Death by Clothes Dryer, One Load at a Time

You should see the big wad of lint I just plucked from the trap of my clothes dryer. Ack! Where does all of that come from? I know I emptied all pockets and I’m certain I did not wash a bag of pillow stuffing.

Young couple peering into clothes dryer with worry

I’ll tell you what it is, and I am not happy about this: It’s visual proof the dryer is killing my clothes. Those fibers were neatly woven into these clothes, towels, and sheets only 30 minutes ago. For all the convenience a clothes dryer offers, it may come at the price of having to replace clothes much too often.

Drying clothes in a machine can cause the fabric to wear out prematurely. Worse, it causes items to shrink and not only the first time they’re washed. Sleeves and pant legs continually get shorter and shorter when machine-dried to death.

There are tactics to counteract the abuse suffered by a clothes dryer without having to revert back to the days of sheets and towels frozen stiff on the clothesline and still end up with comfy jeans and fluffy, soft towels.

Get the soap out

Residual detergent in fabrics causes them to feel rough. Add 1/2 cup white vinegar to the last rinse. This will help remove the residual detergent from the fabrics even when air-dried. Clothes and linens will be softer, too.


Never machine dry clothes—especially jeans—completely. Ten to 15 minutes is sufficient for most items to remove the major wrinkles. Now smooth and hang them to finish drying.

Hang by the ankles

Remove partially dry jeans and all other pants from the dryer and hang them on hangers by the hems on pant hangers equipped with clothespins or clamps. The weight of the pant will pull the fibers into place and keep the pants from getting shorter every time you launder them.

Emergency speed dry

When you need something to dry in a big hurry, here’s a great tip: Place the wet item(s) and one dry clean, dry bath towel into the dryer. Set the machine to the highest temperature safe for that particular wet item. You will have dry jammies (or whatever) in less than half the time because the towel will absorb a great deal of the moisture.

Steam dry

This is one of my favorite dryer hacks. Some clothes wrinkle in the dryer, no matter how quickly you take them out. Ironing can take care of that, but it’s time-consuming. A quick and easy solution for those the wrinkles—ice cubes! Throw 2 to 4 ice cubes in the dryer. The melting ice will interact with the heat of the machine to produce steam. That works well to reduce wrinkles while the clothes are drying, as long as you don’t leave the items sitting in the dryer.

This ice trick works best for smaller loads of laundry, where the released steam can work its way into fabrics with ease.

Step away from the dryer

Any item that has a rubber backing, like a bath rug, should never come in contact with the inside of a dryer. Lay it flat to air dry.

Don’t kill the spandex

Fabrics that contain spandex, latex, elastic, or have painted or silkscreened logos should not meet the heat of a clothes dryer. Even the elastic in pajamas, underwear and so on will break down quickly if dried on Hot. Make sure you always read the labels to determine fabric content and laundering instructions.

Get a portable drying rack or install a few extra towel bars so you can air-dry these more delicate types of fabric.


First published: 2-23-16; Revised & Updated 1-7-20

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22 replies
  1. Jackie says:

    Mary I want to know what is wrong wrong with hanging the clothes on a clothes line. I have had a dryer a couple of times but never liked them. Our clothes came out wrinkled and we did not like the smell of the clothes dried that way. When hung on the clothes line they smell sweet and fresh. I guess my kids would like to have a dryer because then they wouldn’t have to hang the clothes out in all weather, (including rain), but the clothes come out fresh and soft and wonderful to wear. You might ask why I don’t buy fabric softener and use a dryer I am allergic to fragrances of any sort. My husband who does the laundry will not even bring in new clothing to the house. He takes them to the building we do our laundry in and only brings them in when washed.

    • Suzanne Patterson says:

      My one and only attempt to line-dry my clothes didn’t work out well. The birds decided that my clothesline was the perfect place to perch and when I took the dry clothes inside I found the results. My clothes were so soiled by bird droppings that I had to rewash them.
      How do you keep the birds from soiling your clothes when they’re drying outside? I can’t stand out there all day and they have no fear of my dog.

  2. Eileen Duncan says:

    I decided to save some money on my electric bill, but a decent umbrella style clothes dryer for my yard couldn’t be found locally, and the post and cross arm clotheslines have to be constructed which I couldn’t do myself. I finally found an umbrella style outdoor clothes dryer online that sounded perfect. Very expensive though…until I found I could order the model I wanted, online, through a big box store for well under $100. It is sturdy, adjustable, will rotate, folds up, comes with a cover, fits in a tube in the ground and I usually bring mine in after laundry’s done. Tennessee has some dandy winds and lightning. It will hold a lot, I’ve never completely filled it yet, even with with 4 loads including bedding. I think it’s European made. I am so grateful to have found it, have never seen one in any store before nor since. The company makes several different models but this was exactly what I needed. Surely they are sold in some of the major markets in the U.S. I wasn’t sure if I should say the brand on here or not.

  3. Kate Miller says:

    My dryer broke several years ago and I’ve discovered I don’t really need it. Since then, I’ve been using drying racks. In addition to helping my things last longer, in the winter, the drying clothes help put some moisture into the house. The only down side is that our summers are so humid, I have to plan for extra drying time for heavier things like jeans and towels.

  4. Catherine says:

    I don’t believe the dryer is the culprit. When my washer breaks down, I wash laundry in the bathtub. When I do, there’s almost no lint in the dryer, while the exact same items will yield lots of dryer lint if washed in the washing machine.

  5. Cheryl shanks says:

    My Grandmother had a Speed Queen washer that was given to her 2nd hand. It lasted until the iron in the water caused it to rust itself to death. I then gave her a Whirlpool stripped down model from Sears that had been discontinued. It is still running, though the Iron in the water has had an effect , sometimes clothes come out with Rust spots, she will not get a water softner, (but I digress), my suggestion is to go look into a Speed Queen. They are little work horses.

  6. Hajime Sano says:

    I’ve always used the clothes dryer sparingly, which made me an oddity amongst my male friends. My high-performance sports clothing, and all my regularly clothing, lasts a lot longer as a result. Plus the damp clothes on the clothes rack help add a little bit of moisture back into the house air. Which is nice given that I live in dry Southern California.

  7. NF says:

    Unfortunately, I have several dogs and air drying is not a great solution to ridding my laundry of dog hair. My laundry really isn’t”dirty”(grease, bad stains, etc., and there’s only 2 adults) so I have found that washing most of my “normal” laundry on the shortest, most delicate cycle along with a high spin(I have a front loader with many cycle options) works the best(delicates excluded). I dry my laundry on a medium setting, automatic, using the sensor and then use the heatless air dry cycle afterwords. Most of my laundry comes out perfect w/o over drying. I never put my latex backed rugs in the dryer, heat or not. They are always air dried. My other suggestion is please don’t use liquid fabric softener, period. When I was using liquid FS, many aeons ago, I noticed that anything with rubber(elastic, spandex, gardening gloves, latex back rugs) became gummy and sticky after washing and they degraded much faster. Once I switched to vinegar as a rinse agent, started using softener sheets in the dryer(don’t hate me, I love the smell and the static control), I no longer had the issue. I buy a lot of my clothing at thrift stores and they actually look better by using this technique after I wash them than when I purchase them. I also do not use much detergent, either. Mary’s home made liquid detergent is great, by the way. Cheap, low suds, easy on fabric.

  8. Cheryl says:

    BEST solution is air-dry your laundry. I have sheets/towels/clothing last for a MINIMUM of TEN years with FREQUENT washings just because of a clothesline 🙂 If that’s not an option, at LEAST partially dry your laundry in the dryer, then HANG to finish drying on a drying rack. I guess it just depends upon how long you want your household linens and clothing to last. I NEVER use fabric softener. The air-dried towels and washcloths are FINE 🙂 They SOAK UP WATER, THAT is the JOB of a bath towel 🙂

    • Pat says:

      Cheryl, I commend your ambition. Here in Minnesota, we have at least 5 months of winter, so hanging laundry outside would be quite an undertaking! Besides, I haven’t seen a house with laundry lines in a long time.

      • Carol says:

        I have outside wash lines in my yard, but can only use them in the spring/summer/fall. Not possible in the winter. Unfortunately I need my dryer but am not happy with it.

      • Cally Ross says:

        I use drying racks in the house year-round, why go out in the heat anyway!? 🙂 the only thing i hang outside are sheets and blankets.

      • Mystic Hunt says:

        I have a retractable laundry line on my back patio and another in the laundry room. They also make wall mounted collapsible drying racks.

      • Sue in MN says:

        Drying racks! Our dryer is used just to remove wrinkles, then on to the collapsible racks. Makes the laundry room a bit of an obstacle course, but as pointed out it also humidifies the air and saves the clothes. Our daughter, with two small children, also uses racks in winter and clotheslines in summer. And even when we travel, we carry portable lines because underclothes, and anything synthetic, never is dried in the dryer. I just replaced some briefs that I know were purchased for my husband in 2012.

  9. Pat says:

    I so agree. That is why we dry our clothing outdoors weather permitting. Some items we dry on a rack in the bathroom or laundry room. I love those racks that attach to the bath tub wall and you hang your clothes on them and with the shower curtain shut you never notice it. Love it.
    I agree. They are making dryers that don’t last as long as the older models. I have older models last me 20-25 years or more. You are lucky of the new ones last you 3 years or so. Mine died weeks after the warranty expired and the manufactuer told me that nothing lasts forever on the phone when I called them. 3 years is forever it seems now of days. LOL
    Besides we love saving energy by hanging clothes instead of using the dryer. More money to add to the grocery bill. LOL

    • Dawn says:

      I use my dryer and I also hang them. You are right about the new dryers. They are not built well and they are very expensive. We had a Kenmore (Sears) that lasted over 25 years. All we had to do was make sure you change the lint trap and check the back of the dryer for lint. The lint gets everywhere. It died when we stopped checking for lint as much as we used to. It died around 2000. Now we are on our third dryer.

  10. cmt says:

    I decided years ago not to replace my dryer when it died for the umpteen time. DH and I had managed to fix it ourselves a few times, and we had hired a repairman a few times, but I’d had it with repairs. I bought a spin dryer instead. It looks like a cylindrical trash can. It works on the same principal as the spin cycle of a washer, only much more efficiently. I spin a good bit of the water out of my clothes, then hang them to finish drying. It works, and saves me money. Alas, the spin dryer is not engineered to the point of being a reliable piece of equipment, so I would NOT recommend anyone else buy one. What frustrates me is the government push to make appliances more energy efficient has resulted in manufacturers making motors in appliances weaker to use less energy. Thus, they don’t work as well. If washing machines could spin the clothes as efficiently as my little spin dryer, maybe we could all get away with using the dryer much, much less, if at all. Mostly we can do pretty well with hang drying clothes.

  11. JN says:

    I don’t think the dryer is the only problem — Probably not even the biggest problem. We had to replace our front-loading washer (thankfully it outlived the expected life for the model), and let ourselves be talked into a “high-efficiency” top-loader because of budget constraints. Dryer lint has DOUBLED at minimum, and clothes are fraying much faster than with the front-loader. In the long run, this washer will not be a savings.

    I think the washer produces the lint and the dryer collects it and gets the blame.

    • Terry says:

      I agree, when my daughter purchased a new top loader, some of the clothes didn’t even get wet. She had the repairman out several times and he told her that there had many complaints about the same issue! She sold a 3 month old set for less than new price and went back to a front loader.

  12. Sophie LaFontaine says:

    I can vouch for the rubber-backing tip. My old rubber-backed rug died from being in the dryer too many times. I replaced it with an all-fabric rug (no rubber) and I love it!!


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