I studied abroad in Italy and did not use a dryer for four months. Did it make a difference?

In January, if you told me I would be hanging my clothes to dry every time I used the washing machine I would not have believed you. Me? Giving up the comfort and luxury of a dryer? No way. 

Yes, way! I have been studying abroad in Florence, Italy, and have not used a dryer since leaving the United States. Shamefully, I admit I was a dryer lover before going on this four-month hiatus. In the morning before I got ready to leave my apartment at the University of Connecticut, I would toss my clothes in the dryer to warm them up so I could get into warm clothes at the beginning of the day. On top of this, I would throw my towel in the dryer before taking a shower to have a warm towel to dry off with. To compound this, I also used the dryer for my regular laundry loads. In an average week, I would do three loads of laundry, which means I used the dryer more than three times a week. 

As I am writing this all out now I realize how unnecessary many of the times I turned on the dryer were, and how excessively I used the appliance. While abroad in Florence I am taking a class called, “Sustainability in the fashion industry” with Professor Thomas Brownlees. One morning last week Professor Brownlees brought up consumer responsibility and how people should take responsibility for the energy that they use while taking care of their clothes. This lesson caused me to think about the quantity of unnecessary energy that I have consumed with the way I use the dryer. 

How much energy does the dryer use? 

I started questioning how much energy the dryer uses and I found some surprising results. To start, tumble dryers use more energy than a washing machine. On average, a clothing dryer uses between 1,500 to 5,000 watts of electricity, depending on what kind of dryer it is. Based on the assumption that a dryer cycle takes one hour, if you run a 3000-watt dryer three times a week you will use 9 kWh of energy per week and 468 kWh of energy per year. In most homes, the dryer is the most or one of the most energy-intensive appliances. 

To learn more about the energy your dryer uses visit Are Tumble Dryers Eco Friendly? How They Damage Clothes & Harm The Environment – ETHICAL UNICORN

Why does it matter? 

Using the dryer affects the environment. Only 12 percent of energy in the United States comes from renewable sources, so the quantity of energy that the dryer uses results in the depletion of nonrenewable energy sources such as fossil fuels. To clarify, renewable energy is not the perfect solution because it is not carbon neutral, but it is much greener than nonrenewable energy.

Dryers are made from a nonrenewable metal (which is an unsustainable material). Metal sourcing is a large cause of pollution and environmental degradation. On top of this, dryers do not last forever and most households will buy a new appliance every 10-15 years. This matters because the physical dryer and the drying cycle contribute to the depletion of nonrenewable resources and the pollution of the environment. 

Did not using the dryer make a difference in my life?

Not using a dryer made a difference in three aspects of my life. The first difference I experienced was having to plan when to wear certain pieces of clothing. I also had to plan when to do my laundry. The largest difference I see in my life from not using the dryer is the amount of money I spend on new clothes per month. Even though I was using the dryer so much at home, not using it did not change my day to day. I learned how to plan when to wash my clothes so that I had clothes to wear. While abroad, doing laundry became a two-day affair: one day for washing and the next for waiting for the clothes to dry. Planning what I would wear for the week helped me schedule which days were the best to wash clothes and which clothes had to be washed on certain days. I found myself saving my best outfits for the weekends and I looked forward to wearing them throughout the week. This helped me wear more of the clothes that I have in my closet and try new outfit combinations that I otherwise would not have worn. My stylistic identity has changed and I find that I am pushing myself out of the comfort of my usual outfits.  

Did not using the dryer make a difference in my clothes? 

Since stopping using a tumble dryer I have noticed a difference in a lot of my clothes. In the United States my clothes pill and I have to buy new leggings, t-shirts, and sometimes blouses at least once every three months. The quality of the garment deteriorates as a result of the heat and the tumble motion of the dryer. Each time clothes go through the dryer cycle clothes develop micro tears in the fabrics’ fibers and these tears eventually cause clothes to fall apart and look more worn in. So far I haven’t needed to purchase new clothes because the quality of my current wardrobe has remained intact. I have saved the money and hassle of not buying new clothes! It is tough to find quality items on a college student’s budget, which makes me even more relieved that I have found a way to make some of my items last longer than usual. 

If I can not hang my clothes, what should I do? 

For some people, it is impossible to hang clothes outside to dry due to city laws or lack of access to a clothing line. Another option for the dryer and hanging clothes is the electric clothing horse. The electric clothing horse is a three-tiered drying rack with heated rungs that accelerate drying time. Speeding up drying time for clothes will allow people to dry their clothes indoors (even when it is warm outside and mold becomes a concern for hanging clothes to dry inside). 

If none of these options are feasible, you can consider switching to a more environmentally friendly dryer. There are three types of electric tumble dryers, and they each consume different amounts of electricity. Heat pump dryers are the newest dryer on the market, and they use the least amount of electricity due to the low temperature they use to dry clothes. Not only is the low-temperature heat pump dryer more energy efficient but it is better for your clothes and can increase the lifespan of certain clothing items. 

To learn about more eco-friendly alternatives to using dryers visit: Are Dryers Bad for the Environment? 6 Facts You Should Know (citizensustainable.com)

Tips for using the dryer

Buying a completely new dryer or an electric clothing horse is not the only solution to reducing your carbon footprint. When using a normal dryer you can employ some of these helpful techniques to lessen your dryer use and take care of your clothing: 

  1. Avoid long dryer cycles 
  2. Use low heat 
  3. Clean out the lint tray of the dryer between uses 
  4. Only use your dryer to dry clothes, do not use it to warm up clothing 

Will I return to using a dryer when I go home to the USA?

Before studying abroad, I never thought of hanging my clothes to dry as an option, but for the last few months, it was the only option. When I go home to the United States, I am not planning to use the dryer as much as I once did. I will now hang my clothes to dry unless I am in a time crunch and need to use the dryer. Now that I have experienced not using the dryer, I realize what a small sacrifice not using it is versus the environmental impact using the dryer has. I am happy that my clothes look brand new, and I do not have to spend as much money replacing clothes ruined or burnt by the dryer. Hanging my clothes on a clothesline eliminates the use of electricity and greenhouse gas emissions from using the dryer. Overall, I have found that the positives outweigh the negatives, and I will be scaling back exponentially on my dryer usage. 

Try scaling back on your dryer usage and see what changes you see in your life!

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I studied abroad in Italy and did not use a dryer for four months. Did it make a difference? In this post, we're looking at whether not using the drier can help you scale up your sustainability habits. Enjoy!
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