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YES! But How? :: Save Energy While Drying Clothes

If you're searching for practical ways to live sustainably, just ask us.
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OUT TO DRY

I'd like to use my electric clothes dryer less, since I know it consumes a lot of energy. But I don't think I can give up my dryer completely, because sometimes I need my clothes in a hurry. And besides, I really like the soft, fluffy feeling my clothes, sheets, and towels have when they come out of the dryer. What can I do to save energy when drying clothes?

A good place to start is by purchasing an energy-efficient dryer. Look for the Energy Star logo. Appliances with this logo are significantly more energy-efficient than the average comparable model.

No matter what kind of dryer you use, there are several things you can try to reduce energy consumption.

First, remove those gunky dust bunnies from the filter, so your dryer can breathe and dry your clothes faster.

Second, avoid fabric-softener sheets. They clog up the filter, create more waste, and leave chemical residue on your clothes.

With dryers as with life, timing is everything. Washing and drying your clothes early in the morning or late at night will reduce the amount of energy you use at peak hours. This may save you money, since some utilities impose an extra charge during peak hours. Another perk: reducing energy consumption during these times reduces the need for your utility company to build extra generation capacity to meet peak demand.

Photo by Justine Simon

The most energy-efficient solution is to hang your clothes up to dry. This not only saves energy and money, but also puts less strain on the fabric and extends the life of your clothes. Even during the winter, you may be able to dry clothes outside if the air is dry and windy or if you hang them on a covered porch. While you can dry clothes inside, this introduces excess moisture into the air, which can lead to the growth of mold in some homes.

Want to get those air-dried fabrics fluffy again? Once they're dry, pop them in the dryer on low or no heat for 10 to 15 minutes. The dryer's tumbling action will fluff them up nicely. It will also help remove excess lint, hair, and animal fur. Even better, this short stint in the dryer uses relatively little energy, since most of a dryer's energy consumption goes to producing the high heat needed for drying.

—Sarah Kuck


REDUCE, REUSE, REREAD

At the school where I teach, we've just gotten some funding for new textbooks. How can I find a new home for the old books?

First, see if any local schools, colleges, prisons, or charitable organizations can use them.

If not, try donating them to larger organizations that distribute books nationally or globally. A list of organizations, including their scope and contact information, can be found in the Directory of Book Donation Programs on the University of Albany's website at: www.albany.edu/~dlafonde/Global/bookdonation.htm.

Some of the featured organizations include Reader to Reader, which provides books to underserved libraries through the United States, and the Darien Book Aid Plan, which distributes to Peace Corps volunteers, teachers, libraries, and schools all over the world.

Another option is to donate your textbooks to Books to Prisoners, an organization that sends free books to people incarcerated throughout the United States. Among the books that are in highest demand are dictionaries, as well as math, chemistry, biology, physics, and foreign language textbooks. For a complete list of book needs, as well as contact information and shipping instructions, visit www.bookstoprisoners.net.

The U.S. Post Office has special discounted rates for books, so be sure to tell the postal clerk that you're shipping books.

—Sarah Kuck


RESPONSIBLE SHOPPER

I try my best to buy things used or make do without, but sometimes I just have to buy something new. Before I make purchasing decisions, I'd like to learn more about the social, labor, and environmental practices of the places I shop and the products I buy. Where I can go to find that sort of information?

I've been using Co-op America's Responsible Shopper program for more than five years to answer my own questions about the places I frequent and the products I buy. The program provides a wealth of information about the pros and cons of each business, as well as information about how to get involved in grassroots campaigns to encourage corporations to improve their practices. Visit www.coopamerica.org/programs/rs to search for the businesses you are contemplating patronizing.

—Sarah Kuck


WAX ON, WAX OFF

When I came home from a holiday party, I discovered a wax stain on my dress pants. I don't want to discard them, but the wax didn't come off in the wash. What's the best way to remove this stain?

When removing wax stains from fabrics such as clothing or tablecloths, all you need is a little white gift-tissue paper and an iron. Lay the stained fabric flat, wax stain face up. Then place the tissue paper over the top. Run a warm iron over it, switching to new pieces of paper once the “grease” saturates through, and voila! Remember, using leftover tissue paper helps you be even more sustainable. Now you can continue to save the world in your clean pants.

—Sarah Kuck


CONSERVING FASHION

Can you recommend some simple methods for extending the life of clothing I already own?

Extending the life of your clothes can be a fun, easy, and creative process:

  • Wash spills or stains by hand when you can, rather than running the item through the washer. The less you wash your clothes, the longer they'll last.
  • Don't overload the washer. Overloading can cause irreparable contortions in the fabric.
  • Fasten all buttons before washing. This helps protect the buttons and also prevents other items from catching—and potentially pulling or ripping—on the buttons.
  • Have a stuck zipper? Save your favorite jeans or jacket with a little olive oil or soap. Greasing the zipper with either will get it moving smoothly again.
  • Turn clothes inside-out before washing. The side that rubs against other clothes and the sides of the washer will fade more quickly.
  • Minimize time in the dryer. The high heat of the dryer puts a great deal of stress on clothes. For tips on decreasing dryer time see “Out to Dry” above.
  • Store clothes made from delicate material, especially nylons, in plastic bags so that they don't catch on the inside of your dresser. Also, make sure your nails are in decent shape so they don't accidentally snag your delicate clothing.
  • Fix small holes and frays before they grow. If you're not handy with a needle and thread and have a problem with a particularly expensive item of clothing, get an estimate on repairs from a professional tailor. Many small problems can be repaired for under $20.
  • Get creative! Iron-on patches on the inside of holes can prevent a raggedy appearance, and interesting patches on the outside can create a whole new look.

—Catherine Bailey

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