Why I Air-Dry My Clothes Even In a Tiny Apartment

Here’s how I got started—and you can, too.

February  1, 2022
Photo by Ty Mecham

One or two days a week, my entryway transforms into a makeshift laundry room. It’s a little inconvenient to maneuver around the drying clothes, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Sure, I love a romantic stock shot of sheets on a drying line as much as the next person, but living in a city apartment, I, like many people, have access to neither a yard nor an old-school, outdoor clothesline.

Ditching the dryer is a worthy goal: After your heating and cooling, your dryer is likely the biggest energy hog in your home. According to the non-profit Green America, air-drying your clothes can reduce the average household’s carbon footprint by 2,400 pounds a year! I always thought the dryer was a necessary evil living in the city until I spotted a shot of an indoor clothesline on a blog, which made me realize I could air-dry just about any clothing indoors—not just my special hand-wash items. Nearly a decade into my air-drying routine, I can tell you the benefits go way beyond the impact on your utility bill.

Skipping the dryer reduces the wear and tear on your clothes. (All that lint you see? It is tiny pieces of your clothes that have broken off in the dry cycle!) Because clothes wear out more slowly, it keeps them out of the landfill longer, and in turn, your wardrobe’s increased longevity discourages you from buying new clothes that eat up precious raw materials. Air-drying also prevents laundry mishaps: If you hang-dry, it’s much harder to accidentally shrink a garment or to set in a stain permanently. Best of all, for anyone with a penchant for the color black: Air-drying keeps your blacks and other darks, like deep indigo denim, looking their best much longer.

Hanging your clothes to dry may also be healthier for you and your family. A new study suggests that tumble drying is spewing microplastics into the air we breathe (yikes!). And an increasing body of research reveals that you’d be wise to think twice about a gas dryer because of the impact on indoor air quality (more on that here, if you’re curious). Finally, dryer exhaust vents can become clogged with lint, which causes nearly 3,000 house fires every year, according to FEMA. Friends, get your vents cleaned, please!

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I have never owned or even used a clothes drier in my entire 59 years. I've always been fortunate enough to live in homes where I had access to an outside drying line, but when it rains I use an indoor clothes drying rack. If it's cold the heating seems to take care of the humidity, and if it's not cold then I open windows for some air flow. Either way I haven't experienced any moisture issues.”
— Kaiju

If I have persuaded you to give air-drying a go, here are some tips to get started:

Buy a good rack.

I spent years using the most basic wooden folding rack and it was fine. However, when it finally gave out, I explored bigger options to increase my drying capacity. It took me three tries to find the perfect rack; a large wooden one wouldn’t stay up and a metal one I found was pretty great, but then I came across Brabantia’s 25-meter Hang On rack. As soon as I saw the extra hanging rod and the clever hooks for hangers, I ordered myself one. As an added bonus, I discovered it folds up SO much smaller than my previous racks. (Pssst… there’s a smaller 20-meter version.) An architect friend who is also a passionate air dryer swears by IKEA’s basic rack and Leifheit’s retractable rack for delicates or small hanging.

Don’t skip the clothespins.

Just because you’re not drying on that picture-perfect backyard clothesline doesn’t mean you don't need clothespins. These handy clips will help you hang smaller and awkward items like socks, underwear, and baby clothes.

Shake and smooth as you hang.

I remember the aha! moment when I watched my former roommate carefully smooth his jeans flat before hanging them up to dry. A little effort to shake something out and smooth it flat before placing it on your rack or hanger result in a much nicer look to your air-dried garment. Pay careful attention to collars, pockets, and cuffs that can get bunched up in the wash.

Dry shirts on hangers.

For all our button-up shirts, I simply dry the shirts right on the hangers, which leaves them looking their best. In fact, when I renovated my bathroom, I was adamant that we have a fixed, not tension-style, shower curtain rod because I wanted something that could hold up to the weight of my drying garments.

Take your time with linens.

I love air-drying cloth napkins because they look so much better than they do out of the dryer that I can skip the ironing (unless it’s a truly formal occasion). The trick is to carefully hang the napkins evenly so the drying rack’s bar is along the midline where you would normally fold the napkin.

Lay knits flat.

One thing I don’t put on the drying rack are sweaters and other knitted garments, which can stretch out when hung. Instead I lay these flat on a terry cloth towel (either on a wing of the rack or another flat surface).

Use the dryer strategically.

I haven’t given up my dryer completely. Since I live in a city apartment, towels, sheets, other bedding, and extra bulky garments still go in the dryer. But I’m more strategic when I do use the dryer: I tumble towels and heavier items separately from lightweight ones to reduce drying times. And if you don’t like the stiff, sometimes crunchy feel of air-dried clothes, Janice Christie, one of the founders of Germantown Laundromat, suggested tumble drying clothes for 10 minutes in the dryer and then hanging them dry, which I’ve found super helpful for linen garments.

Don’t delay folding.

My last piece of wisdom goes back to my entryway’s double use as a drying zone. As soon as my laundry is dry I take it off the rack and fold it. Living in a small apartment, a drying rack does take up a lot of space, so it’s key to avoid procrastinating about the final step.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Mary-Ann
  • Garczynski
  • Gina
  • Bkmorgan21
  • Jean Morgan
    Jean Morgan
Laura Fenton is the No Space Too Small columnist at Food52. The author of The Little Book of Living Small, she covers home, design, and sustainability. Laura lives in Jackson Heights, Queens in a 690-square foot apartment with her husband and son. You can follow her on Instagram @laura.alice.fenton or subscribe to her newsletter Living Small.


Mary-Ann August 13, 2022
We only use our dryer for the heavy duty stuff like blankets, sheets, towels, quilts. We hang or lay flat most others. Our clothes hold their shape and color, and longer, especially the favorites. It is important to have good ventilation when drying clothes. An open window will do the trick, as wheeling the drying rack out on the back porch when it’s sunny outside. Agree on the electric dryer and not the gas dryer. (I’m even considering an electric stove when my current one dies!). These days too, with the new options for cleaning clothes, there are very few reasons for dry cleaning too!
Garczynski July 23, 2022 Why use a clothes drying in the HOT Times?
Simple, fast and air dry.
Gina July 23, 2022
I had to find a way to dry my laundry when the landlord refused to get the vent cleaned out from my apartment all the way out of the building. I am not the only one who has to use that vent either. I was on a nonexistant budget since I had just lost my husband and we had existed on only his disability for years while I took care of him. I got creative with some over the door hooks and paracord. Created my own personal clothes line system in the shower. It's been a little over 3 years and I can't imagine drying my clothes any other way. I had also read a trick of a little bit of vinegar in a bunch of water, lightly sprayed will help soften your clothes. You can also add a drop or two of scent in the mix if you prefer. I now have a folding bamboo rack that fits in the shower, fully open if I want to use it for particular items. The only thing I miss is the beeping telling me it is dry.
Bkmorgan21 April 11, 2022
Jean M. April 1, 2022
I have air dried my clothes, inside only, for twenty years. It makes them last longer in my opinion. I used to hang everything outside on a clothes line; however my allergies are severe enough that I cannot do that anymore, so a dryer is a must for everything else.
Garczynski March 12, 2022
My favorite is Secadora drying hanger. Easy simple and compact
Dubyel February 15, 2022
As a kid, it seemed that my mom spent most of her time doing dishes and laundry. When I started making money in high school, the first thing I got her was a clothes dryer. Joyous day.
Patricia E. February 14, 2022
Because I live in sunny south east Arizona but at a high elevation I have never had any problem with excess moisture. I have two clotheslines outside but because I am an old lady it is easier for me to hang laundry in the laundry room except for big things like blankets. I was going to suggest pant stretchers and I see someone else already has. They are great and its worth the time to smooth out and adjust the pants on the stretchers. I have lots of the inexpensive plastic clothes hangers and I hang my laundry on those and then on the line. They dry faster that way too. Taking the time to straighten them out makes a huge difference, I haven't plugged my iron in for years because I do take the time. Cuts down on folding too because you already have them on hangers ready to hang up.
cinamibun February 14, 2022
It is a good idea to air dry your clothes when possible, but it is an assumption that you are not doing a large number of clothes (think family wash). My son, who lives with me, has a required work shirt and doesn't have many of the shirts so I am handwashing them and air drying them during the periods between my taking a whole load of wash to the laundromat. A dry rack or a good place to hang clothes that go on hangers and do not drip wet on the floor is essential. You also need to realize how long it will take to completely dry your items inside versus air drying on an outside rack. Some places because of the airflow and the humidity level will not allow a good air dry for some items and nothing is worse than a mildew smell from poor drying, so make sure you know your apartment well.
Jamie C. February 14, 2022
I too live in a small apartment and hang an enormous amount of stuff on my fixed shower curtain rod, for which I am very thankful! I pay attention to clothing labels and follow suit. I put quite a lot in the dryer too but always on low heat! I feel a bit like a crazy laundry lady...ha!
T L. February 6, 2022
I've been using my solar-powered dryer--an outdoor clothesline--exclusively for 50+ years. 1. Buy some extra socks and underwear to get you from one laundry day to the next during the rainy season. 2. You will need some indoor drying capacity. Go with the basic, simple racks: easier to use, less likely to break. Find an out of the way place on opposite sides of a room for some screw hooks to hold a nylon cord for sheets and towels. 3. If you can find vintage, USA-made birch, clothespins, Buy them. So much easier to use than cheap imports which break and stain clothing or the metal ones that are always tangled up. 4. Get "pants stretchers" for jeans/chinos/khaki pants--ditch the iron. 5. Search the web for Australian Clothesline. The Aussies take air drying seriously and have some innovative ideas. 6. Heed the "Shake and Smooth" instruction in the article. Serious shaking--"popping"--terry towels makes them much softer. Carefully hanging t-shirts by the bottom makes folding them quick and easy. SAVE ENERGY!
Pfreemanlynde February 6, 2022
I think during the heating season here in the northeast, the air-drying adds needed moisture. I move the rack into the sun (when there is some). When it's warm enough, the windows would be open. But I might start planning my wash days for sunny dry spells to avoid the excess moisture problem. Sadly, my old house is probably not very tight, even after adding insulation and everything else we can do. Haven't noticed a problem with mold and dampness.
Kaiju February 6, 2022
I have never owned or even used a clothes drier in my entire 59 years. I've always been fortunate enough to live in homes where I had access to an outside drying line, but when it rains I use an indoor clothes drying rack. If it's cold the heating seems to take care of the humidity, and if it's not cold then I open windows for some air flow. Either way I haven't experienced any moisture issues.
amber February 4, 2022
Because of inclement weather here in the UK I have to resort to a dryer occasionally. But now we are facing huge fuel cost increases I am seriously looking for alternatives to my dryer now.
Terry February 2, 2022
My mother taught me to always air dry socks - they do last a lot longer this way. I also air dry most of my knit clothing for the same reason. I wish I had an outdoor clothesline - the smell of clothes right off the line is divine!
J February 2, 2022
You're probably the only person whom I wouldn't be worried about dropping by uninvited-LOL
kitchencat February 2, 2022
Nice piece!

I, too, live in a small city apartment and primarily rack-dry. No question it extends the life of my clothes, including workout gear.

Though towels, sheets, etc., go into the dryer, I air-dry pillow cases. Seems to preserve their freshness.

Have that same in-apartment w-d dream, but I'd settle for even an at-home washer.
Laura F. February 2, 2022
I would 100-percent settle for just a washer!
M February 1, 2022
It's worth noting that air drying inside can cause massive window condensation and mould issues, and should be approached cautiously, generally with windows open and in some cases, a dehumidifier running.
Laura F. February 1, 2022
Gosh, I have never heard about this being an issue, but I supposed in an older home, or especially in one with pre-existing mold issues, this could be an issue. Here in New York City with old fashioned radiators, any humidity is very welcome in the winter. Which reminds me of another plus to air-drying I should have mentioned: No static electricity from the dryer in arid climates (if you've ever lived in the southwest, you know what I mean). I think use good judgement about air circulation and you'll be okay!
M February 1, 2022
Any home, newer or older, single or high-rise, unfortunately. It's a very common problem (in NYC too). If you Google for tips on how to dry clothes indoors during the winter, you will immediately hit warnings about moisture damage and the need for ventilation.

You're introducing a ton of moisture (it can be as much as 4+ pints) into the air, and when that warmer moist air meets a colder surface (window, wall, etc), it condenses. That can lead to pools of water or even ice, cracked paint, mold, drywall damage, etc. Your home must have some excellent ventilation.

I've read some articles that suggest it's the inevitable result of more modern building/insulation, where we're more protected from the elements, and therefore-the elements can't escape.

In order to exercise good judgement, you have to know the consequences you need to consider!
Avon L. April 6, 2022
I agree about the excess moisture. I live in LA now but when I lived in San Francisco, the advice was NOT to dry laundry indoors because it could increase the possibility of black mold.
emily February 1, 2022
I also do a lot of air drying in my small apartment! I installed a retractable clothesline over the bathtub where I can hang anything wet and dripping (like if I soak a stained garment) and have a folding rack I set up in front of the radiator to dry things out of the washer. My dream is to have my own washer/dryer and a clothesline! My only real struggle with air drying (besides the space it takes up) is that the dryer is the last step in battling my dog's very fine hair. I shake everything out before washing but the wispy hairs seem to survive anyway. I often end up needing to lint roll air-dried garments.
Laura F. February 1, 2022
Emily, I have something called a Cora Ball that is supposed to grab the little microfibers out of the wash water, which seems to catch hairs too. A quick search shows some products designed to catch pet hair in the wash cycle that could be worth a try? (And yes, I too dream of my own in-apartment washer dryer--someday!)
Jamie C. February 14, 2022
Me too!!! I would need half the clothes!