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.
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The last thing you want when doing laundry is to remove your favorite blouse from the dryer and discover it has shrunk. While we wish there were simple, all-encompassing rules for remembering how to dry clothes, it sometimes just isn't that easy. To help keep your clothes free of stains, wrinkles, and damage, use our guide to drying clothes the right way. Different clothing materials, textures, colors, and weights will all affect the best drying method to use. 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 might be surprised at how long they last and how nice they feel in return.

laundry room with farmhouse sink and ample storage
Credit: Greg Scheidemann

What Clothes Can I Dry?

As a general rule of thumb, the clothing items you launder 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 (items that produce lint and those that 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 pre-wash prep work will make it easier to sort clothes for the dryer. When drying the items, however, it's especially important to separate clothes 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 before tossing them into the dryer. Make sure the washing machine did its part in removing stains. If stains remain, treat them again to remove the stain completely before drying. 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 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 inside: 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 more quickly and evenly. This will help prevent you from having to iron clothes.

women's clothing air-drying on expandable wall rack
Credit: Jay Wilde

Why and When Should I Air-Dry My Clothes?

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

  • Air-drying clothes uses less energy, which saves money and makes less of an impact on the environment.
  • Air-drying prevents static cling on fabrics.
  • Air-drying outside on a clothesline gives garments 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.

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.
laundry room with stool and muted blue cabinets
Credit: John Merkl

How to Get 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 usually dry in about 40-50 minutes.
  • Permanent press dryer setting: Items that need to be washed in cooler water should typically 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, such as slacks, shirts, shorts, and dresses, also weighing 5 pounds will dry in about 30-40 minutes. As the load size increases, so does drying time.
  • Delicate dryer setting: If the care labels on lingerie and other delicate items say they can go in the dryer, be sure to choose the "delicate" setting.
  • 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 isn't possible, run the dryer another 10-15 minutes, then remove the clothing promptly to lessen the problem.


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