Okay, I admit it. I use a clothes dryer. And I was feeling really guilty about that.
But I live in the Northwest where it rains a lot. The idea of rigging up a clothesline in my back yard, finding a time when it’s not raining to hang out my clothes, or setting up a rack in my living room, and having stiff sheets and towels (presuming they ever got dry)—well, all of that seemed just too hard.
But I couldn’t shake the guilt. I was running two to three dryer loads a week and I knew that does really bad things for my carbon karma.
So I read about dryers. I learned that a full dryer is far more efficient than a half-empty one. Then I noticed that my washing machine (yes, a front loader) has about half the capacity of my dryer and I suddenly realize I don’t need to dry each wash load separately. I can combine them into one dryer load.
I also noticed that the towels are the last to dry. The dryer goes probably an extra 10 minutes just to finish off those towels. What if I could get the towels almost dry before I put them in? Then I wouldn’t waste electricity and still have fluffy towels.
So I hammered two towel bars onto the wall of my utility room. I make sure my first wash load has the towels in it, and after doing that load, I hang the towels on the bars. I put the rest of the washed clothes in the dryer, but I don’t turn it on. I do a second and sometimes a third wash load. For shirts and pants, I realized I don’t need to put them in the dryer at all. I can just hang them up on clothes hangers, which makes the clothes last longer and look better.
When the towels are just barely damp and almost stiff—takes about six hours—I put them in the dryer with all the other wet things and turn it on. By now it is night—so I get extra points for doing my one dryer load when it’s not a peak time for electricity use. The whole week’s load takes about 20 minutes.
Bottom line: I’ve gone from two or three dryer loads a week to just one, and the run is shorter, since the towels now dry so quickly. I figure I’ve cut my dryer’s carbon footprint by two-thirds. And that gets rid of two-thirds of my guilt.
Yeah, I know my dryer carbon footprint is still not zero and there are heroic folks out there, even in the Northwest, who are finding ways to abandon the dryer altogether. But I can tell you that because the changes I made require so little effort on my part, I’ve stuck with them. It’s been two years since I hammered those towel bars onto the utility room wall and now this routine feels like the normal way to do laundry.
In this simple story I think there’s a secret to an important part of how we can all make the big transition to stop devastating the planet. It’s not about sacrifice. It’s about changing lots of little habits. We have so much waste in our way of living, we can wring out lots of waste. If we just give some careful thought to what steps we can take, it turns out that many of the changes are not that hard.
What habits have you been changing, and what helps you stick with them?