Powering Down: Living Without a Tumble Dryer

Drying sheets over a chair on a rainy winter afternoon.

We bought our one and only tumble dryer sixteen years ago when our third baby was born in winter in Tasmania. We were renovating and had no clothesline. It felt like the decision at the time was dryer or disposables. We went with the dryer.

Since the winter of nappies I have only ever used the dryer intermittently. I love hanging washing on the line. It is my favourite chore - it gets me into the sunshine, and in close proximity to my garden:) It makes the washing smell like sun and wind and fresh air. What's not to love? So the dryer has been mostly used for emergencies - school uniforms, sport uniforms, rainy weeks. I have even found that the washing dries well over two sunny days in the winter.

Now that I have no dryer, and it is a very wet winter this year, this is what my very small dining room looks like most days:

I don't mind this - I think drying washing looks cosy, and also adds needed humidity to a room heated by a woodstove. I would prefer some antique clothes horses - they are on the wishlist.

I take advantage of physics - hot air rises - by hanging socks and shirts on wire coat hangers from the top of the doorway. 

Also on the wishlist is one of those lovely wooden clothes dryer racks that hang from the ceiling.

Now, in a small house every corner has to be put to work, and all the systems need to be as efficient as they can. This decorative basket also holds the pegs for the clothes airers:

Do you live without a tumble dryer? What systems do you have set up to dry clothes?


Linda said…
I haven't owned a tumble drier for many years. When mine bit the dust ai decided not to replace it. Like you I love the smell and feel of washing dried on the washing line. However in the UK we have lots of months when it's not really feasible. End of Ocober to at least mid- March. I have a Sheila maid ( the wooden drier frame hanging from the laundry room ceiling). Works well, especially for thinner clothes like shirts, PJs etc. Takes a couple of days for towels and I always think there is a slightly musty smell! The Sheila maid worked well as our central heating boiler is in the same small laundry, a perfect drying scenario. However, a few years ago we replaced our 30 years old boiler for a new modern one ( a condensing boiler which is deemed to be more environmentally friendly!) . Only problem is that it doesn't give off the heat into the room like the old one did, hence my longer drying times! Like you I hang washing on coat hangers from door frames, that works really well. I do have an airing cupboard where I air ironed clothes, bed linens, underwear and towels. Works well.
Anonymous said…
We have a dryer, but this winter I am determined to use it as little as possible - so my house looks a little like yours! Only it's the lounge room because there's a gigantic heater vent and space behind the couch so you don't feel like you're living in the middle of the wardrobe. I have an enormous, rustic and really not very practical wooden airer that fits all Reg's work clothes, and replaced my shitty subject to collapse without notice wire ones with some way better ones from the Kmart - I had to put aside my dislike for buying crap from there, but they're really rather good. Tall, and with a smaller footprint, so I can fit three in not much more than the space I used to put one of the other ones.

I also have a wall mounted drying rack that I hang my shirts and supportive undergarments on (oh, the sensitivities of 13 year old boys). The only things that go in the dryer are sheets and towels (they're too big to drape around the house); and the odd emergency spillage situation.

I do prefer to dry outside, but because the line is in shadow when I leave and it's dark when I get home, unless it's actually windy, there's not a hope in hell I'll get anything dry outside.
Bek said…
I have never had a clothes dryer. Only ever outdoors on the line or inside on clothes racks. Never had an issue, but it does take planning. Or you have to wear something else. First world problems.
Hazel said…
I don't have a tumble drier either. We too had one briefly when the children were in cloth nappies but we rarely used it. I'm in the UK and if at all possible I'll hang clothes on the line outside- even just a little while makes them smell nice and can help avoid the musty smell you get when wet towels hand around.
Otherwise I hang things in front of our wood burning Rayburn, on doors and of off door frames. We do have a boiler in a corner of our kitchen, but like Linda lost drying heat with improved efficiency! Still good for finishing things of though.
Unknown said…
I'm currently looking at my three tall wooden drying racks, which take up quite a bit of room in my lounge room. I got rid of my dryer once the kids were out of school uniforms. Canberra is usually pretty good for drying clothes outside, but we've also had an unusually wet winter, so most weeks we have shirts and so on airing for a couple of days. Our gas heater has an excellent fan, so the air circulates well. And since I use clove oil and white vinegar as fabric softener, the room smells spicy. Bonus!
Fernglade Farm said…
Hi Jo,

Lovely stuff as usual and thanks very much for the lemon suggestions. My woodstove looks quite similar in that there are the old washing horses constantly in front of the heater + several tubs of about 5kg of sake (rice wine) + apple cider vinegar and maybe some other stuff like a demijohn of quince wine. There was some yoghurt there too yesterday. If you can track down the old clothes horses they are well worth your time. However, they have two minor problems. Exposed timber can stain wet clothes, so my lot has some sort of plastic coating over the timber rails and I'm just careful not to dag clothes over the timber legs and frame. Sheets can be folded over and will happily dry as long as they are turned from time to time. The other problem is that the dogs use the low hanging clothes to apparently scratch their backs as they run underneath them... Not so sure about that one.

Glad to hear the concrete was a success! Very well done. You'll enjoy that work for years to come.


Jo said…
Ooh, I have uncovered a bevy of tumble dryer refusers:)

Linda, I would love to have an airing cupboard explained to me. I read about such things in English novels, and it always sounded very posh as well as useful. We have to hang our clothes outside if they need air!

Miss Maudy, I am hearing you - at our new house I had to put up a clothesline on the only spare wall - in the shade. I leave towels, sheets etc outside for days sometimes, and eventually they dry, sort of, but even then I generally park them in front of the fire for a bit to dry properly.

My aunt (in Melbourne) had central heating airvents in the floor that she used to put the clothes airer over. Brilliant!

Bek, yes, planning! I only wash clothes once a week now there are three of us. As long as everyone puts every skerrick of washing out, it works. If not, certain young ladies have had to rummage through the dirty washing to find sports uniforms. It only takes once.. also, they learn how to 'sponge'.

Hazel, isn't the wood fire wonderful for drying! We don't tend to do boilers here, so if you don't have wood you have reverse cycle airconditioning which isn't particularly useful for drying clothes, except very slowly..

Hazel Marchant, clove oil, yum! I use eucalyptus oil in the fabric softener dispenser, mostly on sheets and towels for its antibacterial properties rather than fabric softening, but clove oil, must try that! I know clove oil is magic for keeping mould away in the bathroom, so maybe it would prevent that musty smell in the towels as well..

Chris, that woodstove of yours works very hard! I am looking at more ways to make mine double up on jobs too.

Yes, I think there was some particular timber that the old folks used to make clothes horses that didn't stain. Must look that up...

love this! this is every Tasmanian home in the winter time! I've never owned a dryer, nor has my mum. it just gets draped around the house. and hung in doorways! I do that too!
Hazel said…
So how do you heat your water if you don't have a boiler? Ours should run our central heating too, but we don't use it because we have two wood stoves.

Clove oil does sound like a good idea. I don't use fabric softeners at all because I wash with soap nuts, but clove-scented towels is very appealing!

Airing Cupboards- most English houses used to have an immersion tank (hot water heating tank) in a cupboard, usually off of the landing. The tanks were often not insulated or were poorly lagged so the storage space around it was shelved to make the most of the heat- an airing cupboard :)
My last two houses have had combi-boilers installed which heat the water on demand, which is more efficient and probably better environmentally. No tank of water to keep hot, so the immersions are long gone but I still have the cupboard- we still call it the airing cupboard even though now they only store linens and towels.
Does that help at all?!
Jo said…
e, I love walking the dog and peeking through everyone's windows to their winter clothes drying arrangements! We are such a thrifty bunch in Tassie:)

Hazel, ah, what you call a boiler, we call hot water cylinders. In Australia they are rarely in the house, mostly under, or outside, which is insane in a cold state like Tasmania. In our new house, ours is behind a hidden trapdoor behind a cupboard in our living room, so when I had to call the plumber to look at it the other day, I had to move the cupboard first, very inconvenient. Your system sounds very efficient. Multitasking!

Some people have hot water on demand, but I think only if they are connected to natural gas, which is difficult and expensive in Tasmania. I have been talking to the plumber about solar hot water which I will continue to look into..

I don't use fabric softener either, but I use the fabric softener dispenser on the washing machine to put eucalyptus oil in with sheets and towels, esp when someone is sick, but now I am going to use clove oil sometimes because it is delicious, and keeps mould at bay:)

How do you find the soapnuts? I have discovered I can buy them at my local whole foods shop, but haven't tried them yet. Do you re-use them? And how many per load? In with the wash, or in the soap dispenser? Can you use them with front loaders? Apologies for the barrage of questions, but it is great to find someone who has actually used them:)
Hazel said…
I love the soap nuts. I find they're as effective as a non-bio detergent, so I do need to spot treat some things (especially greasemarks). I knew my husband would be sceptical so I used them for two months without telling him (traditional division of labour here as well!) and he didn't notice :)

I have a front loader (everyone does here) and I use 5-8 half shells, I suppose. You get a sweet little cloth bag to put them in but in practice I find it hard to undo the string when it's wet so I scrounged a detergent tablet bag from a neighbour which has a nylon cord. I'm lazy, so I'm just as likely to just chuck them in the machine though- you just have to collect the bits up as you hang out the clothes!
They come with instructions on using them a couple of times but they stay in my machine until they go soggy and then I compost them. You can boil them up to make a soapy cleaner or (with fresh shells) body wash, but I haven't tried that.
You obviously get no scent but I add a few drops of essential oil in the winter when I can't get the line-dried scent that I prefer anyway.
Some synthetic fabric t shirts (sports base layer-type fabric) may need extra oomph to freshen up. They were designed to be cleaned with bio detergent so I keep a cheap bottle on hand for my husband's work t shirts every few washes in the winter (and cleaning up cat wee!)

Environmentally, they're not perfect because they're imported but I suspect if I added up the miles of the ingredients, packaging and then final product of the average detergent it would be similar. They're shipped not flown, because they're dry, and they're fair trade. They're also almost plastic free and virtually zero waste- there's a plastic bag inside the larger cotton bags. I rinse it out and hand wash with the soapy water or pour it in the soap dispenser and then recycle it.

Wow, sorry for the essay, but hopefully it answers your questions! I'd give them a go. Oh, and I wash nearly everything at 40 C.
Jo said…
Thanks Hazel, love essays:) I will give them a go. I currently use a ready-made eco detergent that I buy in bulk at the wholefoods store, and I also have a recipe for homemade detergent, also with bulk ingredients from the wholefoods store. I will try both and review them. Thanks for those comprehensive instructions xx
mgalimba said…
Hi Jo, just wanted to let you know that I love your recent comments at The Archdruid blog. Bless you for casting some rays of stalwart sunshine in that fascinating but sometimes depressive venue. You are absolutely right that down shifting doesn't need to be painful, and can be deeply satisfying. I'm lucky to live in a rural community made up of recent immigrants and other humble folk, so we've never got fully locked into the American/global consumer culture. I.e. we all pretty much have our souls and social/survival skills intact.
Re: the tumble dryer I live in Hawaii so I just hang them on a line outside which most people in the country still do, but once you get into the town/city people seem to not have time or are just too haughty for such rustic practices anymore.
Rock on, woman!!
Anonymous said…
What a blessed life you have that you can blog about dryers. I came upon your blog in error and am saddened by the state of the world that someone living in such obvious opulence and money-small house...really? Belittles the rest of the world who would kill for such an abundance of. ..socks...let alone the option of drying them indoors. You are obviously a very small minded, self consumed individual who really needs to take a look at the atrocities in the world and stop trying to make yourself look like a martyr. Maybe something awful needs to happen to you for you to realize how very lucky you are.
Jo said…
Mgalimba, welcome to the conversation! I love the sound of your community - I grew up in the tropics, where clothes drying was never a problem, and trees dripped with food, and people, chickens, pigs and dogs were everywhere. It's lovely, isn't it?

I often feel like a right numpty commenting at ADR amongst the intelligentsia - terrifying sometimes, isn't it?

Anonymous, well, you know, you got it in one. I do indeed live a blessed life, full of abundance. Martyr - no. I am not asking anyone to feel sorry for me. I realise I live a life of privilege, and am attempting to scale down, one step at a time, starting with a smaller house, half my former stuff, and without the tumble dryer, and ending up, well, who knows where? I am attempting to take an honest look at my first world life and work out how to live it more justly. Feel free to pop in any time with constructive criticism.

Hazel said…
Wow, not sure where that last comment came from.
I did type a long response but I've deleted it. Just carry on with what you're doing Jo, I look forward to reading your blog. If everyone took a step or two down and back perhaps we could make this world a little more equal.

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