How to Dry Clothing the Right Way for Wrinkle-Free Results

Treat your wardrobe with care—and make it last longer—with these tips on how to make the most of your clothes dryer and when to air-dry clothes instead.

When doing laundry, the last thing you want is to remove your favorite blouse from the dryer and discover it's 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.

laundry room with farmhouse sink and ample storage
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 should be washed by hand. When in doubt, hang-dry clothes on a clothes-drying rack. This option saves money on fuel bills, extends the longevity of clothes, and reduces concerns about ruining specific 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).
  • Color (whites, lights, darks, items that bleed).

This pre-wash prep work will make sorting clothes for the dryer easier. However, it's essential to separate clothes by weight when drying clothes. Mixing heavier items with lighter ones might mean one comes out overdried, and the other is 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 entirely before drying. If a stained garment goes into the dryer, the stain will likely become permanent. Shaking out garments or linens before putting them in the dryer to remove hidden items (such as socks) helps things 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. The reality is that clothes will take longer to dry and come out looking like they did when you first stuffed them in the dryer—wrinkled and misshapen. Keep the dryer load small enough to tumble easily and freely in the dryer drum. Learn how to dry clothes rapidly by readjusting large loads, such as sheets and blankets, so they dry more quickly and evenly during their cycle. Doing this will help prevent you from having to iron clothes.

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

Why and When Should I Hang-Dry Clothes?

Hang-dry clothes for these benefits:

  • Hang-dry clothes to use less energy, which saves money and makes less of an impact on the environment.
  • Hang-dry clothes to prevent static cling.
  • Hang-drying outside on a clothesline gives garments a fresh, clean smell.
  • Hang-dry clothes, and you'll extend the lifetime of garments by reducing wear and tear in the dryer.

If you don't 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 keep your laundry room organized. Other places to drape your clothes to air-dry include a towel rack or shower curtain rod. Try not to hang damp clothing on materials 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-dry clothes on 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 allow them to 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, you should hang each item 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
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 ensure 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. 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, 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 you remove from the dryer while 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. If that isn't possible, run the dryer another 10-15 minutes, then promptly remove the clothing to lessen the problem.
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