Neither indoors nor outdoors – how are we supposed to dry our clothes in winter?

It’s a debate as old as mold itself: how to dry your clothes in the winter when it’s raining outside, damp inside and clothes dryers are an eco-no-no. ?

For centuries, when we weren’t using them to build blanket forts, we dried our clothes on racks in the warmest room in the house. But environmental health experts tell us it’s a soggy disaster.

According to the building research institute BRANZ, hanging wet clothes indoors during the winter could release up to five liters of water per load of laundry in your home every time, two liters more than cooking, or breathing an adult. In fact, research has found that drying clothes indoors may be a contributing factor to mold and mildew growth in some homes.

“Imagine it’s a big family making three loads, that would be 15 liters of water,” says Dr Mikael Boulic, senior lecturer at Massey’s School of Built Environment. “It’s like living in a sauna, more or less.”

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But anyone who’s picked up a load of laundry in the evening that’s about as damp as when they turned it off that morning knows that line drying in the winter can be unreliable at best, impossible at worst.

So if we can’t dry them inside, and we can’t dry them outside, where are we supposed to dry our trash in the winter? It’s “quite tricky,” says Boulic. Oh.

Drying racks aren’t so good for the environment – the average household could save 27kg of CO₂e per year by line drying instead of using one, according to estimates. They can also consume expensive energy if you leave them running longer than necessary.

But these impacts aside, they are the best way to dry clothes during the humid months. “When it’s damp outside and you’ve run out of clothes for the kids, that’s when clothes dryers come in,” Gareth Gretton of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority once told us.

Make sure yours is vented to the outside, through a window or wall, or you’ll have the same humidity issues.

Some dryers sense when clothes are dry and shut off, but if yours doesn’t, check periodically to make sure you’re not wasting energy and money.

It may also be worth investing in new technology such as heat pump dryers, which are much more efficient and cheaper to run, if you do a lot of laundry.

If you don’t have a clothes dryer or access to a covered outdoor area, it’s best to dry your clothes in your bathroom and run the extractor for as long as you can.

If you don’t have an extractor fan – and you really should have one for the same reasons you shouldn’t dry your clothes indoors – you should have at least two windows open while the clothes dry.

“This is called cross ventilation. If you open two windows on either side of the house, a draft is created, because there is always a wind blowing from one side,” says Boulic .

If it’s too cold to open the windows, you’re back to square one – and the answer might be not washing your clothes as often.

“Dry your clothes outside,” they said.  They hadn't come to our backyards in the middle of winter.

Barry Harcourt

“Dry your clothes outside,” they said. They hadn’t come to our backyards in the middle of winter.

Once or twice a month might be fine, but doing multiple loads a week will really start to cause you problems as moisture builds up in the house.

“Our homes are full of hygroscopic materials – it’s all paper, wood, carpeting, clothing, all materials that have the ability to retain moisture,” says Boulic.

“So even when your clothes are dry, that moisture will stay inside your home, and it’s pretty hard to get rid of it without airing it out as much as possible.

“The mold is still there, you still have spores. The food is still there, our houses are full of wood and paper, cellulose that the mold feeds on. If you bring water [inside your home]mold will grow rapidly.”

Our houses are made of food mold, just add water.

Rachel Boyak

Our houses are made of food mold, just add water.

A damp house will also cost much more and be more difficult to heat. Boulic recommends using a dehumidifier in the winter, to get moisture out of the air, if it’s an ongoing problem.

On social media, Twitter’s indoor clothes drying community has been debating winter laundry and the culprit of damp Kiwi homes. Some have suggested drying your clothes on a line or a drying rack and finishing them in the dryer. Others, transporting large loads to the rapid industrial dryers of laundries.

One suggested drying clothes under the heat pump, while another said they were drying theirs in front of a wood-burning stove.

Do you have any tips and tricks for drying winter clothes? Email us at [email protected] and let us know.

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