How you dry your clothes can affect how they look and how long they last. Here are suggestions for how to make the most of your clothes dryer and when to air-dry clothes instead.

By BH&G Editors
June 08, 2015

Anyone with experience doing laundry knows the feeling of removing a blouse from the dryer that has clearly shrunk. While we wish there were simple rules for remembering how to dry clothes, it sometimes just isn't that easy. To help you keep your clothes free of stains, wrinkles, and damage, use our guide to drying clothes the right way.

We'll cover different clothing materials, textures, colors, and weights and how you should change your drying method for each. Learn what setting to use on your dryer and when to opt for a clothes-drying rack. When you pay close attention to your clothes and treat them with care, you'll be surprised at how long they last and how nice they feel in return. 

Common Clothes Drying Questions

What Clothes Can I Dry?

As a general rule of thumb, clothing items laundered in a permanent-press or regular cycle in the washing machine can also be dried in the clothes dryer. But it's always best to check the clothing care label. You especially don't want to machine-dry anything that is required to be washed by hand. When in doubt, air-dry garments on a clothes-drying rack. This option saves money on fuel bills, extends the longevity of clothes, and reduces concerns about ruining certain clothing.

How Should I Prep My Clothes for the Dryer?

Before even washing clothes, you need to sort clothing. Separate wash loads by texture (which produce lint, which attract it), fabric (put clothing items of similar materials together), soil (separate heavily soiled from lightly soiled), and color (whites, lights, darks, items that bleed). This will serve you well as you sort clothes for drying. But in a nutshell, separate clothes for drying by weight. Mixing heavier items with lighter items might mean one comes out overdried and the other still damp.

Give just-washed clothes a glance and a shake. Glance at them to see if the washing machine did its part in removing stains. If stains remain, take another shot at treating them with our tips on how to remove stains from laundry. If a stained garment goes into the dryer, the stain will likely become permanent. Shake out garments or linens before putting them in the dryer to remove hidden items (such as socks), help items dry faster, and help reduce wrinkles. 

How Can I Avoid Overloading the Dryer?

You might think you're saving time and energy by packing as much into your dryer as possible. In reality, the clothes will take longer to dry and will likely come out looking much like they did when they were first stuffed in—wrinkled and misshapen. Keep the dryer load small enough to tumble easily and freely in the dryer drum. Learn how to dry clothes fast by readjusting large loads, such as sheets and blankets, during their cycle so they dry faster and more evenly. This will help prevent you from having to iron clothes.

Why and When Should I Air-Dry My Clothes?

Consider the benefits of air-drying clothing rather than using a clothes dryer.

  • Air-drying uses less energy, which saves money and makes less of an impact on the environment.
  • Air-drying prevents static cling.
  • Air-drying outside on a clothesline adds a fresh, clean smell.
  • Air-drying extends the lifetime of clothing by reducing wear and tear in the dryer.

If you do not have a clothesline, there are ways to dry your clothes indoors. For starters, you may want to purchase an indoor clothes-drying rack. These usually fold down when not in use, so they store very easily and discreetly, helping you to organize your laundry room. You can find other surfaces around your home to drape clothes over, such as a towel rack or shower curtain. Try not to hang damp clothing on surfaces that may warp or rust when wet, such as wood or metal. Most surfaces in your bathroom are waterproof, so that's a good place to start air-drying clothes.

Related: How to Fold Clothing and Towels

Here are additional tips for drying clothes indoors:

  • Hang clothes from a rod or lay them flat on a drying rack when air-drying garments inside the home.
  • Keep garments separated to allow air circulation and faster drying.
  • Place clothes near a fan or a heat vent to air-dry more quickly.
  • Lay sweaters and other stretchy garments flat on a drying rack to help retain their shapes; turn them at least once to help them dry evenly.
  • Hang fleece garments from a rod to dry.
  • Reshape any foam or batting in bra cups before draping bras over a clothing rack to air-dry.
  • Air-dry camisoles on hangers; use clothespins if the garments seem in danger of slipping off.
  • Pin panties and slips to hangers by the waistbands, or hang them over a drying rack to air-dry.

How Should I Hang Clothes on a Clothesline?

Whether you air-dry clothes from a clothesline inside or outside, each type of item should be hung in a particular way so it ends up looking its best.

  • Pants: Match the inner leg seams of pants, and clothespin the hems of the legs to the line, with the waist hanging down.
  • Shirts and tops: Shirts and tops should be pinned to the line from the bottom hem at the side seams.
  • Socks: Hang socks in pairs, pinning by the toes and letting the top opening hang down.
  • Bed linens: Fold sheets or blankets in half and pin each end to the line. Leave room between the items, if possible, for maximum drying.

Getting the Best Results When Drying Clothes

If you're wondering what temperature to dry clothes, check the clothing care label to make sure you're doing what's best for the fabric. Some clothes may need a lower heat setting or even require line drying. If no care label exists, follow these suggestions.

  • Consider wash temperature: If you can wash your clothes in hot water, they can often be dried on a hot setting, as well. Cotton bath towels, for example, can be dried in a regular hot setting. Six bath towels weighing 5 pounds will dry in 40-50 minutes.
  • Permanent press dryer setting: Items that need to be washed in cooler water probably should be dried in a permanent-press setting. That setting includes a cool-down cycle at the end of the heated drying process to help prevent wrinkles. A permanent-press load of 12 items—slacks, shirts, shorts, and dresses—also weighing 5 pounds will dry in 30-40 minutes. As the load size increases, so does drying time.
  • Delicate dryer setting: Set your dryer to "delicates" if the care labels on lingerie and other delicate items say they can go in the dryer.
  • Drying synthetic materials: If machine-dryable, garments made of Lycra, nylon, acrylic, polyester, viscose, or spandex should either be air-dried or machine-dried at a low temperature.
  • Clean your dryer: To maximize your dryer's ability to do its job, clean the lint filter after every load. Occasionally, check the outside vent opening to make sure it's free of any outdoor debris, such as dirt and leaves.
  • Don't overdry: Overdrying certain clothing items, such as cotton shirts, can be hard on them and lead to shrinkage. It's best to remove cotton garments while they're damp, hang them up, and let them finish air-drying on a clothes drying rack.
  • Prevent mold: Allow any item that you remove from the dryer while it is still damp to dry out completely before putting it away. This will help prevent mildew from growing in areas with poor air circulation, such as closets and drawers.
  • Avoid wrinkles: Immediately remove clothing from the dryer when the cycle is finished to help avoid wrinkles. When that ideal scenario isn't possible, run the dryer another 10-15 minutes, then remove the clothing promptly to lessen the problem.


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