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Family Matters

Make This The Year To “Fire Your Clothes Dryer"

March 1st, 2013

By: Carla Knipe

 Walk down any suburban street, even on the warmest summer days, and you’re likely to hear the hum of a tumble dryer and smell the sickly-sweetness of laundry products wafting from at least one house.  Despite the fact that many families want to live a greener lifestyle, laundry remains a bastion of convenience versus environmental sustainability.  After all, who wants to lug around heavy baskets of wet washing to a clothesline when it’s so much easier just to press a button to deal with the chore?

 It’s easy to forget that laundry habits were, even in the not-so-distant past, completely different. Clothes were hung outside on clotheslines on nice days, or inside on drying racks in poor weather. Tumble dryers were not common until after World War Two, and even then, many families just couldn’t afford one. This all changed during the 1960s and 70s, where advertising campaigns by appliance manufacturers promoted dryers as modern, timesaving devices and also perpetuated the myth that hanging up clothes was passé and associated with impoverished tenements, not modern progress. Since then, dryers are now the norm. Clotheslines have disappeared from most backyards.  However, if you ask people about a vivid childhood memory, the smell of fresh, sun-dried laundry is often at the top of their list.

 In the last few decades, the cost of electricity has substantially increased and power consumption by households is at an all-time high.  Other than the fridge, the washing machine and tumble dryer are the most energy-guzzling appliances in the house. The simple fact is, changing your laundry habits can reduce your power bills by an average of $25/month, eliminate a substantial amount of C02 emissions from entering Earth’s atmosphere, and reduce wear and tear on your clothing (which also saves you money by helping them to last longer). Even if you don’t hang out every single wash load, you will still make noticeable changes to your household budget as well as protect our planet’s natural resources. So why is there still such resistance to air dying clothes?

The first reason is that people think they aren’t allowed to. Thanks to media stories highlighting municipal clothesline bans which have often led to citizens going to court to defend their “right to dry”, many people believe that it is illegal to hang clothes outside. Clothesline bans still exist in many American communities, especially in condominium and apartment complexes. However, there is no government law here either in Canada or Alberta banning outside clotheslines. In 2008, Ontario passed the Energy Conservation Leadership Act, which was overruled any municipal clothesline bylaws or restrictions, including ones imposed by condo associations or apartment landlords.

Some power companies in Canada have ongoing programs to distribute free clotheslines to encourage air-drying laundry. Though it may seem ironic that utility companies are promoting power conservation, there is a reason behind it. Several provinces, including BC and Ontario, have implemented government-legislated energy efficiency targets that must be met. They also realize that it is more cost effective to encourage people to use less electricity rather than build new electrical infrastructure. Alberta is, unfortunately, lagging behind in this regard.

 However, the ‘’hearts and minds’’ side of the clothesline issue remains tougher to solve. There are people who do dry their clothes outside, but they feel they must do it sneakily because they feel they’ll be looked down on by their neighbours or even reported to the police and charged with an offense. It’s hard to get people to admit that they hang up their laundry when no one else seems to do it.

There is a growing movement of support—from bloggers to frugal families to national environmental groups—that want to make line drying acceptable again. Project Laundry List (, founded in 1996, has partnered with North American governments, environmental organizations and local community associations to promote the “Slow Laundry” movement. Since 1998, they have named April 19th as National Hanging Out Day, to encourage people to take the first steps in breaking the tumble-drying habit.

 So, will you challenge yourself to give your dryer the pink slip? April, which is Earth Month, is a good time to make the break. You can be an environmental leader right in your own backyard, just by changing the way you do laundry…one load at a time.



Other easy ways to “green” your laundry

Do Less Laundry. Not everything needs to be washed after just one wearing. Evaluate whether clothes and towels can be used a couple of times before they are thrown into the laundry pile. This greatly cuts down on the number of wash loads per week—not to mention the amount of time spent doing laundry.

Use Less Products. Often, using half of the recommended dose of laundry soap still results in clean clothes, even in hard water areas.  Using fabric softener every time isn’t necessary and can leave an oily residue that weakens clothing fibres.  Also, chlorine bleach might seem like a great idea but it contaminates waterways, and traditional chemical dry-cleaning is definitely not a “green” way to care for your clothes.

Use Eco-Friendly Products. Most name-brand laundry products are petroleum-based and aren’t good for sensitive skin--or the environment. You may pay a little more initially for natural laundry products but they are a much better choice for skin, clothes and municipal water supplies. However, just because a product says it’s “environmentally friendly” on the label, it may not be. Do your research and find out whether the product is truly made from natural ingredients. If you really want to cut the cost per load of laundry products, in addition to making sure they are environmentally friendly, try making your own soap. If you search the Internet for “homemade laundry soap”, there are lots of recipes to choose from that use ingredients such as borax and castille soap. Find one that catches your eye, and have fun concocting your own mix.

Make the Switch to Front-Loaders. In many parts of the world, front-loading washers and dryers are the norm. Here in North America, they are relatively new.  Front loaders are called “High Efficiency” appliances for a reason, as they tend to be more space-saving and use less water and electricity because gravity helps to move the clothes around instead of a central agitator (in the case of top-loading washers). The cost for these appliances is steadily decreasing which makes them a more attractive option.

Don’t Iron Everything Irons use a lot of energy. Often, hanging clothes immediately after washing will avoid wrinkles. You can fluff clothes briefly in a dryer just before folding.

Carla Knipe is a Calgary freelance writer who freely admits to hanging up her laundry. She hopes more people will take advantage of the free sunshine and wind to do the same.

Tags: Dads, Moms

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