The best way to dry laundry in winter

How do you dry when the weather turns grim?

The best way to dry laundry in winter

At my place over winter, the sun apologetically creeps over the hills for a few hours a day – if it appears at all. So, with my outdoor clothes line hamstrung by this gloomy weather, what’s the best way to dry my washing?

I needed data. I put together a 3kg trial load of bath and tea towels, T-shirts, socks, jeans and synthetic sportswear. I gathered scales, a power meter and a sensor that records temperature and humidity. After being washed in my front-loading machine and spun at 1100rpm, my trial load weighed 4.2kg. That’s 1.2L of water I needed to remove. My ideal method would be minimal hassle, cheap, good for the environment, and it wouldn’t leave my home damp.

I tried five different drying methods and found a clear winner: my vented clothes dryer. It was easy to use, sent all the moisture outside, gave consistent results and, while it wasn’t free, forward-planning minimised the cost to my pocket and the environment. Whenever I can’t dry clothes outside, my dryer will shoulder the workload this winter.

TIP: Use the fastest spin your washing machine will allow and clothing can handle. Spinning at 1100rpm instead of 800rpm removed an extra third (600ml) of moisture from my test load.

Outside on a line

Best for cost, environment and home health, but weather-dependent and a hassle.

On a calm, sunny winter day, six hours on the clothes line shifted just over 40% of the moisture in my washing. The method required me hanging my load out in the morning before I left for work, and remembering to pull it in before the sun dropped and the damp evening undid all my good work. One day of outside hanging didn’t dry my washing, but it was quicker and used less energy to finish it off in my dryer. On a good day, outside line drying costs nothing and has no environmental impact at all.

TIP: A breezy, overcast winter day is better at drying washing than a calm, sunny one.

Indoor on a rack

No cost or environmental impact, but fills your home with moisture.

It’s easier hanging washing on a rack indoors than pegging it outside, and the method works even on filthy-wet days. It comes at zero cost to your wallet and uses no energy. However, my trial found a drying rack was far from a perfect solution. I set mine up in an unheated back room. Though large windows meant the rack was exposed to winter sun, there was no airflow around the wet clothes and I shifted just a third of the moisture in six hours. However, I could leave the load on the rack all day and night to dry. The biggest downside was to the health of my home – all of the moisture from my washing ended up in my back room.

TIP: Make like a DOC Hut: putting the drying rack next to (or above) an electric heater or woodburner will dry clothes faster and keep moisture airborne. You must ventilate the room well though (open a window or two), otherwise you’ll end up with an unhealthy living space full of warm, moist air.

TIP: Put the drying rack in your bathroom and run the extractor fan. It’ll add a few cents to your electricity bill, but the fan will suck some of the moisture outside, and the rest will be in a room designed to cope with damp.

Inside on a rack with a dehumidifier

A dehumidifier makes an indoor drying rack a better option (for a price).

Running a dehumidifier next to the clothes rack adds cost, but you get a triple-whammy of benefits: the dehumidifier heats the room, creates a breeze to help the laundry dry, and sucks up moisture. When I tried a Mitsubishi Electric model running full bore on “laundry” mode next to the drying rack, my clothes were dry in five hours and my room ended up 3°C warmer, with lower humidity than when I started. However, the dehumidifier used 1.9kWh of electricity (costing about 50¢). While I couldn’t fault the increased drying performance, the impact on my wallet was surprisingly high, and the dehumidifier’s noise rendered the room uninhabitable for five hours.

Which dehumidifiers score best for water removal, energy efficiency and quietness? Find out with our test results.

In a clothes dryer

Minimal hassle and drying time, a healthy home, but a lighter wallet and environmental niggles.

Drying the load in my $600 Electrolux vented dryer (using a sensor program) took an hour. All the moisture vented outside. I was expecting it to be the most expensive option, the price I paid for convenience, but it used 1.9kWh – the same as running the dehumidifier for five hours. Looking at my dryer’s specifications, it makes sense: it has a 2100W heating element and a small motor to turn the drum, so an hour of sensor-controlled use should use about 2kW.

TIP: Check whether your electricity plan has cheaper periods, so you can save a few cents per load - some plans offer reduced off-peak rates or even free power for a short period each day. Make sure you're not paying a premium to dry your clothes at peak times.

We’ve tested heat-pump, condenser and vented clothes dryers. Find the most efficient, easiest to use and fastest with our test results.

Supercharge your drying

Just like a heat pump that warms your lounge, heat pump dryers are two to three times more efficient than vented models that use resistance heating. But there’s a catch: they cost two to three times more to buy – expect to pay upwards of $1800. If you plan to work one hard all year round, it could be worth the investment eventually, but don’t expect to retire early on the savings you make over the machine’s lifetime.

Kogan Portable Heated Drying Rack

In my search for the ideal winter drying solution, I turned to the Kogan Portable Heated Drying Rack. It claims: “… you can have your freshly washed clothes dried and toasty-warm in record time, without the hassle of large appliances or all-day drying on a clothes horse”. No hassle? No all-day drying? Toasty-warm clothes? I’m all over that.

The device is about the size of a Dalek (or a large oil drum mounted on a short tripod). My wife wondered what “that alien” was in our back room. The premise is: you hang clothes inside a semi-sealed tent. Its fan heater warms the air inside the tent, pushing moisture from the clothes and out through vents in the top. I feared it would create a clothing sauna, leaving my washing warm and damp. Spoiler alert: it did.

Before I reached that point, I had to load wet washing into the tent, which wasn’t easy. The device has eight plastic “arms” at the top of the frame. Washing has to be hung on or pegged to hangers, which are then hung from the arms. I spaced my 3kg load out as much as possible to allow air to circulate, but it was a tight fit. Towels needed to be folded in half to fit on hangers and within the height of the tent.

The heater and fan inflated the tent like a balloon. Positive pressure expelled all the moisture extracted from my washing through the vents in the top. It heated up very quickly, and after two hours the inside of the tent was at 48°C. My unventilated room (about 16m²) warmed by 14°C and its windows were dripping with condensation.

Not all the moisture ended up in the room, though. After two hours, about a third of it (400ml) was still in my damp washing – mainly in those folded towels. The synthetic sports gear and T-shirts were mostly dry. My disappointment was compounded when I looked at the power meter. The Kogan rack had sucked up 1.7kWh of electricity – only a few cents-worth less than my dryer used to dry the load completely. It took a further half hour and 0.7kWh in the dryer to finish it off.

...the Kogan tent had burned through 2.5kWh of electricity, more than any other method I tried.

The timer on the heater goes up to three hours, so I tried it again. After three hours my clothes were almost dry – waistbands of trousers and the inside of folded towels were still damp. My scales told me I had just less than 10% of water left in the load. Not bad, but the power meter made my eyes water more than my dripping windows – the Kogan tent had burned through 2.5kWh of electricity, more than any other method I tried.

I can’t recommend this device, even if you live in an apartment or have limited drying space. It left me with damp washing, a hole in my wallet and a dripping wet (but warm) room.

Specs: Kogan Portable Heated Drying Rack
Availability: Dick Smith
Price: $59
Weight: 2.8kg
Weight capacity: 10kg
Heater power: 1000w

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susan p.
23 Mar 2021
drying clothes in winter

Move to Nelson. Drying clothes is rarely an issue.

Kate C
14 Dec 2020
Garage line

I have a clothes line fitted to the wall inside the garage and leave the garage door open slightly. It works well, in the middle of a cold wet winter it takes a couple of days on the line but that's no biggie, and the clothes never smell damp. The line is not very deep but quite long, I can get plenty of washing on it and it doesn't intrude into the car spaces.

Debbie K.
02 Feb 2021
Garage line 2

I have also done the same thing in our garage, but we had the added benefit of building our house so we put a high long, openable, window on the north side of the garage. The line is positioned under the window and I dry my clothes in the garage all winter and in the summer lightweight things dry in there overnight.

Michael D.
07 Jun 2020
Consider a condenser drier

Condenser driers have been ignored in this report, but should be considered.
A vented drier either vents all your precious heat to the outside, or dampens your environment.
A heat pump drier will empty your bank account.
A condenser drier extracts water from the clothes, and then condenses it into a reservoir which you will need to empty. However all the energy used is converted into heat and released into your environment. Keep one in your kitchen or laundry and you will end up with a cosy room, rather than a cosy back yard.
This may not be an ideal solution in the summer, but at this time of year it is efficient and actually pretty green as no energy is wasted.

02 May 2020
I'll cut my budget other ways before giving up my dryer

A good vented tumble dryer is the only way for me. I have limited time and effort to devote to laundry. I've done my share of poring over weather forecasts and plotting how and when I might be able to get my clothes clean throughout the winter. Then I got a clothes dryer, used it regularly, and life got a lot better. It's now on my list of necessities.

Amanda M.
02 May 2020
Woodburner and DVS

I use a clothes rack in front of the woodburner and we also have a dvs system so no probs with condensation. For the bigger items like sheets, I hang over the doors overnight (if almost dry from being hung outside) but if crappy weather, I put them through the dryer. I have a condenser dryer so no condensation and very easy on the power bill.

04 Dec 2019
Heat pump dryers don't work well in NZ's cool, damp climate

Heat pump dryers work most efficiently in warm, dry atmospheric conditions (i.e. the type of conditions in which there’s no need to use a dryer). When I bought my Miele heat pump dryer, it was about twice the price of a standard vented dryer with the same capacity but was advertised as being about twice as energy efficient. Because I have to use a dryer for all of our laundry, I hoped that over time, the greater energy efficiency of the heat pump dryer would be more cost effective overall. How wrong I was! During Auckland winters, when the air is cool and damp, the heat pump dryer’s set programs (on which the manufacturer’s energy efficiency data are presumably based) vastly underestimate the time needed to fully dry a load of laundry. In reality, it can take more than twice as long to dry a load of laundry as a standard vented dryer would take; moreover, tumbling for twice as long causes twice as much wear and tear on the laundry itself. I would NEVER buy another heat pump dryer, and nor would anyone else I know who has ever owned one.

Debbie K.
02 Feb 2021
Heat pump dryer

Many thanks for your comment - you have saved me a chunk of money 👍

Mairi C.
12 Jun 2019
Using dehumidifier

I dry my washing outdoors if it is not raining. On wet days -- or when I formerly lived in an apartment -- I put the clothes rack and dehumidifier in the bathroom.
This removes the noise factor from a living area.
In the apartment, before I had the dehumidifier, I put the clothes rack in the bedroom and kept windows open to get a through draught. The sheets and towels were hung on the outside, underwear, socks, etc in the middle and shirts on coathangers at one end. The sheets had to be folded to fit on the rack and needed to be refolded at intervals.

Paul v.
11 Jun 2019
Drying rack in the garage.

Dry clothes on drying rack in un-insulated garage. Plenty of air movement as garage door is not air tight and garage gets aired when the garage it opened to take car/bikes out. Normally dry in about 20 hours year round.

Brian M.
10 Jun 2019
Better winter clothes drying

Local business owners in Millwater are import agents and sell a device called a Spindel - and these are amazing. Probably more efficient for winter drying than anything else, by removing so much moisture in the first place

Lynsie Anne M.
08 Jun 2019
Danger- unattended dryer!!

Any electrician or electrical service person will tell you "Don't run a dryer at night or any other time when it is unattended" Many a house has burned down when a dryer has over heated. In fact a friend has just recently had her house burn down when she turned on the dryer and went out to take the baby for a walk. Fortunately there was no one home. Don't do it and Consumer should not be telling anyone to turn dryer on at night even if it does save money.

Peter I.
08 Jun 2019
How about running the vented dryer on cool?

Would love to see the effectiveness and cost of running the vented dryer with just the tumble action and cool air. If it takes 4-6 hours at just the wattage of the motor that would have to be a win. If your sensor dryer has that functionality. Curious.

Edit: Just checked & average 240v dryer motor is round 90watts. So 2.5c per hour.

J A G C.
08 Jun 2019
Only Dry Outdoors

As a physics & chemistry graduate, I know that you MUST get your wet washing outside, OR buy a drier VENTED to the outside. Regards, Jim, 73.

08 Jun 2019
Outside, then vented dryer on free hour of power.

I use Elctric kiwi so I have a free hour of power each day. I choose a 4pm hour although I sometimes change (with cell phone alert set at the time) and bring in the clothes from the line and switch on the vented dryer. I also switch on the washer, dish washer, heater and heat pump at that time and occasional cooking. About 15% of my power use is free.

Anne C.
08 Jun 2019
Rack and heated towel rail

What works for me is a combination of a drying rack and the heated towel rail for items that take longer to dry.
As I don't have a timer on the towel rail it is not costing any extra to use it for clothes

Charles Lloyd
08 Jun 2019
No free lunches, except a breezy clothes line!

An excellent study, based on real situations. A good breeze 'snaps' the washing which also gives a nicer finish than just hanging still on an indoor rack.

Anna B.
08 Jun 2019
Lycra and sports clothes

We are an active family and as far as I am aware you can’t put Lycra etc in a clothes dryer. Has anyone got any tips on drying sports clothes other than putting separately on the clothesline?

Gary B.
08 Jun 2019

I do put it in the drier anyway or else hang it on the heated towel rail...

11 Jun 2019

We hang ours in the carport/garage (warmish spot), then finish them off in the dryer on a cool setting if they're still a bit damp. I actually this with our merino layers as well!

Lucy T.
31 May 2019
Dehumidifier actually better option

I'd like to challenge your conclusion that the dryer was the better option:
With the dryer, you used 50c of electricity, and got dry clothes.
With the dehumidifier, you used 50c of power and got dry clothes, a dryer room, and 3 degrees of heat gain. It's unclear what the $ value of the heat gain is as we don't know the insulation level or size of room, but regardless, you get a larger net benefit using the dehumidifier than the clothes dryer.

John P.
08 Jun 2019
Lucy's comment demhumidier the better option

I agree Lucy!

Mary B.
26 Jul 2017
Drying Clothes

This was a very helpful test! Now I will not feel guilty using our clothes dryer.

Robyn G.
26 Jul 2017
Cost of running a dryer

I'm a little confused. Here you say cost of a dryer is 50c but in your cost of running appliances article the cost of a dryer is 86c - $1.06. Which is correct?

Previous member
26 Jul 2017
Re: Cost of running a dryer

Hi Robyn,

Our running cost calculation (86¢ for a 3.5kg load) is based on a typical dryer. It accounts for the average energy use of dryers we’ve tested over the years and errs on the cautious side so we don’t mislead with an underestimated cost.

The 50¢ figure came from my particular dryer and a smaller 3kg load, with electricity use measured at the wall socket. It’s correct for that particular situation and useful for the comparison with the dehumidifier energy use, but won’t necessarily be typical for different dryers and different load sizes.

Paul - Consumer NZ Head of Testing

22 Jul 2017

I am an avid believer in using a dryer but first pick a day when there is some wind, hang on line (spun at 1200 in washing machine) and then take in before temperature drops. The difference from fully wet to nearly dry is huge. Obviously the wind reduces the weight of water. Then finish off in my sensor dryer by putting in similar weight clothes in a not quite full dryer and it takes about 30 minutes to dry a load. If there is one thing that worries me, it is children being put into damp clothes. I'm South Auckland rural if that makes a difference.

11 Jun 2019
Hang first, finish off in vented dryer

I totally agree - I have several lines in my garage and carport (no outside washing line) where I hang wet washing, and finish them off in the dryer to get rid of residual damp. Saves a heap on power - only do smalls in the dryer straight from the washer.

Dee T.
22 Jul 2017
Non vented dryer in an uninsulated living area

Daughter has a new dryer but the one bought is unfortunately not a vented model. The electrician has warned her that her ceilings are too low for its usage inside. The landlord does not want her to have it outside on the deck....thinks that will be unsafe. Would a dehumidifier nearby inside handle the moisture escaping from the dryer????

22 Jul 2017

If they are normal ceiling heights - don't agree. I use mine unvented with the window ajar and no issues with damp. Yes there can be condensation while drying but the trick is to hang a DampRid Hanging Moisture Absorber in the room that removes any damp afterwards and for me lasts over a month so about $2 a week. Been doing it for 5 years and zero mold in the room. Home when doing it so can leave the window wide open if desired.

Previous member
24 Jul 2017
Re: Non vented dryer in an uninsulated living area

Hi Dee,

If the dryer is a condenser or heat pump model, without a vent, it is fine to use in an unvented space – in fact those are designed to be used unvented as they capture all moisture inside the machine. If you can’t vent outside, I’d recommend one of these types as the best option by far.

If you have a vented model, ideally the vent will be piped outside. Alternatively, it can be used in a well-ventilated space, like a garage or laundry with a window open. As a last resort you could run it venting inside with a dehumidifier running to suck up the moisture. I wouldn’t recommend it, but if there’s no other way it’s an option – it will cost quite a bit more to run the dryer and dehumidifier (you’ll need to run the dehumidifier longer than the dryer to collect the moisture).

After the first run, see how much water is captured in the tank. If you get a couple of litres, you’ve probably collected most of the moisture. I’d also recommend you assess how damp the room feels before and after drying, and check for any signs of damp appearing.

Paul - Consumer NZ Head of Testing

Anne H.
22 Jul 2017
Dry with the fire on

I have a woodburner and when I hang up inside with the woodburner going the clothes dry and the house doesn't get damp.

Nick C.
22 Jul 2017
A dedicated spin dryer could help

We use a dedicated spin dryer mainly for reducing line time with a motorhome. When tested at home it got a lot more water out of the laundry after it had been through the washing machine spin cycle. We couldn't find any on sale in NZ and had to import it.

08 Feb 2021
See another user's comment re spindel

3 minute cycle time, 6.5kg load spun @ 2500rpm (fastest F&P spin for top loaders seems to be 1100rpm at the moment so definitely going to get quite a bit more water out

Joanna R.
22 Jul 2017
I use clothes dryer

It's convenient, quick and doesn't cost much. My towels are nice and fluffy.
I use a clothes horse in the garage for anything that I done want in dryer. Like wool clothes.

Bryson C.
22 Jul 2017
Wind dries clothes not the sun

As folk have indicated, outside drying is effective, but in winter only effective if there is a wind. It doesn't need to be sunny as long as there's reasonable air movement. The sun helps by increasing the ability of the air to absorb moisture, but if there's no wind in winter, the clothes will not dry even with being in the sun all day. However, the sun is a bonus ultra violet sanitiser.

Laraine B.
20 Jul 2017
I use lines outside

but I look at the maps on the Met Service web site to work out which day of the week would be best for my washing day. Then I use only the outside lines on my portable rotary clothes line and my husband stretches a line from the garage to the end of the house for the rest of the washing. I use a prop to get the washing up as high as possible. Mostly I get it either fully dried or dry enough to fold up and put in the hot water cupboard for a day or so before putting it away.

Anita L.
24 Jul 2017
The advantages of a sunny patio

Like you, I check the weather forecast and try to schedule my heaviest washing for days when I can use the clothesline. But I'm in Rotorua - not the warmest or driest place. For the smaller loads in between I have a clotheshorse on a sheltered northwest facing patio, which will dry things in a couple of days even when it's raining. I haven't owned a dryer for 20 years, but I know I probably couldn't get a whole family's washing dried using these methods. It was good to hear how relatively little a dryer load can cost.

Brian W.
19 Jul 2017
What we da and another option

Hi we prefer to hang our clothes out on the line but as you say this doesn't get them fully dry and also the air out there tends to be smoky and the smell gets into our clothes. So we:
- Hang clothes on some lines that we put up in the garage. It takes a couple of days so no good if you are in a hurry.
- If it's sunny put them on a clothes horse in the sunroom. This gets smaller items dry and helps with larger items
- If all else fails we put them on the clothes horse in front of the heat pump if we are using it anyway. No doubt increases humidity and therefore a bit more power. It would be interesting to see a Consumer test on this option.

Barbara S.
08 Jun 2019
Heat Pump drying

I live in Christchurch and dry my clothes on a line on a sunny balcony whenever possible, even on a sunny day in winter when the air temperature is above 10 degrees. If partially dry they soon finish off in my unvented dryer. It is in the laundry and I can open a hatch which leads to the underfloor space for ventilation. If outdoor drying is not possible I can dry clothes on a rack in front of my 7 kw heat pump, which dries even towels in no time and produces no noticeable condensation. To answer a previous correspondent, lycra etc dry well on a rack.