The best way to dry laundry in winter

How do you dry when the weather turns grim?

17july winter laundry hero default

At my place in winter, the sun apologetically creeps over the hills for just a few hours a day – if it appears at all. My outdoor clothes line remains folded and unloved for most of the colder months. But clothes washing waits for no one. So how am I to dry my washing over winter without filling my home with moisture or over-stretching my power bill?

I needed data. So I put together a 3kg trial load of 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-loader and spun at 1100rpm, my trial load weighed 4.4kg. That’s 1.4L of water I needed to remove. I tried 4 methods:

1. Outdoor line-drying

My preferred option, but is it viable during winter? I chose a mostly sunny day, with temperature creeping up to 12°C and a very light breeze. The clothes line was loaded at 9.30am and brought in at 3.30pm, until the sun had gone for the day. For my efforts I got a damp load of washing: only 43% of the water had evaporated. But at least none of that moisture went into my home and it didn’t cost me a cent.

2. Indoor on a clothes airer

Wet load carefully positioned on my clothes airer to maximise airflow: check. Room capturing the best of the winter sun: check. Reasonably sunny winter day: check. I gave it the best chance, and drying inside still came up short. Just 31% of water was removed from 9.30am to 3.30pm, and all of that (400ml) went into my home. The relative humidity of the room rose 6% and the temperature dropped by a degree. At least it didn’t cost anything.

3. Clothes dryer

Biting the bullet and sucking up the cost, the third trial load went straight into my clothes dryer. I have a vented model, with sensor drying, that sends the moisture-laden air outside. In a little over an hour, the machine chimes signalled a dry load. The dryer had removed 99% of the water, with none adding to the dampness inside my home. My load was soft and warm. However, it came at a price. The power meter showed 1.9kWh of electricity used, about 50¢ worth.

4. Indoor with dehumidifier

I set up the load on my clothes airer exactly as in trial 2 on a similar, mostly sunny, day. This time a Consumer Recommended Mitsubishi Oasis MJ-E22VX-A1-W was stationed next to the airer with its vent set to blast straight at the wet load. I’d set the dehumidifier to “laundry mode”, where it runs full bore until turned off. I left the room – it was noisy in there – only returning a couple of hours later to turn the clothes airer around. Five hours after turning it on, I had dry clothes. The Oasis collected 1.3L of water. The net effect was a 12% reduction in room humidity (some moisture likely escaped through my draughty windows) and a temperature rise of almost 3°C. However, there was a sting in the tail: energy use. The dehumidifier running for 5 hours used 1.8kWh of power: about the same 50¢ cost as running my clothes dryer for an hour.

What did I learn?

My trial was specific to my home, so it’s unlikely you’ll get these exact results. However, I can point to 3 findings you might find useful:

  • If you have a clothes dryer – use it. It costs less per load than you think.
  • If you can, hang your clothes outside. While they might not dry completely, it’ll save time in the dryer.
  • If you dry inside, use a dehumidifier.

Member comments

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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

Diana Dixon D.
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.

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????

Diana Dixon D.
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.

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.