Clothes neatly spaced on a clothesline held in place with wooden clothespins with those sheets, and clothes flapping in the breeze and drying in the sunshine is a sight we seldom see, but a visual that brings me back to my childhood. And oh, that amazing smell of line-dried clean sheets. Know what I mean? Modern-day clothes dryers have all but replaced traditional outdoor clotheslines in most urban areas.
Clothes dryers are convenient and home appliances that keep many homeowners in compliance with community standards that forbid the presence of outdoor clotheslines. However, in the same way that outdoor drying has its limitations (weather, effort), a clothes dryer does as well. It can ruin stuff.
While the effect may not be noticeable on the first time or two through the dryer, the destruction will build until that item comes to a tragic end, long before its time.
The solution is quite simple. Learn what can and cannot safely be put into your clothes dryer. Then make sure you keep a good indoor drying rack in a convenient place to ensure easy use—more on that in a bit.
Tennis Shoes, Sneakers
Whether made of canvas, leather, or other fabric, your tennis shoes will likely do very well in the washing machine. But the dryer? Not at all.
Sure, they’ll tumble loudly and perhaps come out OK on the first trip, but what you won’t easily detect is that the glue that holds them together has been compromised. It melts in the dryer’s high heat, then resets but in a much different way than when the shoes were new.
And that canvas or other fabric? Plan on it shrinking and twisting out of shape. Put those two things together—glue melt and fabric shrink—and you get distortion and sole separation.
Now that you know what causes an early demise of sneakers and tennis shoes, know to air-dry your sneakers (typically, it takes about 24 hours), you can stop blaming the manufacturer.
All bras have some spandex and elastic, which are synthetic products made to stretch and provide shape and comfort. Other lingerie items with the same type of fabric content as well. Heat is the enemy of stretchy things.
If you want your bras and other lingerie items to enjoy a long lifespan, maintaining their original shape and loveliness right to the very end, never put them through the clothes dryer.
Instead, wash bras and lingerie using good mesh zippered lingerie bags, then air dry.
This routine will make all the difference and give you the kind of results and longevity you paid for.
Reusable Fabric Bags
Backpacks, lunch bags, fabric tote bags, and reusable grocery bags need to be cleaned frequently—especially if used to carry them for food items that are likely to leak onto the fabric.
More than likely, your washable bags will do nicely in the washing machine, provided you make sure your cycle settings for water temperature and so forth are compatible with the bags’ type of fabric. However, putting fabric bags through the clothes dryer is just asking for trouble. Plan on them shrinking at the least and falling apart at the most.
A much better idea is to allow bags, packs, and totes to air dry. To avoid wrinkles and for the best results, lay bags out on a flat surface so you can reshape them. As for backpacks, stuff them with wadded-up newspaper or clean, dry bath towels to return them to their original shape as they air dry.
Rubber-Backed Mats, Rugs
Have you ever wondered by the rubber backing of your bath mats, placemats, or other scatter rugs gets all stiff and crumbly and eventually peels away, leaving quite a mess?
More than likely, you’ve been putting those washable mats through both the washer and dryer.
The washer is fine, but it’s the heat of a clothes dryer that melts and soon ruins the rubber and other types of non-slip coatings.
This may not be noticeable on the first trip or two through the dryer. But when you continue drying them in the machine, the backing will fail. The crumbling rubber can create a fire hazard.
Instead, allow rubber-backed mats of all kinds to air dry.
Swimming suits, trunks, and other swimwear should be washed after every use to remove chlorine and salt, depending on where they’ve been swimming. And it’s only natural to throw these items into the clothes dryer as well. But no.
Really, the heat of the dryer will soon destroy the Spandex and other synthetic properties of great swimwear.
Your family’s swimwear will last seasons longer if you get into the habit of skipping the dryer and allowing these pieces to (you know what’s coming)—air dry!
Leather, Real or Faux
Even when the care tag on that beautiful leather jacket, those awesome gloves, or faux leather throw pillow clearly states “Washable,” don’t skip the part about drying! Don’t assume you can toss leather anything, real or faux, in the dryer.
The heat of a clothes dryer can cause these leather products, both fake and real, to crack and distort. That means one sleeve could get all wrinkled (permanently) while the other is stretched out of shape. It’s not worth finding out how your item will react.
Instead, hang leather jackets, pants, gloves, hats, and other items in a dry area away from direct heat or sunlight.
Silk, Lace, Delicate Fabrics
While silk fabric and garments are hand-washable, silk should never go in a clothes dryer.
Silk is very delicate, and the high temperatures of the tumble dryer can shrink or damage silk. The chances are great that it will come out permanently wrinkled.
And lace? Whether a large piece or simply an embellishment, lace can get easily torn because it is so delicate.
Workout wear typically contains a high percentage of Spandex and elastic. When these types of garments meet up with clothes dry heat, those fabrics and fibers are weakened.
These garments often include liners designed to wick away sweat and perspiration. Don’t take a chance by putting your workout clothes into the clothes dryer, which is sure to weaken those synthetics and destroy the wicking qualities.
Whether a sweater is hand- or machine-knit, it is delicate—especially if made from wool or another natural product. And if made from synthetic or man-made fiber, the fact that it is knitted rather than woven makes it sensitive to a clothes dryer’s heat and tumbling action.
Tossing it into the dryer to be heated up and tumbled simultaneously increases the likelihood that it will come out of the dryer completely out of shape. And if that’s not bad enough, expect to see “pilling” on the sweater’s surface, which makes it look old, tired, and worn out.
Fur, Natural or Faux
I doubt that you’d toss your grandmother’s mink stole into the washer or dryer, but how about that fur trim on your favorite t-shirt hoody? Of the cuffs on your cool winter gloves?
Stop and think before you do that. While it’s true that real fur comes from animals who do survive wet conditions quite nicely, but the way that fur—whether it’s real or faux—has been attached to this garment presents trouble just waiting to happen in a hot clothes dryer. Whether it can be laundered at all is open to question, so follow the care label. Then air-dry.
You may assume that you can put tights, pantyhose, and other delicate hosiery into the clothes dryer, provided you place them in a mesh laundry bag first. But don’t believe it.
These items are very delicate, made from synthetic fibers. Heat is the problem, and not just very high heat. Once dried in this way, you will shorten that item’s useful life.
Another problem: Chances are also good that your delicate hosiery will get snagged by catching on a button, zipper, or another similar hazard in the dryer. Don’t take a chance. Always air-dry hosiery.
It never dawned on me that one of my favorite knit tops (not the one pictured) should not go through the washer and dryer—that I should be hand washing it. This top is beaded, which may sound super cheesy, but it’s not.
It’s not sparkly, and the beads are not particularly noticeable that they are beads! The subtle design has been accomplished by gluing on hundreds of tiny beads.
Washing and drying this knit top wasn’t a problem in the beginning. But then, as if overnight, more than half of the design just disappeared and not in a good way.
I can only imagine that those tiny glued-on beads went down the drain or into the lint trap. Lesson learned: Never expose an item with sequins or beads to the heat of a clothes dryer. Instead, wash by hand, then allow to air dry.
Slippers, Slip-Proof Socks
Fabric slippers appear to be washable, and most are. For sure, slippers should not be dried in a clothes dryer. You must assume that glue has been used to attach the soles and trim. And quite possibly to close seams.
The heat of a clothes dryer is likely to melt the glue, causing the soles on slippers and the non-slip coating on socks to separate. You may not notice this until you’re flat on your face having run down the stairs or moved a bit too quickly into the kitchen.
Wool requires special care when it comes to cleaning. Assume that it will shrink if exposed to hot water or heat.
Always wash in cool water and allow to air dry. Follow that rule, and you won’t have to deal with shrunken socks, sweaters, throws, and blankets.
Clothes dryers don’t have an adequate wool cycle, a pretty good indicator that they’re not equipped to handle wool. Wool sweaters, scarves, blankets, and throws should be laid flat to dry to prevent them from stretching or misshapen.
NOTE: If your socks are made of treated “superwash wool” yarns, they represent an exception to the foregoing. Generally, you can machine wash items made from superwash wool yarn with warm water and regular laundry detergent. And they can be tumble-dried on low heat. Just don’t make the mistake of using a hot water wash cycle or high heat in the dryer, which can damage the protective resin coating on the yarn, which makes it “superwash.”
Oil, Grease Saturated Rags
Do not put oily rags or towels in a dryer—even if washed to be reused. When discarding oily rags, hang them outside to dry them before putting them in a trash bin or garbage receptacle.
Hotels and restaurants have reported incidents where rags or towels used to clean up oily spills (such as oil from deep fryers) were washed and then thrown in the dryer only to burst into flames due to “spontaneous combustion.” Clearly, the washing process did not remove all of that oil. These are considered flammable stains.
What I’m describing is not even close to the rags and towels we use in our kitchens. I’m talking about heavy-duty garage and mechanic use rags, saturated with grease, oil, and or solvents.
When oily rags are bunched up and piled on top of each other or placed in a dryer, heat can build to a point where it ignites an already flammable material. No matches, torches, or open flames required.
Bottom line: Never put oily rags in a clothes dryer. Spread them out to air dry before tossing them in the trash can or washing them to re-use. Even then, out of an abundance of caution, air-dry only.
My idea of a great rack is collapsible, so I can put it away without requiring much effort or storage space; it allows air to flow through the wet items from both sides, is sturdy, and also adaptable to handle the size and weight of a variety of items to be air-dried. And it should be able to accommodate both hanging and laying flat.
Best Inexpensive Drying Rack
Expanded, Updated, Republished: 5-19-23
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