies have also shown dryers emit microplastics right into the air we breathe! So unless your wardrobe consists only of handspun wool dyed with the herbs you grew in your organic garden, your laundry is likely contributing to that problem.

Drawbacks, hacks, and the only thing I miss

There is a laundry list of valid reasons not to toss your tumble dryer, from mobility concerns and time constraints, to inhospitable local climates and sensory issues—air-dried towels are admittedly scratchier, more on that later. Division of labour within a household is also key; Eric and I are pretty 50/50 on chores, and I’m not sure I could do it without that. So I’m here for anything you can do, be it line-drying select items, dryer-sharing in an apartment building, or even just sharing this article.

One impediment of particular note is that some communities have restrictions around air-drying laundry. The Town of Cochrane—the municipality closest to our rural-ish home, doesn’t have a bylaw against it—but depending on where you live you might not be able to throw your clothes on an outdoor line. Some homeowners associations have created policies against it, builders have created covenants against it, and condo boards have either forbidden it or created very specific restrictions on the type and placement of the drying apparatus. 

This all seems especially backwards considering that Newfoundland, for example, has created an entire tourism brand around laundry hanging in the sunshine! (Seriously, if you haven’t seen their ad called The Secret Language of Clotheslines, it’s worth 1:11 of your time on YouTube.)

One reason we choose to live rurally is that no one cares about our dirty laundry—literal or otherwise. But we still had to put a lot of thought into how to air-dry inside when the air outside is too smoky or moist. We chose a laundry rack hanging from above on a pulley. We can raise our clothes about 1.5 m above our heads near our cedar-panelled ceiling (cedar being naturally moisture-resistant). Conveniently, the rack also hangs right next to a vent that assists in the drying process. 

Recently, I’ve heard more concerns about increased moisture and mould resulting from indoor drying—this can have impacts on both health and home. We did consider this, but my impression is that it’s mostly an issue in wetter climates like the UK. Even there, committed line-dryers are finding solutions such as opening windows, turning a dehumidifier on (still way less resource-intensive than a dryer), using a heated drying rack, or walling off a dedicated drying room. 

My greatest fear was actually how hard it would be. And no doubt, it does take more time and mental capacity. Our kids were 2 and 4 when we started this, and both just out of diapers. Our husky seemed to moult all year. (And now we have two!) But it turned out that it wasn’t nearly as time-consuming as I thought; we just had to change the way we did laundry—slower, more individually, and a bit at a time.

We each have our own dirty clothes hamper now, even Eric and I, which helps us stay accountable. Hanging slows down the pace of laundry, and that’s actually a good thing—sometimes I just grab a few items at a time throughout the day to put away, as the rack is right in the hallway. If we have anything that really needs to dry in a jiffy, we put it over the heat vent in our tiny bathroom and it’s usually good in a couple of hours. 

Line-drying wasn’t nearly as time-consuming as I thought.

I love any system that lets me be lazy; this one means we wash fewer things, less often. Jeans only need to be laundered every five wears or so and wool hardly ever. We’re careful not to put things in the hamper just because we can’t be bothered to put them in the correct drawer. (Well, three of the four of us are—looking at you, Eric!) 

And the only thing I miss? Fluffy towels. I really, really miss leaning into a dryer full of warm cotton and pulling out the fluffiest towels imaginable. So sometimes (shhhh, don’t tell the Adulting Police) I go over to my parents’ house with a bin of laundry and do it there, just so I can have this cozy multi-sensory experience. Even though we don’t actually own fluffy towels anymore, the warmth still gets me every time. 

Along with our dryer, we ditched our regular towels at the local humane society and replaced them with Turkish towels, which are thin, tightly woven cotton towels that were originally used in Turkish baths. They are meant to be air-dried and come in gorgeous colours. They’re pricier, but we reckon we save at least C$10 a month from not having a dryer, so it’s nothing compared to that. They never quite get fluffy, per se, but they also don’t get crusty like regular towels do on the line, and instead seem to get softer the more we wash them. 

Are you sold on saying bye-bye dryer? I’m very excited for you. And Asparagus Editrix-in-Chief Jessie’s cat Barnaby would like you to know you can send him all those wool dryer balls you’ll no longer be using, because they make great cat toys. 

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